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Lakers’ LeBron James adamant limiting workload won’t shield body from injury

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — LeBron James does not buy that monitoring his minutes will have any effect on his health as the Los Angeles Lakers are about to start their new season this week.

“I don’t play the game thinking about injuries,” James said Monday, ahead of L.A.’s regular-season opener against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. “And I also feel worse when I play low minutes.”

In what has become a near annual ritual for the 19-year veteran, James — already sixth on the all-time minutes played list — flatly rejected the notion that limiting his playing time can shield his body from potential harm.

The fact is that even though James logged a career-low 33.4 minutes per game last season, he still suffered a severe high ankle sprain that caused him to miss 26 games and derailed a potential MVP campaign.

While James played on the right ankle in all six games of the Lakers’ first-round loss to the Phoenix Suns, he averaged just 23.3 points on 47.4% shooting, 8.0 assists and 7.2 rebounds, performing below his usual postseason standard.

James, who will turn 37 in December, said his injury dragged on well into the offseason.

“It took a while,” he said. “I didn’t do much basketball stuff for probably the first two months of the summer, which is very rare for me, because my ankle wasn’t responding how I would like it to respond.

“And the best thing about the summertime was I had time. I had time to just really get ready when my ankle was ready to go. I was always training, just wasn’t on the basketball court much. Always doing other stuff, training, pushing, seeing if I could do other stuff with my ankle, and until I got to a point where I didn’t feel any sharp pains anymore, and my flexibility was back to where it was before. That’s when I knew I could get back on the floor.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he plans to abide by a scripted rotation that would keep James on the court in the range of 34 to 36 minutes per game.

Vogel also explained what James meant about feeling better the more minutes he plays.

“Actually in some ways if he stays over there [on the bench] too long and he gets cold, it’s worse for him to get back in there [on the court],” Vogel said. “Especially since he’s been playing this type of rotation for so long.”

Beyond that, Vogel does not have a rigid plan to manage James’ workload as he embarks on what he hopes will be the 11th trip to the NBA Finals of his stellar career.

“Obviously, it’s probably don’t want to have him play 82 games,” Vogel said. “But we’re not going to pre-script X amount of nights off. We’re going to take it as it comes throughout the year.”

For James, coming off the only first-round exit of his career, there is no hangover from last season’s disappointing title defense.

“It’s definitely a completely clean slate,” he said. “And honestly, last year was such a fast-twitch season for us coming off the bubble. And injuries derailed anything that we wanted to do. So it’s a great opportunity for us to kind of just rinse our hands and have a clean slate, and get ready to start building.”

Building with a hope to secure his fifth ring — which would be the first for new Lakers Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony and a record-setting 18th for the franchise, breaking a tie for most in league history with the rival Boston Celtics.

“Just motivated to have an opportunity to win a championship,” James said. “That’s why I play the game. It’s one of the greatest, shortest feelings that you have. You win a championship and everything that you put into that year, it just hits you all at once. And literally, a couple of hours later, it’s like, ‘It’s over.’

“And the whole time, you’re just trying to figure out how to get that moment again. Seriously. That’s part of motivation still, just always trying to get that feeling.”

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DeMar DeRozan, shorthanded Chicago Bulls hand Brooklyn Nets ‘bad, tough loss’

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NEW YORK — With DeMar DeRozan drawing James Harden and Kevin Durant with him on a drive into the paint, Lonzo Ball was all alone on the right wing as he launched a 3, crouched in anticipation and then turned toward courtside fans behind him after drilling a late dagger against the Brooklyn Nets.

Down four rotation players due to health and injuries, the Chicago Bulls continued their surprising start to the season by erasing an 11-point third-quarter deficit to give the Nets a stinging 111-107 loss at Barclays Center on Saturday night.

The Bulls (16-8) have won three straight games and leave New York having beaten the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and the Nets at Barclays Center on this road trip. This is also the second time this season that the Bulls outplayed the preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference in the fourth quarter to hand the Nets a bitter loss, clinching the season series between the two teams.

“You want to be the best, you got to beat the best,” said DeRozan, who picked the Nets apart with 13 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. “Everybody talks about being best but you got to go out there. No matter if you are shorthanded, you want to be the best, you got to go out there and compete against the best.”

The Bulls entered the game shorthanded with Javonte Green and Coby White in health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. With Patrick Williams (left wrist) already out, the Bulls started Alex Caruso at power forward but he was later ruled out due to a hamstring injury that was bothering him entering the game. Bulls coach Billy Donovan said it was a medical decision to pull Caruso and that he did not know how long Caruso might be sidelined.

