The Los Angeles Lakers desperately need LeBron James back in the lineup, but it seems as though they’ll have to try and survive without him for at least one more game, as reporters at practice on Saturday were told that James won’t return against the Phoenix Suns, while Kyle Kuzma is questionable for the game and Josh Hart is also banged up:
Kyle Kuzma did not practice today and is questionable. LeBron is out for tomorrow.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) January 26, 2019
LeBron James returned to full contact defensive drills for the first time since his injury, but won't play Sunday against the Suns. pic.twitter.com/e8y9z8kbI8— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) January 26, 2019
Walton on Kuzma: “I told him if he’s moving the way he was moving last game I don’t want him playing tomorrow.”— Bill Oram (@billoram) January 26, 2019
Josh Hart also didn’t do contact today, Walton said his knee was bothering him. He will play tomorrow but the Lakers were forced to cut down some of their planned practice activities. Had just nine bodies ready to participate fully today.— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) January 26, 2019
Kuzma being banged up with hip soreness he says is “getting worse” isn’t great, but James being out another game is even worse news for the Lakers, because among players to play in more than one game this season, the Lakers are never worse than when James is off the floor, getting outscored by 3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.
When James is on the floor, the Lakers have outscored their opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions, meaning they’re 6.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor with him off.
Around six points per game may not sound like an insurmountable difference, but the margin for error in the NBA is thin, and 6.2 points per 100 possessions is a swing in net rating that is nearly equal to the difference between the 10th-ranked Portland Trail Blazers and 25th-ranked Orlando Magic, which sounds about right based on the Lakers’ 5-10 record since James went down after going 20-14 prior.
So yeah, the Lakers need James back, and while they should be able to survive the Suns without him, the same could be said of the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and other teams L.A. has lost to without James. As Kuzma recently noted, every game is “a must-win” for the Lakers right now, especially entering what Tankathon has classified as the fourth-hardest remaining schedule in the league. The Lakers’ average remaining opponents have posted a .527 winning percentage this season, and the team needs it’s star — and Kuzma — on the floor if they want to make a playoff push.
The good news for the Lakers is that it does seem James will return soon, as Shams Charania of Watch Stadium reported that there is a decent chance James comes back within the next week:
“There’s optimism that he’ll be able to play within the next week or so. I’d expect him back on the floor definitely well in time before the All-Star game,” Charania said.
The Lakers will have to hope that's right, and continue to do their best to tread water without James until he returns, no matter who is in or out of the lineup alongside him.
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.