The Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, Nov. 4, for the second time in a week. That the Thunder are the worst team in the league is only part of the story. It’s how the Lakers have lost these games and the fact that their superstar, LeBron James, is out again with an injury.
According to an ESPN report, James is expected to miss at least a week with an abdominal strain.
Once seen as the NBA’s ironman and indestructible, James has been anything but since joining the Lakers in 2018. He has missed a part of every season he’s been in Los Angeles due to injury.
How concerned should the Lakers be?
“Anytime LeBron’s out and he’s going to miss some time there’s obviously concern,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said before Thursday’s game. “Hopefully, this is something that’s minimal, and hopefully he’ll be back soon.”
See, here’s the thing. Hope is not a strategy. It’s a feeling, or wish for a certainty.
This is James’ 19th year in the NBA, and he turns 37 next month. He has played 61,312 combined minutes in his career, second-most all time. That’s a lot of miles on the body, and we know the biggest predictor of a future injury is previous injury.
It’s time for the Lakers to really look at a structured load management plan, or else he won’t make it through the regular season.
Yes, the Lakers need to build chemistry and get into a rhythm. But this is a championship-or-bust squad. The games that matter are the 16 necessary to win a title, not the 82-game regular season.
Of course LeBron has been outspoken on load management in the past and is not a believer.
“No,” James said. “For one, I don’t play the game thinking about injuries. And also, I feel worse when I play low minutes.”
Thing is, load management isn’t a religion. It’s science, data, and sports medicine. You know, tangible facts.
He may not play the game thinking about injuries, but that doesn’t eliminate the facts. He’s been injured repeatedly since joining the Lakers and he has a minute total in a 19-year career that is unprecedented.
LeBron’s playoff minutes alone are the equivalent of a little over three full NBA seasons. That’s insane. He will need to accept that injuries are something he needs to be aware of, and learn how to balance the desire to play with the body’s need for rest and recovery.
Vogel knows it’s about finding a balance.
“Not any different than in years past,” Vogel said. “We want to be responsible with his minutes … get to the finish line as healthy as possible but also as in rhythm as possible. And that’s a balance that we strike throughout the year.”
The Lakers are the oldest team in the league, and they are counting on their oldest players to lead them to a title in June. Losing games to the Thunder, despite being without LeBron, is not a sign of good things to come.
All of this could prove moot come the playoffs, but the oddsmakers aren’t so sure. Once the betting co-favorite with the Brooklyn Nets to win the championship, the Lakers’ odds have grown to +500.
If the injuries to LeBron continue to nag and pile up this season, it’s hard to believe that come playoffs he’ll morph back into the Miami Heat version of himself.
The fact that LeBron spends $1.5 million a year on his body has become legend. It’s a large reason why he’s been able to play at an elite level for so long.
But money can only slow down the natural biological and biochemical effects of aging and injury. It can’t reverse or eliminate them.
The Lakers won an NBA championship in the 2020 bubble season and LeBron made good on his promise to bring a title to Los Angeles. Nobody knew at the time, but it was most likely his last.