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LeBron James to meet with Luke Walton about preseason workload

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers' preseason debut Sunday in San Diego against the Denver Nuggets could be missing one key piece: LeBron James.

James and Lakers coach Luke Walton will huddle Friday, sources told ESPN, to determine if the 33-year-old embarking on his 16th NBA season, will suit up for the opener in L.A.'s six-game exhibition slate.

"I don't know," James told ESPN after practice Wednesday when asked about how he plans to manage the preseason schedule. "I don't need preseason games [at this stage of my career] to get ready."

Indeed, James played in only one preseason game at the outset of the 2017-18 season while he rehabbed an ankle injury and went on to play all 82 games in the regular season for the Cleveland Cavaliers -- a first in his career.

After the Cavs' 2016 championship, James played in only three preseason games the following fall. And when he did play, it was only for a quarter or two.

To be clear, James will not be resting because of any injury rehabilitation, but more for injury prevention.

"I feel great," James told ESPN.

A source close to James told ESPN that the star forward's "joy" coming from being in his new surroundings could cause James to play a little more in the preseason than he normally does, but that James still will save himself, for the most part, for the real thing.

While James' potentially limited involvement in the preseason could tamp down some of the excitement that has been building for the Lakers' fan base since the four-time MVP and three-time champion committed to the franchise in July, it is unlikely to affect L.A.'s bottom line.

A Lakers official told ESPN there has already been "unprecedented demand" for preseason tickets. While the six games -- Sunday at the Valley View Casino Center; Oct. 2 against Denver at Staples Center; Oct. 4 against the Sacramento Kings at Staples; Oct. 6 against the Clippers at the Honda Center in Anaheim; Oct. 10 against the Golden State Warriors at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas; and Oct. 12 against Golden State at the SAP Center in San Jose -- are all close to sellouts, the official told ESPN that more tickets are expected to be issued on a "limited availability."

The league has shortened the preseason in recent years to save more of the calendar for the regular season and limit the amount of back-to-backs and four-games-in-five-nights scenarios that teams have to play.

On the whole, the schedule change has been embraced by players as it saves their bodies from overuse.

But it has also caused coaches, like Walton, to adjust their approach to the preseason.

"For us, we're looking at the whole preseason as getting ready for the season," Walton said. "Not like we have to be ready for Sunday's game, this upcoming Sunday's game in San Diego. So we're going to use Sunday like it's a practice day almost, where, shootaround we'll do more things. In the game we'll work on what we're working on, like trying to get good on our basics, our foundation still.

"Even if that means we run three plays for the entire game and we have to keep running them over and over, it's about getting to where we want to be by the start of the season. So, it is more important in the sense we have to use these games as reps, but it's no more important as far as whether we win or lose the game."

The last time the Lakers entered into a season with this much hype -- the 2012-13 edition that added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to a championship core of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol -- L.A. went 0-7 in the preseason.

It ended up being a foreboding sign as coach Mike Brown was fired five games into the regular season, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss died around the All-Star break, and the team was swept out of the playoffs weeks after Kobe Bryant suffered a career-altering Achilles tear.

There seems to be a shared perspective among the current Lakers group, however, that the preseason is not indicative of how the regular season will go.

"Trying to figure out how comfortable guys feel with each other," said Brandon Ingram. "It's going to be a process, it's going to be some wins, it's going to be some bumps in the road, but we'll get it."