Just when things were starting to look up for the Los Angeles Lakers, they were hit with their first major blow of the season. LeBron James is out for Thursday’s game and beyond, with sources saying the superstar will sit for the next week at least. While James’ injury is a huge blow for the Lakers, his absence will allow head coach Frank Vogel to break out of his comfort zone and experiment with his talented roster.
LeBron James’ injury squashes the Los Angeles Lakers’ momentum
After an 0-2 start, the Lakers have rebounded nicely. LA has won five of its last six games, including three in a row. Suddenly, the Lakers have gone from a team barely in playoff contention to the four-seed in a competitive Western Conference. But now, with LeBron out, they’ll be tested more than ever.
The 36-year-old suffered an abdominal strain during Tuesday’s 119-117 victory over the Houston Rockets. James still managed to play the whole game, scoring 30 points and dishing out 10 assists in just over 36 minutes.
It’s understandable to see the Lakers being overly cautious with James. The four-time MVP already missed two games with a sore right ankle suffered in LA’s third game of the season. That same ankle has kept him on the injury report every game since, even though he has managed to play through the entire three-game win streak.
Frank Vogel intends to go back to starting a big lineup
The Lakers have had three different starting lineups through eight games. There was the season-opening lineup of the superstar trio James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook flanked by veterans Kent Bazemore and DeAndre Jordan. When LeBron was out for two games, guard Malik Monk took his spot. And then recently, Vogel made a switch to small ball, swapping out the 6-foot-11 Jordan for 6-1 Avery Bradley.
Ahead of Tuesday’s game, the media asked Vogel about sticking with a smaller lineup. However, the third-year Lakers coach explained his plan for the season moving forward (h/t: Silver Screen & Roll).
“It is one of those things where I’ll say that this (starting lineup) is just something that we’re looking at right now, but we do intend to start big again soon.”Frank Vogel
Vogel’s message about starting a bigger lineup again may draw the ire of Lakers fans. After all, LA is 2-0 in the games Jordan came off of the bench and Dwight Howard sat out with a stiff neck. But with no James, starting a center again may happen sooner than later.
LeBron’s injury allows Vogel to experiment with the Lakers’ lineup
With LeBron James on the bench, LA’s head coach won’t hear too much criticism over starting a true center like Jordan. Chances are, his first lineup will look similar to the one he used in the two games James sat out. But over the next week, Vogel will have some opportunities to deviate from past lineups to see what his team is capable of.
For instance, what if the Lakers kept Jordan on the bench, kept Bradley in the lineup, and replaced James with Monk? The fifth-year guard is stuck in a slump after failing to record a field goal in his last three games. But in the two games he started, he netted a combined 26 points.
Could the Lakers start Carmelo Anthony? The 19-year veteran, who recently became the NBA’s ninth-highest scorer, has provided a huge offensive boost for a Lakers team in the middle of the pack on offense. His scoring punch could ultimately end up being exactly what the team needs while LeBron recovers.
Whether it’s Monk, Anthony, or a surprising role player like Austin Reaves, Vogel has several different options to work with. And while it’s normally not encouraged to change the lineup on a game-by-game basis, this period without James should be used to find the best combination of guys to play alongside the King when he returns. Plus, given his injuries already, preparing a strong lineup if the King misses more time is more important than ever.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.