Lakers’ LeBron James doubtful for Sunday’s game because of back strain

Lakers forward LeBron James is defended by Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon during a game Dec. 17, 2019, at Indianapolis.
Lakers forward LeBron James is defended by Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon during their game Thursday at Indianapolis.
(Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

LeBron James didn’t practice Saturday because of a muscle strain in his back and was listed as doubtful for the Lakers’ game against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday at Staples Center.

Kyle Kuzma did practice with the Lakers and is listed as probable as he recovers from a sprained left ankle. Anthony Davis is also listed as probable for the game because of a sprained right ankle.

The biggest surprise was learning that James was injured during Tuesday night’s game at Indiana and then played nearly 37 minutes against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, when he posted a triple-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

James has a thoracic muscle strain, which is defined as a tendon injury in the upper or lower back. The pain can cause muscle spasms, swelling and stiffness.

“It was sustained in the Indiana game and he was able to play through it in the Milwaukee game,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after practice Saturday. “But the medical team was keeping a close eye on him and listed him as doubtful for tomorrow.”

Vogel said James was injured on a drive to the basket and collided with Indiana’s big men.

James has played in all 29 of the Lakers’ games and is ninth in the NBA in scoring (25.8 points per game) and leads the league in assists (10.6).


“If he doesn’t go tomorrow, it’s gonna be a group effort,” Vogel said. “We’ll release starting lineups and all that stuff tomorrow. It’s one of those things that no one person can pick up everything LeBron does for our team, so it’s going to have to be a group effort.”

Vogel said James’ injury just happened so it’s hard to determine the long-term effects.

“We want all our players to make sure that they’re healthy and being intelligent with this time of year, understanding it’s a marathon,” Vogel said. “It’s an 82-game season. And we’ll see how it progresses.”

The Lakers have only been home for four days in December and don’t catch much of a break heading into Christmas with the Nuggets and Clippers next.

Dec. 20, 2019

Kuzma, who has missed the last five consecutive games with his ankle injury, said he’ll return when “my ankle feels fine and ready.”

“I want to feel 100% comfortable that I’m healthy,” Kuzma said. “When I get to that point, I get to that point.”

Vogel said Davis, who missed the Pacers game but played against the Bucks, still was dealing with some pain in his ankle.


Davis was working on his shots after practice Saturday.

“Still battling some soreness,” Vogel said. “We’re listing him as probable, so, yeah, still dealing with some soreness.”



When: 6:30 p.m., Sunday.

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330.

Update: The Nuggets (19-8) have won five consecutive games. They are allowing just 101.7 points per game, the fewest in the NBA. They are holding teams to 43.7% shooting, which is eighth best in the league, and 30.4% from three-point range, tops in the league.