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USATSI

LeBron James has spent this season carrying the Los Angeles Lakers on his shoulders, and with only weeks remaining, the weight of that responsibility is finally starting to take its toll on the four-time MVP. James has missed scattered games here and there, and an ankle injury is the latest ailment to affect the aging superstar. 

James spent his time at Monday's practice undergoing treatment on the swelling in his left ankle, according to Lakers coach Frank Vogel, and was initially listed as doubtful for Tuesday's game against the Dallas Mavericks. Shortly before the scheduled opening tip, Vogel confirmed that both James and Anthony Davis would miss their matchup with the Mavericks due to their respective injuries. While Vogel did not give any sort of timeline on when LeBron could return, he did note that James' latest injury was "the latest and maybe biggest blow to our psyche." 

In the first half of Sunday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans, James stepped on the foot of Jaxson Hayes. This caused James' ankle to twist, and he immediately got checked out by team staffers.

He managed to work through the pain and stay in the game, ultimately scoring 39 points to try to will his team to a sorely-needed victory. It wasn't enough. The Pelicans defeated the Lakers 116-108, and now James is dealing with the consequences of playing through the injury.

"It's horrible right now. And unfortunately, we're about to hop on a flight, too," James said. "See what happens day-to-day. But it's pretty sore right now."

James added that he "lost all explosiveness" after the injury, and it showed down the stretch. James scored just four points in the fourth quarter, unable to will the Lakers to a win down the stretch as he has so many times this season. If he can't return in time for Tuesday's game against the Mavericks, the Lakers will be in serious trouble.

Sunday's loss to New Orleans not only pushed the Lakers down to No. 10 in the Western Conference, but gave the Pelicans the head-to-head tiebreaker. Now the Lakers lead the Spurs by just a single game for the No. 11 seed, and San Antonio is almost certain to win their tiebreaker by virtue of their superior conference record. Any game James misses is one the Lakers are likely to lose. They have just eight remaining on the schedule.

Anthony Davis is already out, but is closer to a return as he participated in live practice for the first time since suffering a mid-foot sprain. The big man is also listed as doubtful against Dallas. Still, it will all be moot if the Lakers don't have James. If their season is going to survive, they need their best player to recover as quickly as possible.