As the Los Angeles Lakers await the status of LeBron James’ health following a Christmas Day groin injury, it’s a good time to examine just how much the future Hall of Famer has meant to this youthful team.
James, who will undergo an MRI on Wednesday, has played 156 consecutive games (including the playoffs).
The Lakers are 20-14 in James’ first season in Hollywood, good enough for the No. 4 playoff seed in a loaded Western Conference. They haven’t advanced to the playoffs since the 2012-13 season.
“Everybody’s watching him,” point guard Lonzo Ball said Tuesday of James, “and expecting him to pretty much bring us a championship and all these great things. But he needs a supporting cast.”
Has the sixth-youngest roster in the NBA grown up enough to find their way without their superstar guiding the way? A similar core went 35-47 last season without James and important veterans such as JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson.
The James injury bug has been unkind to his teams of the past. Over the past four seasons, the Cavaliers were 4-23 in games that James missed either for rest or injury (3-10 in 2014-15, 1-5 in 2015-16 and 0-8 in 2016-17), according to ESPN. James played in all 82 games last season, and he also had All-Star Kyrie Irving as his teammate for the first three seasons.
The Lakers’ offense runs through James, who is putting up MVP-caliber numbers with 27.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game. The Lakers have three other players averaging double digits (Kyle Kuzma: 18.1, Brandon Ingram: 15.5, JaVale McGee: 11.8). The scoring will have to come from somewhere else if James misses significant time.
The Lakers are No. 8 in the NBA in offense (113.2 points) compared to No. 11 (108.1) last season. It’s unclear whether a player on the Lakers’ blossoming roster has emerged to become a go-to player.
Without James’ facilitating abilities, Ball and backup point guard Rajon Rondo would need to step up.
But all the intangible parts of James’ game — his leadership, defensive tenacity and experience — don’t always show up in the stat sheet. As scoring in the league has increased, the Lakers rank 18th in points allowed (111) compared to 25th in points allowed (109.6) last season.
In the Lakers’ 127-101 upset win over the Warriors on Tuesday, James played only 21 minutes, but his teammates responded with him out. Six players scored in double figures.
But how will they perform if No. 23’s injury requires him to sit out?
Only time will tell.
Source: Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY
Photo Credit: Prime Sports Net
Photo Credit: Sporting News