LeBron James has been listed as probable to play with a sore right groin on every Lakers injury report so far in the bubble, but tonight against the Houston Rockets, his designation has changed: He is being rested to deal with the nagging issue, and Alex Caruso is sitting out at well, according to head coach Frank Vogel, who is also changing up the starting lineup:
Vogel says that they are starting Kuzma and Quinn Cook, with AD at the five. JaVale is benched and they are going small to take a look at this lineup.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) August 6, 2020
Vogel says that LeBron is dealing with soreness, and they're just trying to be cautious with him on the back-to-back.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) August 6, 2020
James is averaging 19.3 points, 10 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 3.3 turnovers since entering the NBA bubble, and is shooting just 42% from the field over the first four games the team has played (down from 49.4% on the season). Caruso has averaged 7 points, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 36.4% from the field in 24 minutes per game in Orlando.
The Lakers have actually been, by the numbers, 13 points per 100 possessions better when James is sitting so far in Orlando, a complete 180 from how much he’s improved them with his presence for most of the season. That would seem to be some evidence that this issue has clearly been nagging him, so it makes sense that the Lakers will give him the second night of this back-to-back off to rest with the No. 1 seed already locked up and little to play for, especially with Vogel saying that the groin has been “an area of concern” for the Lakers over the last two years.
But no matter what the numbers say, it’s hard to point to LeBron as the most likely reason the Lakers have struggled so far in the bubble. His on-offs are as symptom, certainly, but likely not the cause. With him and Caruso both out, expect Dion Waiters to get a new high in minutes played (and shots attempted), as well as an increased ballhandling role for Kyle Kuzma. And with Russell Westbrook sitting for this one as well, this should be a really weird game that likely won’t tell us much, if anything, about these two teams.
Tip off is at 6:00 PT, and it will be broadcast locally on Spectrum SportsNet and nationally on TNT.