With 7 minutes 51 seconds left in the third quarter of the Lakers’ stunning win over the back-to-back NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Christmas night, LeBron James strained his left groin to create the turning point on what was shaping up as a promising season.
In an interview with Spectrum Sports on Friday night, James indicated that his injury and the 17 games he was sidelined over five weeks sent the Lakers to the abyss of which they were never able to recover.
On that same fateful night, Lakers veteran point guard Rajon Rondo sustained a sprained right ringer finger that required surgery for a ligament tear, leaving him out for four weeks.
The Lakers now were down their two leaders.
“So, now you take the two masterminds that we brought here to help lead these young guys off the floor for 11 weeks collectively, that’s the disappointing [thing],” James said. “That’s disappointing for me because I knew exactly where we were at that point. And we’ve just never been able to get it back from after that.”
The Lakers will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, leaving James frustrated that his body didn’t hold up so he could carry his team to the postseason.
James, who had played in eight consecutive NBA Finals and had not missed the playoffs since the 2004-05 season, was disappointed he could not lead the Lakers the way he has been accustomed to because he was sitting on the bench out of uniform.
“And me being the leader I am, yes, you can lead a little bit,” said James, who the Lakers decided would sit out the rest of the season after the game against Charlotte on March 30. “You can be like, ‘Yo, I saw that right there, you can make that play.’ Or, ‘Maybe you should have did this.’ Or, ‘Hey, yo, we should …’ But, like, being in the foxhole, like me being in uniform, me being on the floor, I know I can command my guys more than that. You can only say so much in a suit as a player. …
“But I know what I can do for the franchise. I know what I can do for the team. So I’m basically trying to speed up my body to get back on the floor, but also my mind is kind of shot because I just want to be out there for my guys.”
When: 6:30 p.m., Sunday.
On the air. TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330.
Update: The Jazz are in fifth place in the Western Conference, one game behind the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, so Utah has a shot at home-court advantage in the playoffs. Utah is led in scoring by second-year guard Donovan Mitchell (23.5 points per game) and is led in rebounding by center Rudy Gobert (12.9), who is second on the team in scoring (15.7).