LeBron James has looked fresh and engaged during his team’s brilliant start to the season. He has been healthy, playing nearly 35 minutes per game, and had yet to sit out once this season — until Sunday. James missed his first game of the campaign because of a thoracic muscle strain, and perhaps not coincidentally the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Denver Nuggets, 128-104.
James missing a game wouldn’t normally be huge news, but last season he was limited to just 55 games because of a groin injury. He had never played in fewer than 69 games before that so any injury is going to raise some eyebrows as James traverses his 17th NBA season, especially given the wear and tear on his body after nearly two decades in the league. Plus, the Lakers’ next game after their bout with the Nuggets is their highly anticipated Christmas Day showdown against the Los Angeles Clippers. The game is a potential Western Conference finals preview, and James’ status is now in question.
Another concern is that the Lakers are so dependent on James and Anthony Davis. Los Angeles lost to Indiana in one of its two games this season without Davis (the other was a win over the lowly Warriors), and the gap in production is massive between the two superstars and the next Laker. Davis and James have combined for 53.5 points per game this season, while the next-highest Laker is Kyle Kuzma at 11.1 per game.
Given his age and how important he is to the franchise, the Lakers will obviously be cautious with James’ return to action, and understandably so. They want him as healthy as possible come playoff time, even if it costs them a couple of wins during the regular season. With that said, it would definitely put a damper on the matchup against the Clippers if James isn’t able to play on Christmas Day.