The NBA season features a long, grueling schedule, and there are a select handful of competitors who bear an immense burden for their teams.
Through the first half of the 2012-13 campaign, a pair of Portland Trail Blazers and Chicago Bulls stand out as some of the most overworked players in the league.
Roster changes, injuries and increased roles can all lead to an increased workload. The more useful and versatile you are, the more likely you are to receive substantial minutes.
Coaches often push these stars to the limit, trying to get as much as they can out of them.
Who exactly are the most overworked players in the association?
Minutes Per Game: 38.6
Jeremy Lin isn't a dominant point guard, and James Harden is the Houston Rockets' most effective playmaker, so Harden often ends up doing the lion's share of work.
The bearded All-Star is tossing almost 18 field-goal attempts per game while also dishing 5.4 assists. That kind of production can only come from a healthy chunk of minutes.
In January, his lowest single-game minutes total so far is 35, which is still significantly higher than what he used to log in his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He can get to the rim better than almost anyone else in the league, run the fast break, guard the perimeter and orchestrate the half-court offense. Naturally, Kevin McHale isn't sparing him too many breaks.
Minutes Per Game: 38.2
Considering his ankle injury history and recent episodes, it's relatively surprising that Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is top 10 in playing time.
Brandon Rush's early-season ACL injury put a dent in the Dubs' backcourt depth, so both Curry and Jarrett Jack have spent ample time as combo guards.
When you factor in how deadly Curry is from long range (44 percent career, 45 percent in 2012-13), it's no wonder Mark Jackson has a hard time justifying pulling him at any point.
Jackson will have to closely monitor Curry the next few games, as Golden State has four tilts in six days, including three road stops.
Minutes Per Game: 39.7
After James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets, Kevin Durant didn't get a gigantic spike in playing time. After all, he was already playing about 39 minutes per game every season.
The bigger difference is his increase in usage, particularly as a passer. Durant has the ball in his hands even more than before, and while his shot totals went down, his assist totals went way up.
Durant relishes the labor and the long games. His young legs have helped him rebound from some marathon games recently. Just 48 hours after a 50-minute, 52-point overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks, he notched 49 minutes and 37 points in another overtime slugfest.
He would be disappointed in himself if he didn't make this list.
Minutes Per Game: 38.3
Joe Johnson's size, one-on-one skills and court awareness have come in handy for the Brooklyn Nets, and that's why he's counted on during the home stretch of every close game.
The 11-year veteran hasn't played this much per contest since his 2008-09 campaign with the Atlanta Hawks, and he's put together a few strings of 40-minute games already this season.
The increased workload has its rewards, like Johnson's double-overtime buzzer-beater over Detroit after playing 52 minutes.
Johnson's not a young spark plug anymore, but you can count on P.J. Carlesimo to keep him in the game for 40-plus minutes per game in the playoffs.
Minutes Per Game: 38.5
Most rookies barely get half the playing time Damian Lillard gets, but the Portland Trail Blazers needed a playmaking point guard to lead them.
Terry Stotts doesn't have a deep bench to rely on, so Lillard gets extensive on-the-job training every night.
His recent hamstring tightness shouldn't be a big deal, as he's a young gun. He's also mature enough to stay mentally focused for the duration of games. It's just a matter of sustaining shooting consistency.
Will Lillard persevere and lead the Blazers to the playoffs, or will the constant exertion gradually derail his season?
Minutes Per Game: 38.5
Miami Heat fans are getting their money's worth when it comes to LeBron James, as Erik Spoelstra uses him substantially more than the rest of the Big Three.
King James is no stranger to 3,000-minute seasons, and he's on pace for another one in 2012-13.
No one in basketball can achieve the all-around dominance that he supplies, and almost no one in the league is in the kind of shape he's in. So it makes sense to get the most out of him every week, especially with a short bench.
As long as James gets an intermittent breather throughout the rest of the regular season, he'll have plenty of gas left in the tank for a playoff run.
Minutes Per Game: 38.3
No NBA center logs the kind of minutes Joakim Noah does, and fortunately for the Chicago Bulls, he's making the most of every minute and playing at an All-Star level.
The departure of Omer Asik in 2012 paved the way for more action for Noah. The 27-year-old pro had a string of seven games in December with at least 42 minutes per game.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau has immense trust in Noah as a defender, rebounder and passer. Derrick Rose's absence has forced everyone in Chicago's lineup to make more plays, and that includes the pivot man.
He's not a 5-star, super-smooth talent, but Bulls fans will take their chances with Noah over any other Eastern Conference center come playoff time.
Minutes Per Game: 38.9
If any veteran can handle copious playing time, it's Kobe Bryant.
The 34-year-old shooting guard has been carrying the Los Angeles Lakers offensively in 2012-13, and in December, he logged exhaustive minutes.
Bryant had a stretch of 10 straight games of 40 or more minutes, including six 44-minute outings. That's a lot for anyone, especially someone with so much accumulated career mileage.
The rash of injuries to the rest of the backcourt forced Mike D'Antoni to use Kobe more than he probably would have liked, but you won't hear Bryant complaining about the extra run.
Minutes Per Game: 39.0
Nicolas Batum's wide assortment of skills, coupled with the Portland Trail Blazers' thin reserve line, is a recipe for heavy minutes.
He routinely hoists a half-dozen three-point attempts per contest, while also facilitating on offense and crashing the boards. In his spare time, he forces turnovers and pushes the ball in transition.
Batum's most grueling stretch came in mid-January, when he logged 212 minutes over five games in seven days. That five-game series included 77 field-goal attempts and 110 points.
Portland has a chance to make the playoffs, but will its stars be burned out by the time the postseason tips off?
Minutes Per Game: 39.8
Luol Deng gets tasked with the most work in the NBA because he's tremendously valuable to the Chicago Bulls on both sides of the ball.
His resourcefulness makes him infinitely useful on offense, while he's a fantastic complement to Noah defensively. Brett Koremenos of Grantland.com breaks down Deng's handiness:
If Noah is Thibodeau’s security blanket in the frontcourt, Deng is his Swiss Army knife. On offense, Deng can be called upon to act as a screener, ball handler, spot-up shooter, or post threat with equal proficiency, sometimes even on the same possession. At the other end of the floor, he is a prototypical Thibodeau player — sure in his assignments, excellent in help positioning, and effective on the ball.
Even when Derrick Rose returns to full strength, Tom Thibodeau will rarely want to take Deng off the floor.
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