LeBron James — as the old saying goes — has been known to put his teams on his back, carrying them to victory and sometimes even the promised land of an NBA championship as well. He did this most notably in the late mid-to-late 2000s in Cleveland, at some times in Miami with the Heat, definitely in his second go-around with the Cavaliers, and now at the ripe age of 37-years-old he’s doing it again with a 56-point performance this Saturday that helped the Lakers beat the Warriors.
However, although the mind of LeBron is still as sharp as ever, the body might not be as Father Time has seemingly been closing the gap between the two in this little race of life. The most recent sign of that happened two days following that game, when it was announced LeBron would be a late day scratch against the Spurs on Monday due to left knee soreness that hadn’t subsided since that monster performance on Saturday.
Frank Vogel noted that the soreness was “significant enough” (h/t OC Register’s Kyle Goon) for the team to hold him out Monday vs. the Spurs, a statement that shows just how much (obvious) urgency there is amongst the team to get some wins. In a normal LeBron season of his team having a safely secured playoff spot, this would be the type of resting day that no one would bat an eye at.
Vogel said the Lakers are hopeful that LeBron can play at Houston (Wednesday); they’ll see how his knee feels tomorrow and go from there.
There was some expectation that LeBron could miss a few games after the initial diagnosis of the knee swelling.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 8, 2022
However, with the team 1-5 since the All-Star Game dropping their record to 28-36, the 9th-seeded Lakers still have some work to do until they can feel safe in the play-in tournament let alone the playoffs. While Vogel was giving the news to the media on Monday, Lakers reporter Mike Trudell did note that Vogel said the team was “hopeful” LeBron would be able to suit up tonight against the Rockets (LeBron is listed as questionable on the injury report). That seems positive, however, that type of tepid hope was seemingly displayed when LeBron first missed a game a few weeks ago with the same issue. This might not even be the last time the soreness pops up between now and the conclusion of the 18 remaining regular season games the team has, as Silver Screen & Roll’s Jacob Rude noted that LeBron previously said the only way to get the knee fully healthy was rest and that he didn’t “have the luxury” of rest at the moment.
That was back when the team was a measly four games below .500, with that luxury even farther away from LeBron’s grasp with the team now eight games below .500. They now only have a 1.5 game lead on the Pelicans, a 3 game lead on the 11th-seeded Trail Blazers, and a 3.5 game lead on the Spurs (who beat them in that Monday game).
Looking at the Lakers and those three teams’ remaining strength of schedules, combined with this left knee soreness for LeBron, the continued rehab for Anthony Davis, and the fact that Russell Westbrook appears to be at an all-time emotional low… it’s “scary hours” for the Lakers as James Harden would say… except it’s not “scary” for opponents as Harden’s use of the phrase would reflect.
Take a look at the strength of schedules for each of the teams competing for the final couple of spots in the Western Conference’s play-in tournament, as well as a few details of what they include (courtesy of Positive Residual):
- Lakers: 18 remaining games, hardest remaining schedule, 13/18 remaining games on the road, 2 games against the Suns, Nuggets, Pelicans
- Pelicans: 17 remaining games, eighth-easiest remaining schedule, 8/17 remaining games on the road, 2 games against the Lakers, Trail Blazers
- Trail Blazers: 18 remaining games, sixth-easiest remaining schedule, 11/18 remaining games on the road, 3 games against the Spurs, 2 games against the Pelicans, Jazz
- Spurs: 17 remaining games, 12th-easiest remaining schedule, 7/17 remaining games on the road, 2 games against the Trail Blazers, Warriors, Timberwolves
Suffice to say, the teams that the Lakers will be competing against have far easier paths to that goal the rest of the way. The amount of games on the road for the purple-and-gold is especially daunting when you consider their 9-20 record away from Crypto.com Arena as well as the fact that it’ll be tricky to get Davis — and now possibly LeBron — healthy while traveling so much.
Of course, one of those teams is seemingly tanking (*ahem* Trail Blazers *ahem) while the other two don’t have something important that the Lakers have. That “something” is LeBron James.
However, if LeBron misses around five games like he did last time the left knee soreness popped up, that large advantage is gone, leaving the Lakers to probably be at a talent disadvantage even compared to the Pelicans and Spurs.
We’ll hopefully get an update about LeBron later in the day, in anticipation of the Lakers’ 5 p.m. PT game tonight in Houston against the Rockets.