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MIAMI – LeBron James has a general rule: If he can get out of bed, he can play basketball.
That's apparently been tested a bit this season.
James has been dealing with lower back soreness for a couple of weeks, which explains why the NBA's four-time MVP has said multiple times in the early going of this season that he's working his way to 100 percent. He revealed specifics about the issue Thursday night after scoring 18 points to help the Miami Heat top the Los Angeles Clippers, 102-97.
"I've had a history of it, but I always keep a good eye on it so I should be all right," James said. "It ain't a great feeling, I'll tell you that — especially at nighttime when you're trying to sleep."
James has worn heat packs to keep his back loose at times through Miami's first six games, and this is not the first time that he's dealt with back problems early in a season. He began applying the heat packs after diving for a loose ball in the first quarter of the win over the Clippers, on a play where he got off the court shaking his left hand.
Turns out, he also felt like his back locked on the play.
"He didn't look as spry as he normally does," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
It's way too early to draw any real conclusions from numbers, but James' scoring and rebounding are down so far this season — albeit slightly — from his normal rates. He's averaging 24.3 points, 7.7 assists and 5.5 rebounds through six games, shooting 56 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range.
"Just trying to get healthy," James said. "But I'm working it. I'm doing everything I can to get back to my normal self. ... With our medical staff here, we continue to hone in on what we can do to get better. I think the good thing about it is it's not my first time having back issues. So I should be all right."
James has missed 39 regular-season games in his NBA career, 16 in an effort to get him late-season rest — but only one, in 2007, came with back spasms cited as the reason. The other 22 were because of various injuries: nine with sprained ankles, five with a sprained finger, five with a hamstring strain, two with a sprained toe and one because of general body soreness.
The only real goal for the Heat is winning another NBA title, but James has a long history of never wanting to miss games for any reason, even ones in the first couple weeks of what Miami hopes is another very long season.
"I felt good enough to play," James said. "I'm not going to hurt my team. If I feel like I'm out on the court and I'm hurting my team, then I won't go out there. If I can't give enough to help us be successful, then I won't play. But it wasn't bad enough to where I felt like I couldn't help."