Miami Heat Must Be Careful Not to Overwork LeBron James

Sam RichmondCorrespondent IJanuary 21, 2013

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 02:  (Editors Note: This image was converted to black and white) LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Arena on January 2, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

No player in the NBA is more responsible for his team's success this season than the Miami Heat's LeBron James.

James is working his tail off, logging 38.4 minutes per game, and also plays the role of the team's top offensive weapon and best defender. He is his team's leader in points (26.3 PPG), rebounds (8.1 RPG), assists (7.0 APG) and steals (1.7 SPG).

If the Heat were to reduce a few of James' nightly minutes for the remainder of the season, there's no doubt they'd worsen.

Yet, they still very much should. It would be playing with fire if the Heat were to enter the postseason without an as fresh as possible James and that’s not going to happen if he continues to play this much.

While LeBron is a physical specimen, seemingly capable of anything and everything on the court, he still is in fact human and can be overworked.

We saw LeBron's body break down in the 2012 postseason and that's not surprising, considering he was playing almost 43 minutes a game and averaging 30.3 points along with 9.7 rebounds.

With the Heat leading 92-90 midway through Game 4 of the NBA Finals, James began suffering from cramps. The pain was so bad that he needed to be carried off the court by coaches and teammates. 

James later reentered the game after the Thunder scored the game's next four points in his absence. Proving just how important he is to the Heat, LeBron then knocked down a heroic three-pointer that gave the Heat a lead with 2:54 remaining. But it was clear the pains were too severe for James and he was shortly thereafter removed from the game for good.

While the Heat were still able to win the game, it still displayed that there is breaking point in terms of how much James can be worked.

So, the Heat have to handle his minutes with caution because if the team is to repeat last year's championship, it will be because of LeBron.

There's no way around it: the 2012-13 Heat are a completely different team when LeBron is on the court as compared to when he's not. 

As the visual above unsurprisingly displays, the Heat are significantly better offensively and defensively when James is on the court as compared to when he's not.

Also, according to ESPN, he currently has an outstanding 14.4 EWA and tops everyone with an astounding a 30.30 PER on a 27.7 percent usage rate.

They are going to need that unmatched by everyone efficiency for 40-plus minutes a night in the playoffs. Some nights he might even need to play every minute.  He did that twice in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics last year.

We saw in that Game 4 win against the Thunder in 2012 that LeBron eventually couldn't handle that workload, and this was following a regular season in which he was playing less minutes (37.5 per game) than he is now. In 2012, it was cramps that forced him to miss a couple of minutes. It could be something worse in 2013 if he continues to play as much as he is now.

And if it wasn't already clear to everyone that with a healthy James the Heat are still title favorites, he recently proved that point emphatically with his performance against the Los Angeles Lakers on January 17.

James did it all in the 39-point outburst. He viciously attacked the basket all night long, and converted 15 of 16 shots taken in the painted area. He threw some tremendous passes (see 0:48 in video for a beauty) and racked up eight assists (team-high).

On the other end, he forced turnovers that led directly to points (see 1:39 in the video).  Also, James took over the responsibilities of guarding Kobe Bryant with a little more than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when the game was tied. He held the Lakers great to only one made basket for the rest of the game and the Heat won.

That's what a healthy LeBron brings to the table.

The Heat need to make sure his body allows him to bring all of that for them in June.

Reducing LeBron's minutes won't be easy for coach Erik Spoelstra, but, with the Heat's only goal being winning a title, it's the right move.

Note: Statistics are accurate as of January 21