LeBron James will miss Thursday's game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets, coach Frank Vogel revealed on Thursday. He is apparently dealing with soreness to his right groin. In addition, Rockets star Russell Westbrook is unlikely to play, as he is suffering from a right quad contusion, according to ESPN's Tim MacMahon. As the cherry on top, fan-favorite guard Alex Caruso is listed as questionable with neck muscle spasms. The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on Monday.
James missed a big chunk of last season while dealing with a groin injury, but fortunately, that was to his left groin. Today, he has soreness on his right groin. Even if he didn't, there were a number of reasons why it made sense for the Lakers to be cautious in this game. The most obvious of those reasons was that the Lakers played against the Thunder on Wednesday, and back-to-backs are fairly precarious where injuries are concerned. There is no telling how the bubble changes that equation, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
There are also seeding implications involved. The Lakers have had a little trouble dispatching the Nuggets this season, currently No. 3 in the Western Conference. Houston has been another story, and their high-variance style makes them extremely dangerous in a playoff setting. Ideally, the Lakers would likely prefer to avoid having Houston on their side of the playoff bracket. Helping them earn this win would be a step towards avoiding them in the second round of the playoffs.
Still, there are downsides to James' absence even with their own seeding locked up. The Lakers have had by far the worst offense in the Disney bubble, scoring a paltry 96.6 points per 100 possessions whereas no other team is below 102.3. With only four games left on their seeding schedule, there isn't much time for them to get back on track. Sitting LeBron tonight essentially punts away one-quarter of those opportunities, as they have only three seeding games left afterward.
Ultimately losing tonight has no impact on the Lakers. They have their place atop the Western Conference secured, and without home-court advantage, they have no incentive to chase the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA's best overall record. But this isn't a team playing its best basketball right now. The Lakers are running out of time to get back on track, and without their MVP candidate, tonight won't be the night they do so.