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LeBron James injury update: 3 observations on the Lakers’ situation

Lakers forward LeBron James walks off the court after his right ankle was injured.
Lakers forward LeBron James walks off the court after his right ankle was injured during the second quarter of the game against Atlanta on Saturday at Staples Center.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Lakers fans have reason for concern when it comes to LeBron James’ latest ankle injury.

Here are some observations after it was learned the Lakers star sustained a high right ankle sprain during a 99-94 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.

This could be bad

LeBron James doesn’t scream in pain. He doesn’t take himself out of games. And both happened Saturday. While we don’t know the severity of his injury, the way he sounded — and the way everyone sounded after the game — this injury is a big deal.

Recovery times for high-ankle sprains — if that’s the worst of James’ injury — vary from a relatively quick return in two to three weeks to a severe case that takes more than six weeks. The playoffs start in nine weeks, and the Lakers know that if they stay in the top six of the Western Conference, they have a chance to repeat as NBA champions if they are healthy.

The Western Conference is predictably tight again this season. The Lakers are 2½ games behind league-leading Utah, percentage points behind the Phoenix Suns for second place in the West. Then again, they are only 2½ games ahead of Portland, which is currently sixth, the final guaranteed playoff spot. The seventh- through 10th-place teams in each conference will have a two-round, play-in tournament. So, not much margin for error.

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D-E-F-E-N-S-E

The Lakers’ best hope to stay competitive without James and Anthony Davis is on the defensive end, and if there’s any reason for optimism, it’s that the Hawks scored only 47 points in the second half when James was no longer playing. The Lakers have the best defensive rating in the NBA and as coach Frank Vogel said, “if you play team-first basketball and you defend at a high level, you have a chance to win.”

Second unit, first

Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma, anchors of the second unit, will be even more important as the Lakers try to find offense in the absence of their stars. Harrell scored 23 points Saturday, but Kuzma had only eight. They’ll need more consistent play from their reserves, including Markieff Morris, who had 12 points and six rebounds Saturday, and Talen Horton-Tucker, who after a strong start this season has cooled off.


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