Despite feeling some discomfort in his groin on Tuesday, LeBron James decided to suit up for the Los Angeles Lakers and nearly led them to victory over the Brooklyn Nets. Unfortunately, James came just short of laying in what would have been a game-tying shot, then Anthony Davis missed a three at the buzzer, and the Nets upset the Lakers at home 104-102.
A win over the Nets would have closed the gap between the Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks, who, as of now, would have home court advantage in any potential NBA Finals matchup between the two teams. It also would have given the Lakers some extra cushion over the No. 2 seed Clippers, who they’re ahead of by 5.5 games in the Western Conference standings.
As nice as both of those things would have been for the Lakers, they’ve put themselves in a position where they can afford to lose a trap game. They also have the luxury of resting James now that they’ve clinched their spot in the postseason, and while Frank Vogel hasn’t said he plans on doing that, he did say that the Lakers will be smart about how they handle James’ lingering groin injury after Tuesday’s game (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“He had some soreness after the game the other night. We’re going to be cautious with it. Big-picture mindset. But he came in this morning and felt ready to go, so we rolled with it.”
One can assume that means James will get a break between now and the start of the postseason, but that break has to be timed just right.
Over the next week, the Lakers will play the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz (twice). While they’ve had success against all three of those teams this season, they’re still playoff teams, and the Lakers will need those wins if they want to lock up the No. 1 seed sooner rather than later. That doesn’t mean James has to play in all of those games, but if he’s healthy enough, he should try to make an appearance in a few of them.
After that, the Lakers will have a few soft spots in their schedule, including a two-game stretch where they’ll see the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons. With all due respect to both the Hornets and Pistons, James can probably afford to take a few nights off then.
Whenever the Lakers decide to give James a few nights off, it’s important that he gets that time before the start of the postseason. James may look like he’s in his athletic prime, but he’s 35 years old and it’s more important than ever for him to preserve his body for a a deep playoff run. The Lakers need to be careful here. According to Vogel, it sounds like they will be.