The Los Angeles Lakers have listed LeBron James as doubtful to play against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday due to what the training staff is calling a “thoraric muscle strain,” which means he strained a muscle in his middle back region.
After practice on Saturday, Frank Vogel told reporters that James sustained the injury against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday and decided to play through it against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday. In the seemingly likely event James doesn’t play on Sunday, it will be his first missed game of the season.
James’ absence would hurt the Lakers in a lot of ways because of how much he does for the team, but the one area they could miss him the most is playmaking. James, the league’s leader in assists per game (10.6), has been the de facto point guard for Los Angeles all season long — in part due to the fact that he’s their best playmaker, but also due to necessity. Outside of James, the only players on the Lakers’ roster that can handle the ball are Rajon Rondo, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma. You’ll notice that only one of those players is a point guard.
It’s for that reason Rondo will likely get some consideration for the starting point guard spot on Sunday. Rondo has yet to start a game this season but before the season started, Frank Vogel said that he expected Rondo to start “a lot,” and this is one the few scenarios where that would make some sense.
Having James on the sidelines also takes away the one big body the Lakers have on the perimeter. However, that’s less of an issue against the Nuggets, whose two primary small forwards — Will Barton and Torrey Craig — are both under 6’8. If Denver decides to go big with Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. in an effort to exploit the Lakers’ lack of size, Kyle Kuzma may need to play down a position.
Whatever the case may be, the Lakers will have to figure out how to survive at least one night without James. That’s a big test for the team, but also a big test for Vogel.
Tip-off is at 6:30 p.m. NBA TV nationally and Spectrum SportsNet locally.