This marks the first time in his career that the 16-year veteran and four-time MVP has not finished the regular season. The Lakers have six games left, concluding April 9 against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center.
“After consulting with our team doctors and medical staff, we have decided to hold LeBron out of games for the remainder of the season,” read a statement from the Lakers attributed to president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka. “This decision will allow his groin to fully heal, and is best for the future success of both LeBron and the Lakers.”
James played in 55 games this season and averaged 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game. He made 51% of his shots from the field, and 33.9% of his three-point attempts. Those numbers were all higher than James’ career averages, except for three-point shooting accuracy.
James missed 17 consecutive games because of a groin injury he sustained on Christmas during a game against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland. The Lakers won that game but went 6-11 in James’ absence.
When he returned, the Lakers were cautious with his workload. He played on Jan. 31 against the Clippers and led the Lakers to a win. James then missed the Lakers’ next game on Feb. 2, on the road against the Warriors, due to what the Lakers called load management.
Since his return, James has often been seen with a large ice pack on his groin. He has also been on the injury report with what was designated a knee injury.
The Lakers were fourth in the Western Conference when James injured his groin and had hoped they could return to that level of play upon his return. That never happened for several reasons. As James worked his way back to full speed, the Lakers were shaken at the trade deadline.
The front office offered all of the Lakers’ young core in various trade packages for New Orleans Pelicans all-star forward Anthony Davis. That news became public, subjecting the Lakers to taunts on the road. With James so clear about his desire to play with Davis, it also impacted the Lakers’ chemistry in the locker room.
The Lakers went 4-14 after the trade deadline, a record that eliminated them from the playoffs. Since they’ve been officially out of the hunt, the Lakers have gone 3-1 with wins over the Sacramento Kings, Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets — all teams likely to miss the playoffs — while losing to the Utah Jazz on the second night of back-to-back games.
James hadn’t missed the playoffs since the 2004-05 season — his second in the NBA. In each of the last eight years, he’d been to the NBA Finals, winning three championships.
“It’s been difficult in between days, can’t sit here and lie just knowing that mathematically we’re not going to be in the postseason,” James said after Tuesday night’s game. “That’s like March Madness for college kids for me. To be able to go to March Madness and play that game, so at the end of the day, once the game is here and I know I’m playing, I’m physically able to play, when I suit up it’s all business. I never change my approach, I go out and try to make plays happen.”
Kuzma’s old friend
There were three future NBA players who frequented the Flint YMCA during the last decade. Kyle Kuzma, Monte Morris and Miles Bridges.
Bridges, who just turned 21, is younger than Kuzma, who turns 24 in July. This is Bridges’ first NBA season, but he entered the league after only two college seasons at Michigan State. Kuzma, meanwhile, spent four years at Utah and entered the NBA last season.
They faced each other on Friday night and engaged in friendly showmanship during the Lakers’ game against the Hornets.
“I’ve known him since he was in sixth grade,” Kuzma said. “It was super-fun. I’m a couple years older than him. We used to play basketball all the time. It’s good to see him grow up and make it here as well.”
Lance Stephenson might save his best celebrations for three-point shooting, but he sees the value in being effective in other parts of his game. For example, he has embraced the challenge of being a strong rebounder for the Lakers.
“When you rebound like that, it gets you going and it definitely got me going and trying to find my teammates and make the easy play,” he said.
It hasn’t been a perfect science for Stephenson. He only had two rebounds in Utah on Wednesday despite playing 30 minutes. But he had 10 rebounds on Tuesday against Washington and 13 against the Hornets on Friday. It’s something Lakers coach Luke Walton has encouraged.
“We asked Lance to rebound the ball against a smaller lineup,” Walton said Friday night. “So the guys, a lot of guys really stepped up and helped win tonight. So it was a lot of fun.”
AT NEW ORLEANS
When: 3 p.m., Sunday.
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330.