- Thearon W. Henderson/Getty
- LeBron James is expected to miss at least 13 games with his groin injury, making it the worst setback of his career.
- James will be reevaluated Wednesday, and it’s possible that he will miss even more time, as rushing him back from the injury risks aggravating it.
- The Los Angeles Lakers are 4-7 without James this season and are about to enter a brutal part of their schedule in which they face playoff teams in nine of their next 12 games, including eight on the road.
LeBron James’ groin injury is now the worst injury of his career.
Of the highlights in James’ 16-year career, his durability is one of the most impressive. The most games he’s ever missed in a season was 13 in 2014-2015, when he was sidelined eight games with a back injury.
James has now missed the Los Angeles Lakers’ past 11 games since injuring his groin against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. James’ agent Rich Paul told ESPN that James would miss at least the next two games. He’s being reevaluated on Wednesday.
There’s a reason to think James may still be out for a while. Lakers head coach Luke Walton told reporters on Tuesday that James had been doing half-court work with the team but hadn’t yet been doing full-court work. That means James isn’t yet running full-court after sitting out for three weeks.
The Athletic’s Joe Vardon reported that when James’ groin strain was initially diagnosed, the Lakers found a small tear. Groin injuries are among the trickiest and most nagging in sports, and if James were to reinjure it, it would be worse than this initial bout.
The Lakers have gone 4-7 in James’ absence and have looked underwhelming. They’ve lost to good teams (the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Utah Jazz) and bad teams (the New York Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers) alike. And their schedule is only getting harder.
The Lakers’ next two games, both on the road, are against the Thunder and the Houston Rockets. The Lakers then play the Warriors, and while James has not yet been ruled out of that game, it’s hard to imagine a ruder return to the court than coming back to play the surging Warriors.
Things don’t lighten up from there until the All-Star break. After the Warriors game, six of the Lakers’ next nine games are against some of the best teams in the league – the Philadelphia 76ers (twice), the Indiana Pacers, the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Warriors again. Five of those games are on the road.
Eight of their 12 games before the All-Star break are on the road.
In James’ absence, the Lakers have fallen from fourth to eighth in the West, and they even momentarily dropped out of the playoff picture altogether. The standings in the deep Western Conference change nightly.
If James misses the next three games and the Lakers go 0-3, they would be 24-24. A .500 record right now would put the Lakers in 11th place in the Western Conference.
Even if James returns for the final stretch before the All-Star break, he’ll have the tough task of shaking off the rust as the Lakers hit the road to play several playoff teams in playoff contention.
Good teams in the Western Conference will miss the playoffs – there are not enough seeds for everyone. Injuries and random tiebreakers could make the difference between a postseason appearance and a season that ends in mid-April.
It may feel as if there’s a lot of the season left to be played, but each game matters more than ever. For the Lakers, making the postseason could depend on how soon they get James back and how close to 100% he is when he does return. Those two issues might conflict.