LeBron James was originally listed as probable for the Los Angeles Lakers’ matchup with the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday due to soreness in his right ankle, but on Tuesday morning was downgraded to questionable. Later in the day, the team officially announced that he would sit out for this game. It is unknown how much time he will miss. He is questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Thunder, according to head coach Frank Vogel.
James suffered the ankle injury on Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies. Tuesday’s matchup in San Antonio is the first of a back-to-back, so the Lakers may have been opting to get James an extra day of rest against the Spurs before bringing him back on Wednesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, or he could rest for both. Last year, James’ season was derailed due to an injury to the very same ankle, so the Lakers and James are wise to exercise caution, but that doesn’t make this less potentially worrying.
And as much as the Lakers could use everyone in the lineup as they look to gain cohesion, James is too important to this team to risk his health, and should take as much time as he needs. The Lakers need him in May and June more than October and November.
For as long as James is out, the Lakers will have no true small forwards on their roster that are healthy and ready to play. His absence will likely lead to a boost in playing time for undrafted rookie Austin Reaves, as well as the potential prospect of Kent Bazemore or Avery Bradley getting some run just for a little bit of size defensively, even if they’re not quite wings.
Carmelo Anthony is technically wing-sized, but he’s basically exclusively a 4 at this point in his career. Him ending up defending 3s would seem to be a bad idea, but injuries may force the team’s hand. Two-way player Sekou Doumbouya is also a small-forward, but considering he has yet to play a single second, the Lakers will probably just try to work with what they have.
Offensively, this is what the team brought in Russell Westbrook for. With James sitting, look for a return to more traditional Russ ball as he soaks up much of the offensive burden for the purple and gold with more shooters on the floor.
Aside from James, the team’s injury report remained mostly unchanged: Trevor Ariza (ankle surgery), Talen Horton-Tucker (thumb surgery) and Kendrick Nunn (knee bone bruise) are all still out. Wayne Ellington (hamstring strain) was upgraded to questionable.
On the bright side, the Lakers seem to have found the right combination of players to rotate while some of their key reserve guards are still out. In the first two games of the regular season, Vogel turned to the familiar pair of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, but on Sunday, he split the backup guard minutes primarily between Malik Monk and Austin Reaves. Unsurprisingly, the latter yielded better results.
In addition to the promising flashes that Monk and Reaves showed, the other good news is that the Lakers should have an easier time competing against the teams on their schedule this week, none of whom were in the playoff picture last season. If there were ever a time for the Lakers to work through their growing pains, weather the injuries on their roster and pick up a few wins, it’s this week. Hopefully they can still capitalize on that opportunity.