In the second quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday, LeBron James put a scare into the Lakers' front office and sold-out Staples Center when he hit the deck in pain after Desmond Bane collided into his lower leg. LeBron was down for several minutes.
Eventually, he arose, continued in the game (he played 40 minutes), and everybody breathed a collective sigh of relief. Well, except for James.
In his postgame comments, LeBron said his ankle was “sore” and would require “round-the-clock” treatment on Monday. Instead of brushing off any questions or concerns, he simply said he was hopeful that he would be ready to face the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.
He was not.
On Monday, LeBron was listed as “probable” for the Spurs game with “ankle soreness”, before being downgraded to “questionable” on Tuesday morning. He was ruled out a few hours later. LeBron missed his second consecutive game on Wednesday — the Lakers' shocking loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on “NBA Today” on Thursday that the Lakers are optimistic James should be able to return to action against his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, on Friday night in Los Angeles. He's officially listed as “questionable.”
Lakers official status report vs. Cavs lists LeBron (ankle) as questionable. Anthony Davis (knee) is probable.
Rajon Rondo is also questionable with right ankle soreness.
Looks like two-ways Jay Huff and Sekou Doumbouya may be with the team. pic.twitter.com/w1tOvZ75sM
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) October 28, 2021
Frank Vogel has downplayed the seriousness of LeBron's injury, noting that the severity and placement are different than the debilitating right ankle sprain he suffered last March. Before the Thunder game, James was on the court working on footwork and rhythm drills with Lakers assistant coach, Phil Handy.
LeBron James, who’s out tonight in OKC, getting some pregame work in with Phil Handy pic.twitter.com/WbKUgIN2sY
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) October 27, 2021
Certainly, it's not panic time yet. That said, I see two reasons to be not unconcerned.
1) The Lakers injuries this season have been worse than initially expected
When Trevor Ariza missed the first day of Lakers training camp, the team said it was a precautionary measure, and they weren't concerned with his “ankle soreness.” Welp. Turned out he needed surgery that will keep him out until December, at the earliest.
In the preseason, the Lakers deemed Wayne Ellington as day-to-day with a hamstring problem. An MRI later revealed a Grade 1 strain. Two weeks later, he still hasn't played (he's questionable for the Cavs game.)
Kendrick Nunn was listed as “questionable” for the Oct. 19 home opener vs. the Golden State Warriors with a right ankle sprain. Two days later, an MRI showed a bone bruise in his knee. He was ruled out for at least two-to-three weeks.
This isn't a shot at the Lakers for being coy or intentionally downplaying injuries. It just means that things come up, injuries recur or worsen, and more examination often leads to more diagnoses. As aforementioned, we've seen LeBron's status change multiple times since Sunday. Never assume anything until the player is back on the court.
2) LeBron's recent ankle troubles
“The first thing I was thinking to myself was, ‘Not again,'” James said. “Because, obviously, it was almost similar but not the same kind of play. Guy falls into my leg and there's nothing you can do about it and I couldn't get my leg out of there in time.”
When Hill crashed into James' leg, LeBron's ankle bent outwards, causing James to immediately writhe in pain. He stayed in the game to continue his record double-digit scoring streak, then was subbed out on the next possession. The high sprain forced James out of the lineup for 20 games, and he was clearly hampered upon his return. Last week, he revealed the ankle needed two months of recuperation over the summer before he could ramp up basketball activities.
In the Bane altercation, James' ankle doesn't roll over in the same fashion, and he hops up animatedly. But, as my Lakers Multiverse co-host, Cooper Halpern, broke down on our latest episode, the fact that it was another injury to the same ankle is inherently worrisome going forward.
Coming off an injury-riddled 2020-21 campaign, the Lakers should be extra-cautious with LeBron. If there is any lingering soreness, there's no reason to force things, particularly on a road back-t0-back early in the season.
“There was some soreness and we are taking the marathon approach,” Vogel said. Smart.
Still, the King is not totally in the clear yet. More broadly, the existential frights in consecutive games caused by James and Anthony Davis' hitting the floor in pain and grabbing their legs served as a stark reminder of how quickly the championship window for a team built around a 36-year old with two years left on his contract can shut.