Shorthanded Lakers Suffer Another Injury Blow Ahead of Crucial Match vs. Bucks

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James will miss their crucial meeting against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, March 26, with left ankle soreness, the team announced barely 8 hours before tip-off.

LeBron James' first season with Lakers is over - Los Angeles Times

The Lakers are already without Jarred Vanderbilt (midfoot sprain), Christian Wood (knee surgery), Gabe Vincent (knee surgery) and rookie Jalen Hood-Schifino (back surgery).

James, 39, has been dealing with his left ankle issue even before the NBA All-Star break. He sought treatment before and after the All-Star break and tried to manage the injury. But the pain and discomfort came and gone, causing him to miss the Lakers’ win over the Bucks in their last meeting on March 8.

James was coming off a 26-point, 10-assist performance in 38 minutes in the Lakers’ 150-146 win over the Indiana Pacers on March 24 that gave them a much-needed separation from the Golden State Warriors (36-34) for the 9th seed and kept them within a striking distance of the 8th seed Phoenix Suns (42-30).

But they will be hard-pressed to repeat over the Bucks without James.

Spencer Dinwiddie could get his second start in James’ place.

Dinwiddie’s confidence just got a massive boost after scoring 26 points on 8 of 11 shooting and five assists, his most productive game in a Lakers uniform, against the Pacers.

The Lakers will also hope to get another magical performance from D’Angelo Russell, who missed the Pacers game with a non-COVID illness.

Russell torched the Bucks with a season-high 44 points including the game-winner in their last meeting.

Dinwiddie also came up huge with the game-winning block on Damian Lillard that preserved Russell’s heroics.

Rui Hachimura Needs to Step Up

Aside from Russell and Dinwiddie, Lakers coach Darvin Ham will also count on Japanese forward Rui Hachimura to step up his game in James’ absence.

Hachimura has shown in the past he can do that.

In the game James missed right before the All-Star break, Hachimura came up with a career-high 36 points to help the Lakers get past the Utah Jazz 138-122 on February 14.

Hachimura is averaging 16.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in nine games without James this season.

The 6-foot-8 Hachimura has thrived as a starter for the Lakers after starting the season coming off the bench due to his reluctance to embrace his role in a talent-laden starting unit, according to The Athletic’s Jovan Buha.

“Over the summer, Hachimura, at the behest of the coaching staff, had visibly slimmed down to prepare for more wing minutes.

But once Hachimura arrived in training camp, he didn’t embrace the role-player duties the coaching staff wanted from him — being fully engaged defensively, boxing out hard, making the extra pass,” Buha wrote.

But once Hachimura earned Ham’s trust, his game and the Lakers took off.

In 27 games as a starter for the Lakers this season, Hachimura averaged 14.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists while shooting 57.7% overall and 42.5% from the 3-point range.

The Lakers are 17-10 with Hachimura as a starter.

Critical 6-Game Road Trip

On the crest of a three-game winning streak, the 39-32 Lakers are in Milwaukee to begin a critical six-game road trip which could seal their seeding in the postseason.

After the Bucks, the Lakers will face the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow (March 27). It is unclear if the Lakers are just managing James’ load and will return on the second night of a back-to-back schedule.

Two days later, they will have a rematch against the Pacers on March 29. Then they will end their East Coast trip with a soft schedule against lottery-bound teams Brooklyn Nets (March 31), Toronto Raptors (April 2) and the Washington Wizards (April 3).

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