Any team that includes a healthy LeBron James becomes an automatic title contender; a team without him becomes hopelessly below average. Every Lakers fan in the City of Angels had a collective freak out after LeBron crashed to the floor and howled in agony after suffering a high-ankle injury against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday afternoon.

LA Lakers LeBron James injury ankle
LA Lakers star LeBron James clutches his leg after suffering an ankle injury against the Atlanta Hawks. (Image: Joel Smith/Getty)

LeBron, 36, will miss an undetermined amount of time. High-ankle sprains can take anywhere between two and six weeks to heal. So, as long as LeBron is healthy by the time the playoffs roll around everything will be okay, right? In theory, that makes sense. In reality, Lakers fans know their goal of winning back-to-back championships might not come to fruition without a healthy LeBron.

“I haven’t necessarily seen him scream and scowl like that probably ever,” said teammate Kyle Kuzma.

The defending champion Lakers were already stretched thin while holding the line after Anthony Davis went down with a calf injury months ago. Without Davis and LeBron, the Lakers are the Sacramento Kings.

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Lakers will have to make a tough decision in the next few days. In the meantime, get ready to hear a slew of rumors about Kyle Lowry heading to the Lakers.

The Lakers were in the hunt for a sharp-shooting veteran before LeBron’s ankle injury. The Lakers eyed PJ Tucker, but the Milwaukee Bucks beat them out when they pulled a trigger on a trade with the Houston Rockets last week.

Down Goes LeBron

With March Madness underway, the sporting world overlooked a great matchup between the Lakers versus Trae Young and the sizzling-hot Atlanta Hawks, who won seven in a row coming into Saturday.

Once James went down, the Hawks took control of the game. The Hawks prevailed 99-94 and extended their winning streak to eight games. At 22-20, the Hawks and Miami Heat are competing for the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

King James went down early in the second quarter. Solomon Hill crashed into LeBron while diving for a loose ball. LeBron rolled his ankle on a play that his teammates thought was shady.

“A guy dove for a loose ball,” said Montrezl Harrell. “Took his leg out from up under him. And we really didn’t feel like it was one of those basketball-type plays.”

“That’s an unnecessary play to dive into the leg like that,” added Dennis Schroder.

“Would never disrespect the game and take a player out purposely … he knows that,” tweeted Hill. “That’s all that matters to me. Praying for a speedy recovery.”

LeBron tried to gut out the pain and remained in the game. However, the pain was too much and he left the game after a couple of possessions.

“He’s one of these guys that takes the little nicks and bumps and it doesn’t really set him back as long as it does other guys,” said Harrell. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

LeBron scored 10 points in 11 minutes before the injury.

On Deck: Suns, Pelicans, 76ers, and Bucks

Without LeBron and Davis, Frank Vogel will lean on Harrell (14.5 ppg), Schroder (14.8 ppg), Kuzma (12 ppg), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (8.5 ppg), and veteran Markieff Morris (5.9 ppg) to pick up the scoring slack. Harrell and Schroder combined for 39 points in the loss to Atlanta.

The Lakers hit the road for two road games. They meet the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night and fly to New Orleans to play Zion Williamson and the Pelicans on Tuesday.

The Lakers have a four-game homestand starting next weekend that includes two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Lakers also have two easy opponents with games against the Cleveland Cavs and Orlando Magic.

The Lakers will be tested in early April during a seven-game road trip with games against the Sacramento Kings, LA Clippers, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, and Charlotte Hornets.

The Lakers (28-14) sit in third place in the Western Conference playoff hunt. They’re 2.5 games behind the Utah Jazz (30-11), but a slew of teams are in hot pursuit, including the LA Clippers (27-16), Denver Nuggets (25-16), and Portland Trail Blazers (25-16).

Despite LeBron’s injury, the Lakers are still the outright consensus favorite to win the 2021 NBA Championship. You can back the Lakers at +260 odds, according to a recent update by DraftKings. The Lakers are still favorites to win the Western Conference at +125 odds.

The Lakers are still in a three-dog race with the LA Clippers and Phoenix Suns to win the Pacific Division. With LeBron out indefinitely, the Clippers and Suns will slug it out for the division crown.

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