With James injury, Lakers face challenge to reach postseason

Published 7:34 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — LeBron James’ injury hasn’t changed the Los Angeles Lakers’ goal of reaching the postseason.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham said Tuesday that James is still going through medical evaluations before the team makes a decision on how long the NBA’s career scoring leader may be unavailable after injuring his right foot Sunday in a victory over Dallas.

“We’ll wait and see what our medical people come back with,” Ham said before the Lakers’ game against the Memphis Grizzlies, adding that he is uncertain on an exact return date for James.

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The Lakers sit in 12th place, outside the playoff picture entering Tuesday’s play. However, they are only a half-game behind the 10th-place New Orleans Pelicans for the last spot in the play-in field, and 2 1/2 behind Dallas for the sixth-place slot that would guarantee a postseason berth.

Asked if the injury could be severe enough for James to be out for the rest of the season, Ham said he didn’t want “to speculate or jump to conclusions about anything.”

“I’ll tell you this,” Ham added, “as an organization, we’re going to make sure we kick the tires and look at everything that needs to be looked at. Never in a hundred million years will we put a guy out there that has a risk of further damaging what’s going on.

“That’s not just with LeBron. That’s with any of our players.”

Los Angeles made key moves at the trade deadline, picking up players such as Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and D’Angelo Russell to bolster their roster for the stretch run.

Then James’ injury stymied the plan.

Ham said despite the injury to James, the Lakers’ leading scorer at 29.7 points a game, the team’s goals have not changed. He told his team the need to play the right way and play together remain the same.

“The mission has not changed for us,” Ham said.

“It’s a huge blow to have LeBron injured,” he added. “We’ve got to keep going, and it’s full steam ahead with our goals that we set for ourselves.”