The Los Angeles Lakers shut down LeBron James for at least a week while he recovers from a knee injury, and the Lakers are in deep trouble after losing three games in a row.
The Lakers finally returned home to Tinsel Town after an ugly six-game road trip on the East Coast in which they went 2-4 and dropped three-straight games while LeBron sat out with his injury.
The Lakers had just two wins in the last 10 days. They beat the Orlando Magic, who are the worst team in the league, and edged out a short-handed Nets team that only had one-third of Brooklyn’s Big three. Aside from those unimpressive wins, the Lakers are three games under .500 with a 24-27 record after losing to the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets, and Atlanta Hawks.
If the season were to end today, the Lakers would get the #9 seed and be relegated to the play-in tournament for a chance to earn a playoff berth.
When the season began, the Lakers were the second betting favorite on DraftKings’ NBA futures board at +400 odds to win the 2022 NBA Championship. Even after a slow 10-10 start, the Lakers were still a popular pick as their odds began to slide, and by Christmas, they were +1100. In the past month, the Lakers saw their title odds rapidly diminish from +1200 at the start of the new year to +1900 at the end of January.
LeBron’s creaky knees
LeBron underwent an MRI for his left knee, which didn’t reveal an injury despite constant swelling. LeBron is getting up there in years so it’s simple wear-and-tear, which is why the Lakers agreed that he would sit out games until his knee improved and the swelling dissipated.
If LeBron played under Gregg Popovich on the San Antonio Spurs, he’d designate LeBron as “old” on the injury report in his tongue-in-cheek way.
“As long as the swelling is there, he’s going to be out and we’ll get him back as soon as we can,” said head coach Frank Vogel.
One report suggested that LeBron would miss six games, while another suggested the Lakers were considering shutting him down through the All-Star Break.
LeBron was named to his 18th All-Star Game. He also earned the captain’s honors by receiving the most votes in the Western Conference. On Thursday, the All-Star reserves will be announced, and LeBron and Kevin Durant will pick sides for the second season in a row.
If the Lakers weren’t in such dire shape, they could rest LeBron for the next two weeks and let him return in time for the All-Star Game.
It’s been bad luck for LeBron and the Lakers in the injury department. As soon as Anthony Davis returned to the lineup after missing 17 games with a sprained knee injury, LeBron hits the IR. The Lakers saw their Big 3 together for just one game before LeBron had to sit out consecutive games.
Russell Westbrook has been the subject of trade rumors and he’s getting a lot of guff for his poor shooting, especially as the Lakers have yet to mesh as a team with Westbrook at the helm. Part of that disharmony is the simple fact that the Big 3 — LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook — haven’t logged enough court time together. The Lakers knew they were gambling when they acquired Westbrook in a trade and that it would take some time to find a rhythm together, but had faith that LeBron could mold the team into a championship contender.
The Lakers didn’t find their groove in the first half of the season, and that was before Davis went down with his knee injury in December.
After 50 games, the Lakers find themselves on the playoff bubble and jockeying for a spot in the play-in game with the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers. Toss in rumors about a Westbrook trade and the potential firing of their head coach, and the Lakers were a traveling sh-t show in January.
On Deck: Blazers, Clippers, Knicks, Bucks
The Lakers play four games in LA over the next eight days, with three home games and one “away” game against the Clippers. LeBron hopes he can return sooner than later from the knee injury, but that all depends on the swelling.
In the meantime, the Lakers will rely on Davis and Westbrook to end their losing streak. They square off against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday. The short-handed Blazers got CJ McCollum back in the lineup after he suffered a collapsed lung, but Damian Lillard is out for a couple of more months while recovering from core stomach surgery.
The Lakers have back-to-back games this week against the Blazers and Clippers. The Clippers don’t have Paul George or Kawhi Leonard due to injuries, but they keep finding ways to win games in dramatic fashion without their dynamic duo.
The New York Knicks are in town next weekend, and the Lakers are thrilled they get to play a team in worse shape than themselves.
The world champion Milwaukee Bucks visit Hollywood next Tuesday. Many fans thought that the Bucks and Lakers would end up meeting in the NBA Finals this season in a made-for-TV battle between LeBron and the Greek Freak, but that seems like a pipe dream considering the current state of the Lakers.