The Los Angeles Lakers got pretty amazing news on Wednesday morning, at least as far as injury updates go: LeBron James had his MRI, and it revealed that there was no major damage to his groin, leaving him day-to-day going forward.
James seems to think he won’t miss much time:
Dodged a bullet! Sheesh. to the almighty above! #BackInNoTime— LeBron James (@KingJames) December 26, 2018
If James misses more than a game or two though, it’s not clear how well the Lakers could handle the absence of their star player. Bravado from the team about not being “scared” to play without James aside, the Lakers losing the engine that keeps their offense running is no small thing.
James’ day-to-day diagnosis leaves hope he could return relatively quickly, but if he can’t, the Lakers could be in trouble, something an anonymous member of the organization talked to Bill Oram of the Athletic about earlier this season (emphasis mine):
On a night the Lakers were stating their case as challengers to the Warriors in the Western Conference, the road to even making the playoffs potentially became much trickier. Earlier this season, one team staffer suggested in a conversation with The Athletic that it might take nothing more than James missing 10 games with an injury to knock the Lakers out of the playoff picture.
The margins in the West are that tight, and the Lakers need LeBron that much.
At 20-14, the Lakers are just 2.5 games back on the Denver Nuggets for first place in the Western Conference, but they are also only two games ahead of the ninth-place Spurs. That’s not a lot of wiggle room to drop games, even without James.
James has played the most minutes of any Laker (1,178 of the team’s total 1,637 minutes so far), leaving his on-off metrics more similar to the team’s averages, which is something to keep in mind while looking at them. Even with that caveat, the team is still 5.1 points per 100 possessions better when James plays than they are when he sits, according to NBA.com.
Of players to play in more than one game for the team (shouts to Travis Wear), the Lakers are never worse than when James sits (-1.9) net rating, and James is also the only Laker (other than Wear) who the team has a negative net rating with when they’re off the floor. What that essentially means is that the Lakers are still outscoring their opponents during minutes when anyone on their roster sits, other than James, which really emphasizes how big of a driver James is on the Lakers’ fortunes.
James’ supporting cast is probably underrated as a whole, but this is also still largely the same team that won 35 games last year. There were injury caveats there, but every team deals with injuries. James’ presence is in large part the reasons why stats like this one exist:
I embedded that to point out two things: 1) That LeBron effing James is quote tweeting our own Laker Film Room and 2) That even if James’ supporting cast is better than some seem to think, James missing five games vs. missing ten games could have a real, meaningful impact on whether Coach Pete can tweet a similar stat about when the Lakers last clinched postseason berths.
All things considered, today’s MRI result still appears to have been a good one for the Lakers. Now the team, its anonymous staffers and its fans just have to hope that everything else on James stays intact, and that his groin heals quickly.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.