For the second time in as many weeks, LeBron James is set to miss a showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers announced on Thursday afternoon that James will miss the team’s matchup with the Thunder with a rectus abdominis strain — an ab strain in layman’s terms — after missing last week’s contest against Oklahoma City with an ankle sprain.
Shams Charania of The Athletic later reported that James is expected to miss at least a week with the injury.
On his personal Instagram account, Charania added that James is expected to miss “1-2 weeks” and that James could “possibly” play on this injury if the Lakers were in the playoffs right now. Dave McMenamin of ESPN reported that on the team side, the organization is going to be extra careful with this latest malady suffered by their star, who will turn 37 next month:
New story: LeBron James is out with an abdominal strain. While no timeline for his return has been provided by the Lakers, a source familiar with the injury told ESPN that the team's medical staff "wants to take their time" with James' recovery https://t.co/2Gv9cMhXvH— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) November 4, 2021
Late in the team’s win over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, James briefly checked out of the contest and headed into the tunnel with his personal trainer Mike Mancias. After only a few moments, though, James returned to the scorer’s table and checked back into the game, helping the Lakers close out the victory.
James checked out of the game at the 5:47 mark, walked down in the tunnel after hanging around the bench, stretched briefly and then turned and headed back to the bench, checking back into the game at the 4:26 mark. He scored twice in those final four-and-a-half minutes, including a driving layup immediately upon his return.
LeBron did this AFTER checking out, heading into the tunnel and stretching. I think he's probably fine pic.twitter.com/0095FuPcso— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) November 4, 2021
In the press conference after the game, though, James had some kind of wrap and/or ice on his abdominal area already:
"They took two points away but what we were explaining to the refs is that we lost a possession which could have cost us the game." Anthony Davis & LeBron James address the media following tonight's close 119-117 #Lakers win. pic.twitter.com/GvCMGzdvtn— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) November 3, 2021
Dr. Rajpal Brar — who has a doctorate in physical therapy and provides medical analysis for Silver Screen and Roll — provided some more specifics about this type of injury, and offered some reasons for optimism:
The rectus abdominis is a core muscle that runs down the front of the stomach and to the pelvis area. This would explain why he was stretching in the manner he was in the tunnel and why he had ice on that lower region. Considering he was able to return to play effectively and was initially listed as questionable for this game, this is likely a Grade 1 strain and he’ll be assessed day to day for soreness, discomfort, functionality — similar to the ankle.
Here is his video analysis:
Injury analyst Jeff Stotts — the founder of In Street Clothes, which tracks NBA injuries — says the average missed time for abdominal injuries is four games.
After the Lakers game against the Thunder on Thursday, the team travels to Portland for a game against Damian Lillard and the struggling Blazers before returning home for a five-game homestand against the Hornets, Heat, Timberwolves, Spurs and Bulls.
A one-week timetable would slot James’ return potentially before the game against Minnesota. After that stretch of home games, the team will hit the road with games against Milwaukee and Boston to kick off a road trip.
With the schedule quickly ramping up and the season still young, it makes sense the Lakers are looking to be cautious with this injury to avoid any potential long-term absences like the ones that derailed last season.
As was the case with James’ ankle injury last week, having Russell Westbrook on the roster this season makes it easier to be cautious with James’ injury. A third superstar acts as insurance for injuries, both in the short and long term, and offers leeway for the Lakers that wasn’t available last season.
However, James’ injury does leave the Lakers even more shorthanded on the wing. Already without the likes of Trevor Ariza and Talen Horton-Tucker, James’ injury leaves the team with effectively no wings available. Certainly expect the Lakers to go big again, a move that they were already going to make — and becomes easier with Dwight Howard upgraded to probable on Thursday — to help cover minutes at power forward, and undrafted rookie Austin Reaves to get all the playing time he can handle. Rajon Rondo will likely re-enter the rotation as well to add an additional ballhandler.