The Lakers lost to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday afternoon, but the particulars of this game aren’t really important. A 99-94 loss obviously affects the standings and moves the Lakers to 28-14 overall, but for Los Angeles, there is no takeaway from this game that is all that important until we know how long LeBron James will be out, and how severe the ankle injury he sustained early in the second quarter is.
James was on the ground in obvious pain, and after trying to play through the injury and even hitting a three, he quickly left the game, knocking over a chair in anger as he walked off the floor with his trainer, Mike Mancias. The Lakers quickly announced that he would miss the rest of the game with what they would only term a “right ankle injury.” James has previously been listed with a left ankle issue on the team’s injury report basically all season, so this is a new injury to the other ankle.
It’s not time to panic until we know more about how severe this injury is or isn’t, but it doesn’t matter how nice your car is if the engine isn’t working, and basically every other Laker is to some degree just a gear that’s powered by James’ greatness. You can argue about who is the MVP of the league until the cow’s come home, but all that really matters is that James is the Lakers’ MVP. On a long-term basis, they just don’t work without him.
Don’t get me wrong: This is not a plea for James to rush back. He has only missed one game this year, but he should sit as many as the medical staff recommends in order to get him healthy for the long haul. And if James does miss extended time while Anthony Davis continues to be out with injuries of his own, the next stretch of Lakers basketball could be really rough to watch, but ultimately none of this matters for the defending champs until the postseason. Because even once there, the Lakers aren’t going anywhere meaningful without their two stars at as close to 100% as possible. In the interim, they and the team deserve our patience as they try to get there. We’ve seen what this pairing can do when it matters, and they’ve more than earned some leeway to do whatever they have to in order to rise to that level again.
The Lakers next take on the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on Sunday in the second half of this latest back-to-back. If James is healthy and ready to go for that one, then great. But if he’s not, nothing else matters. Not the MVP race, not the team’s seeding, not their rotations, the trade deadline, or anything else. The only thing that’s important is making sure he can get healthy again.
Everything else is secondary, because without James, all of this is moot anyway.