LeBron James is out indefinitely after suffering a high ankle sprain in Saturday’s loss to the surging Hawks. Solomon Hill clipped his leg when trying dive for the ball and Bron crumpled to the floor in pain, yelling in a way I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed. I’ll make no judgment here on Hill’s play, but the result is what it is and now the Lakers are without their best player for who knows how long.
I’m not a doctor and won’t pretend to be. LeBron was scheduled for an MRI after the game and as of the time of this writing, I’ve not seen an update. Depending on the severity of the sprain, Bron could miss upwards of 6 weeks, which is a long time. It could certainly be shorter. We’ll discuss that part of this more when we actually know more.
What we do know, however, is that the Lakers are in trouble. With AD already out and probably not back for at least a couple more weeks, the Lakers are simply not positioned to be a good team in the short term. We can talk “next man up” as much as you want, but, even if his teammates tried to tell us that him getting hurt at all is a reminder that LeBron is human like the rest of us, when it comes to basketball he’s not really a man. He’s one of the gods of the game and there is no stepping into his place or filling his role.
The Lakers, then, are poised to struggle. And the outcomes of this stretch could very well end up with them much lower in the standings than anyone would like. That’s just reality of things right now. The West is too good and even if this part of the schedule isn’t incredibly daunting, the team is too shorthanded to be expected to win at a good enough rate to not suffer in the standings while these injuries linger.
Do I expect the Lakers to play hard? Of course. I also expect Schröder, Kuz, and Trez to take on more responsibility (and do well as scorers) to help the team. THT’s role will grow, too, and I’m interested to see how well he handles the increased workload and responsibility. Same for Caruso, Keef, KCP, Wes, and McKinnie who will all be asked to do more, but without the ultimate rising tide to lift those lineups. And while seeing all this can give us more insight into these players individually, it’s not as though anything we learn can be extrapolated to what this team will be when whole. That’s not how this really works.
In terms of schematic shifts, I think we’ll see even more P&R with Dennis and THT handling. I think we’ll see an boost in minutes from Trez (who I expect to still come off the bench even with Damian Jones gone — even if the team has to start Cacok until Marc is ready to return) and for him to get even more post isolations and for action to run through him at the elbows in the team’s HORNS sets. I think we’ll see an even bigger emphasis on transition and the hope that the team can generate open shots in early offense rather than have to work harder to generate them when the game slows down. I think we’ll see an uptick in 3’s taken, regardless if they’re in early O or in the halfcourt.
Defensively, I think we’ll see more trapping and more assertive play in general at the point of attack. I think we’ll see a substantial uptick in the amount of zone the team plays in the halfcourt and that they’ll probably pick up full court more in order to try to force opponents to burn more clock or put them into situations where they get sped up and commit turnovers.
In summary, I think we’re going to see a style of play that tries to up the variance possession to possession in order to create the type of uncertainty that favors the lesser team. Because, make no mistake about it, the Lakers are going to go into most games as the lesser team. That’s no knock on them, it’s just what it is when a team built around two of the best 5-6 players in the league is suddenly without both of them.
Of course all of this is just me guessing. We’ll get our first look at things when the team plays the Suns tonight. But, make no mistake, what I’m not really guessing about is that things are going to be rough for a while. And, I suppose, that’s fine. Because while the Lakers will struggle without their top guys, at some point they’ll have everyone back. How it all fits and whether they have enough time to ramp up properly, however, is another discussion for another day.