LeBron James’ ankle injury means the Los Angeles Lakers will now be without arguably the best player in the NBA.
The Lakers had a rough time when they initially lost Davis and even had a period where they lost four games in a row; however, the return of Dennis Schroder, and of course the elite level of play from James, helped the Lakers turn it around.
They were on a four-game winning streak and had even briefly retaken the second seed in the Western Conference.
James’ ankle injury forced him to leave the game against the Atlanta Hawks in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with him. The Lakers would go on to lose 99-94.
The Lakers’ First Game After James’ Ankle Injury
The first game the Los Angeles Lakers played since James’ ankle injury resulted in a 111-94 loss to the Phoenix Suns.
The game did show some character in the loss. The game looked like it was heading toward a blowout victory for the Suns, but the Lakers were able to put together a run and make a comeback look likely.
They cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter but just couldn’t stop the Suns, who played a good game.
This is even more impressive when you consider that they had a poor shooting night, going 5-25 from three.
After the game, Dennis Schroder said: “How we played before with them two on the court, it’s totally opposite now. I think we got to move the ball, we got to play with more pace. On the defensive end, we’ve got to be more scrappy.
“Everybody that’s coming on the floor got to be confident to knock down that shot or to impact the game on the defensive end.
“I think we got to shoot more threes while they out. Me driving and kicking out for open threes, I think that’s good offense.”
The Suns are one of the strongest teams this year, so it’s hard to criticize the Lakers for losing to them without Anthony Davis and LeBron James. But the game could have been more competitive than it was for most of it if other players had stepped up.
The Lakers are going to need their role-players to do more if they want to finish with good seeding in the Western Conference.
Who Can the Lakers Step up After LeBron James’ Ankle Injury?
It goes without saying that when you lose an important player, someone needs to step up. When you lose someone like LeBron James, you need a lot of people to step up.
The Lakers will rely on Schroder and Montrezl Harrell to pick up their scoring during this difficult time for their team. Without James in the mix, Harrell may see even more opportunities to go to work in the post.
He has become a very reliable player for the Lakers and should continue to have big games off the bench.
Schroder is the primary ball-handler, and now with LeBron James’ ankle injury taking him out of the lineup, Schroder will have the ball more.
He is averaging 15 points per game, but will likely need to take that to near the 20 point mark if the Lakers want to stay strong whilst James and Davis sit out.
Schroder averaged 18.9 points last year coming off the bench with the Oklahoma City Thunder and is more than capable of taking his scoring to that level again.
Kyle Kuzma needs to step up. Kuzma has had a great season, he is averaging a career-low 12 points per game, but he may be having his best season for the Lakers.
His defensive improvements have been significant for the Lakers and one of the most important things he does for the team in rebounding.
He is averaging 6.6 rebounds coming off the bench. We’ve also seen him get as high as 13 rebounds in a game multiple times this season.
The Lakers are going to need Kuzma to not only keep up this level of defense and rebounding, but to give more on offense.
The Lakers are going to need Kuzma to give more than 12 points a game and continue to hit multiple threes a game in order to help fill the gap James has left in the offense. He is shooting a career-best 37% from beyond the arc whilst averaging 5.1 3PA a game.
He is also going to be very important in the clutch. Now that they have lost one of the best closers in the league, the Lakers are going to need someone new to rely on in the clutch.
Who else can step up big for the Lakers? Talen Horton-Tucker. Horton-Tucker is only averaging 8.1 points and 2.3 assists in 18.3 minutes per game.
Vogel has played him big minutes in some games this season. It’s hard to say what the Lakers need out of him because he is only 20 years old; however, he is full of talent that the Lakers need right now.
He is great at attacking the paint and getting to the rim, and puts in a lot of effort on the defensive end. He can create his own shot and kick out to those in space when he is given the license to do so.
Vogel giving him the ball in his hands more will be key now that James is out. He also needs to shoot more threes. Yes, he is only shooting 24.7% from three on 1.9 attempts but is a capable shooter.
Schroder spoke on how the Lakers need to shoot more threes, and Horton-Tucker should also do this and work on his shot.
Caldwell-Pope is shooting a career-high 40.3% from three while shooting 3.7 a night. That won’t be good enough going forward. We know that he is capable of stepping up his game when need be, as his playoff campaign was significantly better than his regular-season.
He has too many inconsistent nights and has to minimize them if the Lakers want to improve their 3-point shooting. Davis called him the best 3-point shooter on the team, you are going to need your best shooter to take more than a couple of threes a night.
Wesley Matthews averages 38% from three throughout his entire career whilst averaging 5.4 attempts. This season he is averaging 33.6% from three whilst averaging 3.1 attempts.
Last season with the Milwaukee Bucks he averaged 4.4 attempts. The Lakers will just have to hope that he is going through a shooting slump and will start to hit his shots.
Matthews is a reliable and capable defender, but they are going to need his 3-point shooting. The only way to get out of a bad shooting slump is to keep shooting the ball and that’s what he needs to do.
Due to James’ ankle injury, 3-point shooting is even more vital as the Lakers need to pick up the loss of scoring James provides. They need more attempts from Matthews and hopefully this will come with more makes.
The Lakers know he is capable of going off from beyond the arc, and he’s going to need to show them he can do it a couple more times this season due to James’ ankle injury.
James’ ankle injury is a big problem for the Lakers. They are only 2.5 games away from the sixth seed. It is very likely The Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets will overtake what some see as the best team in the NBA.
If the Lakers are going to retain their spot ahead of teams, the main players that will need to step up from what they are currently giving are Kuzma, Matthews, Caldwell-Pope, and Horton-Tucker.
In the case of Horton-Tucker, it isn’t that he hasn’t been delivering, it is just that he is capable of more and needs to be given the chance to show it. Kuzma will need to bring some more consistency to his game offensively if the Lakers want to make a good run without James and Davis.
LeBron James’ ankle injury will also mean the Lakers need more from Schroder and he is more than capable of stepping up. Harrell has been stepping up for the Lakers since he joined and they will just need him to continue what he is doing.
If the Lakers are able to maintain a good place in the West despite James’ ankle injury they will be even more dangerous than they already are to face in playoffs.
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