The Los Angeles Lakers announced on Saturday that LeBron James was doubtful to play against the Denver Nuggets because of a “thoracic muscle strain,” and it sounds like that’s not the only health issue he’s dealing with. According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, James is — for the second holiday season in a row — dealing with some sort of “groin issue” as of late.
James first sustained the injury, a pull in the rib cage area, against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday and played through it during Thursday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. James didn’t require an MRI, but this is a significant issue and not just a load management situation, sources told ESPN.
Earlier this week, James said he didn’t plan to miss any games this season for rest. James has also been dealing with a nagging groin issue recently, sources said. Last season a groin strain on Christmas Day derailed James and the Lakers’ season.
Lakers fans need no reminder of how serious a groin injury can be, and only have to look back at the team’s last Christmas Day game to see how something like that can derail a season.
Still, let’s remember a couple things before everyone panics about this being just like last year, because it does not appear to be (yet).
We don’t know how serious this issue is
This is the most important thing to keep in mind. Windhorst doesn’t detail the severity of James’ “nagging groin issue,” but the fact that it’s not being described as a tear or a strain of some sort is at least a small reason for optimism that this might be a relatively minor thing. Still, it’s real, which makes it worth pointing out...
James may not like load management, but this isn’t that
While James has railed against the idea of “load management” the Lakers sitting him now would decidedly not be that. Saying that he doesn’t want to sit out if he’s not injured is one thing, but it sounds like between the muscle strain and this “groin issue,” James is definitely not healthy, and at least in theory should be more amenable to resting while keeping the Lakers’ bigger-picture goals in mind.
This team wants to win a title and has real potential to do so. While it’s admirable that James wants to give fans a performance if they paid to watch him, it seems likely that he’ll understand that he needs to put his body first in this case. Especially because...
The Lakers are in a better spot to deal with James sitting out this year
As Kyle Kuzma noted yesterday, the presence of Anthony Davis alone makes the Lakers better equipped to deal with an injury to James than they were last year. The Lakers are 11.3 points per 100 possessions better when James plays than they are when he sits, which reinforces the idea that losing him will be a significant hit — especially to a team with this little playmaking outside of James — but the Lakers should still be good enough defensively to keep games close and win enough of them to stay well within the playoff race.
The Lakers are 24-5, and three games ahead of the Clippers for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. They are also 10.5 games ahead of the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, and 12 games ahead of the No. 9 team in the West, the Sacramento Kings. Even if the Lakers aren’t as good without James, their historic start — combined with the presence of Davis and other capable role players — puts them in a much better position to weather the storm of James sitting out than they did last season. That should be plenty of motivation to be cautious and help their star get right.
We don’t know how long James will have to sit, but the Lakers should (and likely will) treat this with an abundance of caution. This team is a real title contender this year, but not without James. They should do everything they can to make sure he is 100% and ready to go in May and June, even if it requires some absences in December and January.