LeBron James has reached the stage of his career where his night-to-night health is not always going to be guaranteed. On Monday, he was held out of the Los Angeles Lakers loss to the San Antonio Spurs with what head coach Frank Vogel described as "significant" soreness in his left knee. It's the same knee that forced James to miss five games earlier in the season due to swelling.
Fortunately, the 37-year-old James will retake the floor on Wednesday when the Lakers battle the Houston Rockets, Lakers coach Frank Vogel confirmed pregame. His return was badly needed, as the Lakers scored a paltry 18 points in the fourth quarter of Monday's loss without their leader down the stretch. Every game is critical as the Lakers desperately cling to a play-in spot, but that doesn't mean the Lakers will be too bold in how they manage their aging superstar.
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"[James'] health takes precedence over any matchup, any individual one game, for sure," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday. That's a wise stance. The Lakers know the alternative all too well. When an aging Kobe Bryant was forced to carry a depleted Lakers team to the finish line in 2013, he tore his Achilles and effectively ended his career. The Lakers cannot afford the same to happen to James. Even if this season is a lost cause, his health next year is paramount.
Even with James returning Wednesday, it seems possible that he would miss at least one more game in the semi-near future. The Lakers have a back-to-back on Sunday (in Phoenix) and Monday (home against Toronto), and if James has a sore knee, the Lakers may not be able to play him in both.
That would be yet another obstacle for this Lakers team to overcome. At 28-36 the Lakers are just barely holding off the New Orleans Pelicans for the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference. Their loss to San Antonio on Monday knotted the two teams up at 2-2 against one another this season, potentially granting the Spurs the tiebreaker depending on how the rest of the season goes. The Lakers still lead the Spurs by 3.5 games for a play-in spot, so they're in a relatively strong position to at least remain a top 10 seed, but if James misses a meaningful amount of time, that security is going to slip away quickly.