The Nets (16-7) looked at this game as a big test for them. They were shorthanded themselves with Joe Harris (ankle) and James Johnson (shoulder) out to go along with Kyrie Irving, who is not with the team. But they were looking to settle a score after losing, 118-95, in Chicago on Nov. 8 and get a quality win over one of the top teams in the conference.

Brooklyn led 71-60 with 6:34 left in the third and appeared to be in control. But that cushion was gone by the 9:28 mark in the fourth. Durant scored nine of his 28 points in the fourth quarter but Harden struggled with his shot, missing 5-of-6 shots in the fourth. The Nets defense allowed Chicago to shoot 52.2% in the fourth quarter. Chicago also enjoyed a 27-to-9 advantage in free-throw attempts for the game.

“We just gotta go out there and play with some force and confidence, like we want to win,” Durant said. “And understand it’s a long game, and just stick with the game plan. It’s a bad, it’s a tough loss. … We didn’t take advantage of being up nine-10 points. We just let them stay in the game and we were supposed to just bury them.”

Harden, who recently admitted he is having difficulty finding balance between being more of a playmaker versus when to be a scorer with Irving not playing, shot just 5-of-21 overall before finishing with 14 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds.

“Blame this one on me,” said Harden. “I had a lot of opportunities at the rim that I didn’t convert that could have settled this game down.”

Durant said he should’ve helped Harden more by making more shots.

“That would’ve took pressure off of him,” Durant said.

At the end, the Nets watched another struggling shooter make the game’s biggest shot. After Durant cut the deficit to 107-105 with a 3-pointer, DeRozan drove and drew Harden and Durant with him in the paint. DeRozan found Ball alone on the right wing and the point guard delivered the dagger 3, just his second of the game. Ball finished 3-for-10 overall and just 2-for-7 from behind the arc.

Ball — who had eight points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three blocks against the Nets — also missed 8-of-10 3-point shots in Thursday’s win over the Knicks. But the Bulls continue to develop chemistry and trust in one another as they moved to within half a game of the Nets for the lead in the East.

“It says a lot about our team,” DeRozan said of the wins against the Knicks and Nets. “How resilient. How we approach challenges. We don’t shy away from them. We accept them.

“… It is difficult to win in this league, especially coming into two hostile environments on the road, playing against two teams and the best team in our conference, to withstand the blow that we took from them throughout the whole game, to buckle down in the fourth quarter and pull out a victory.”

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Chicago Bulls’ Javonte Green tests positive for COVID-19, joins Coby White in protocols

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The Chicago Bulls, who played the Hornets on Monday, saw Javonte Green test positive for COVID-19 on Friday, following Coby White earlier this week.

Charlotte had four players enter health and safety protocols on Saturday.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan said before his team faced the Nets in Brooklyn Saturday night that Green had driven back to Chicago on Friday, and was feeling all right. He added that Chicago expects to continue daily testing in the wake of multiple positive tests, and that he anticipates the league continuing to tighten its protocols as time goes by.

“I think that’s happening,” Donovan said of the protocols getting stricter. “I don’t think there’s any question that’s happening. I think there’s going to be, my guess would be, stricter policies than there have been this year. To your point, I think Thanksgiving and you’re dealing with Christmas and then New Year’s … people are going to be around family. I think that the way it’s moving right now is it’s getting a little more stricter.

“Certainly for us right now it’s a lot stricter because we’ve got two players who are positive.”

Donovan also praised his players for how they’ve handled the twists and turns of the situation over the past several days.

“Well, we’re not the only ones dealing with it,” Donovan said, “but the only guys I can respond to our our guys, and our guys have been class acts, totally professional. I think they’ve handled whatever has come their way. We’re not the only team that’s dealing with it, that’s had to deal with it.

“I think there was obviously some hope and some optimism we kind of passed this going into the season. That certainly hasn’t happened. But our guys have handled it, and the whole thing about you have to control what you can control. There’s a lot of inconveniences, things can get frustrating and annoying and you worry about are you infected or are you healthy, and you’ve got a couple teammates and guys on the team who have tested positive, so I’m sure some of that stuff goes through those guys’ minds.”

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Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo to miss second game with calf soreness

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Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat with right calf soreness, coach Mike Budenholzer announced before the game.

It’s the second straight game Antetokounmpo has been sidelined because of the injury, which kept him out of the second half of a back-to-back on Thursday in Toronto. Budenholzer said then he was hopeful this would be just a short-term issue.

“We’ll just take it day by day,” Budenholzer said Saturday. “See how it goes”

The Bucks’ roster has been hampered by injuries and illnesses since the start of the season, but they had won eight of their past nine games entering Saturday to storm back into the mix at the top of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

In 21 games this season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points and 11.8 rebounds while collecting a career-high 6.0 assists and 1.7 blocks.

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