James will miss the next two games for the Lakers against the Clippers and Trail Blazers, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. There’s a chance James could miss more games as well after sitting out the back-to-back.
“James and the Lakers will continue to evaluate the injury and will proceed cautiously as the Lakers ramp up for the postseason, sources said,” Wojnarowski reported. “James has experienced some trouble making hard cuts and exploding since his return from six weeks on the sideline with the injury.”
James exited the loss against the Raptors on Sunday midway through the fourth quarter and did not return. He hinted that he might have come back too soon.
“Last two games at halftime after the break, it’s gotten a little sore on me, a little tight and obviously, coach decided not to put me back in towards the end because of that,” James said, per The Athletic. “So that’s pretty much it. … My thing is I need to be healthy and I need to make sure my ankle is where it was before, obviously before the injury.
“I don’t want to say I came back too early, but at the end of the day, I had to test it out and see where I was at.”
Lakers Final Stretch of Season Is Crucial
The Lakers are in a battle in the standings with the Mavericks and Trail Blazers, so the final eight games of the season are crucial so they can stay out of the play-in tournament.
As of May 4, the Lakers were in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference, holding a half-game lead over the Mavericks and one-game advantage on the Blazers. James blasted the idea of the play-in tournament this week.
“It don’t matter where we land. That’s my mindset. If it happens to be sixth, or fifth, or whatever the case may be. Or if we end up in that playoff, whatever that thing is. Whoever came up with that s*** needs to be fired,” James said on Sunday.
Here’s a summary of how the play-in tournament will work, via NBA.com:
At the conclusion of the regular season but before the first round of the playoffs, the team with the 7th-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the 8th-highest winning percentage in a Play-In Game (the “Seven-Eight Game”). The winner of the Seven-Eight Game in each conference will earn the No. 7 seed.
The team with the 9th-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the 10th-highest winning percentage in the “Nine-Ten Game”. The loser of the Seven-Eight Game will host the winner of the Nine-Ten Game in a Play-In Game, and the winner of that game in each conference will earn the No. 8 seed.
Lakers Also Dealing With Loss of Dennis Schroder
James won’t be the only starter missing for the Lakers as the season winds down. Starting point guard Dennis Schroder is expected to miss the rest of the regular season after entering the NBA‘s health and safety protocols, which calls for him to be sidelined for 10-14 days.
“I think our team is predicated on health,” James said earlier this week. “That is the No. 1 thing for our ballclub. We’re a team that we need to be healthy and we need to be full. And if it’s not one thing, it’s the other. And then we show up today and the starting point guard is not in the lineup. So it’s like another blow for us.
“That’s going to be the biggest thing for us down the stretch, more than the games that we’re playing. Just how healthy we’re going to be going into the stretch run.”
It’s unknown if Schroder has received the vaccination. Head coach Frank Vogel said it’s a personal choice and not team-mandated, although the team pointed out the benefits of getting it.
“We definitely pointed out to our whole team the benefits of as many guys getting vaccinated as possible. And how there’s competitive advantages to it. There’s just, for lack of a better word, lifestyle advantages of doing it,” Vogel said. “We can do more team-oriented stuff if we reach 85% [vaccination rate]. All those types of things. Less testing. All those things were laid out very clearly for our guys and we showed all of them the benefits.”