LOS ANGELES – The latest injury stint for LeBron James is marching toward unprecedented territory.
The 34-year-old Lakers star was medically evaluated on Thursday for his strained left groin, which has already caused him to miss eight games. James is progressing to limited on-court work, but he still is expected to miss at least the next three contests, butting his potential return up against one of the hardest portions of the Lakers’ schedule.
The latest timeline makes James (27.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 7.1 apg) an almost-certain scratch for Friday’s road game at Utah, as well as home games against the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls, both in the basement of the Eastern Conference. The Lakers said Thursday that James will be re-evaluated on Jan. 16.
That is an important deadline: The Lakers (23-19) travel that day for a two-game road trip against Oklahoma City and Houston, two Western contenders, before returning home for a marquee game against the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers, who are 3-5 without James, would face an uphill challenge to win any of those games if he can’t suit up.
There’s nearly no precedent for James missing 11 games in a regular season: He’s only missed more once, during the 2014-15 season in Cleveland. In 13 other non-lockout seasons, James has played in at least 74 games. In the lockout season in 2011-12, James played all 62 games of the regular season.
Despite his injury, James is still the leading vote-getter in the West for the upcoming All-Star game. It’s a reminder of how much the Lakers could use their injured marquee player, who was in the midst of another statistically brilliant season before going down Christmas Day against the Warriors.
At the very least, the Lakers have cobbled together back-to-back wins without James, or Rajon Rondo (sprained finger) who is out likely until at least later this month. The team has also become more cohesive on defense, ranking No. 6 in the league (104.4 defensive rating) during the last eight games. After a 113-100 win over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, coach Luke Walton said he was encouraged by the progress.
“I thought our team showed a lot of growth in the — whatever you want to call it, post-LeBron injury, LeBron and Rondo injuries,” he said. “There were times in that game tonight where in previous games we would’ve just split and gone down and taken quick shots. But I thought our guys did a really nice job staying composed, continuing to share the ball, continuing to make plays and ultimately, winning by competing on the defensive end.”
Walton said Wednesday that James would not travel with the Lakers to Utah.
Chandler gets the night off; Lakers still dominate glass
One of the team’s biggest presences remained on the bench Wednesday night, as Tyson Chandler did not enter the Pistons game despite suiting up. According to Walton, that was the plan.
“I’ve been looking to try and rest Tyson,” Walton said. “We’ve been leaning on him pretty heavy. It was one of those things where if we needed him, he was going to be ready.”
Chandler has played 30 of 32 possible games since landing in Los Angeles 10 games into the season. The 36-year-old does have a substantial injury history, failing to top the 50-game mark in either of the two previous seasons in Phoenix.
Going against Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, the Lakers leaned a little harder on JaVale McGee and Ivica Zubac to help control the glass by boxing the Pistons bigs out and allowing guards to get rebounds. Six different Lakers had at least five rebounds as the home team topped Detroit 47-34 on the glass. Griffin had zero rebounds — something that’s never happened before in his career.
“That was the focus,” Kyle Kuzma said. “I tried to make sure he wasn’t supposed to get rebounds. The game plan was to limit Drummond and him on the boards, because those guys are beasts, so make sure block him out, and the guards did a great job of flying in and getting rebounds.”
Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.