It's been a miserable stretch for the Los Angeles Lakers. First, they lost LeBron James to a groin injury on Christmas Day that's kept the superstar sidelined for 17 games and counting. In the same game, Rajon Rondo suffered a finger injury, which kept the veteran point guard out of action for a similar amount of time as LeBron. Then, on Jan. 19, the Lakers lost another floor general in second-year guard Lonzo Ball for 4-to-6 weeks due to a Grade 3 left ankle sprain.
That isn't exactly a positive outlook for the Lakers in their quest to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. At this pace, they might be lucky just to make the cut this postseason.
For years, many have lauded James' ability to go practically unscathed through the NBA's grueling 82-game campaigns. Yes, he's been on the receiving end of a fractured cheekbone here or a sprained finger there, but that hasn't kept him out for long stretches of competition. This hiatus is something completely new for the 14-time All Star, as this injury could potentially limit his motion and ability to be an athletic marvel going forward. Prior to this lengthy absence, James' career high for most consecutive games missed due to injury was nine, back in the 2014-15 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers due to back and knee injuries. He hasn't had a span of more than five consecutive absences at any other point during his career.
With recovery being his primary concern now, LeBron has returned to a healing method that an increasing number of ailing athletes have begun to utilize: the hyperbaric chamber -- a device that disperses pure oxygen into a confined space in order to fully maximize the oxygen levels within that space. To use, athletes enclose themselves into the pressurized tube-like chamber, and as the oxygen is pumped in, their bloodstream will be loaded with the diatomic gas.
Some of the reported benefits of this therapy include stimulating new blood vessel growth, decreasing inflammation and increasing oxygen in tissues without adequate supply. Hypothetically, this will increase the body's speed of recovery and create an environment that specifically promotes healing. The device was famously used years ago by NFL Hall of Famer Terrell Owens to help aid in his speedy recovery from a severe ankle sprain leading up to the 2005 Super Bowl.
Detroit Pistons legend and CBS Sports NBA analyst Richard "Rip" Hamilton was one of the first-known NBA athletes to use the now-popular method.
"It's a very effective way to heal quicker," Hamilton said. "Not only is it a physical benefit, but mentally as well. While in the chamber you can review game film, dissect your play and just figure out how to come back stronger than ever."
Even if James doesn't seek to be active in the hyperbaric chamber, sleeping inside one is actually even more productive. Hamilton goes on to say that "four hours of sleep in the chamber is almost equivalent to eight hours of normal rest." That can potentially cut recovery time in half and makes it easy to see why James has been using this as part of his $1.5 million health regimen the past couple of years.
James' preparation seems to have been effective. This past week he got back to participating fully in practice and the Lakers are hoping to have him back as soon as Thursday against the Clippers.
It will be very compelling to see how the Lakers adjust to James' return. Before the injury he was averaging 27.3 points, 7.1 assists and 8.3 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 52 percent from the field. He is still one of the 10 most efficient players in the league, and the younger Lakers players will have to readjust to his presence on the court. In his absence, Kyle Kuzma has taken on a bigger load and has produced for the young team to the tune of 21 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest in James' absence. Even with that progression, the Lakers have gone 6-11 without "The King," sit in ninth place in the West and have some tough matchups coming up in the next two weeks.
With the All-Star break approaching, everyone will be interested in how LeBron impacts the trajectory of this struggling Lakers team. We know he will return to being the focal point, but will he be able to hold up like he usually does? Is this the final season that we see an all-time great in his true form? With Ball and Rondo hampered by injuries as well, can James take on the load of primary playmaker for another season? As All-Star Weekend nears, all eyes will be on James as he tries to right the ship in Los Angeles.