Injury to LeBron James has major ripple effects on the Spurs

LeBron James (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
LeBron James (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images) /

The San Antonio Spurs have been plagued by injuries this season, and now the defending champions are suffering the same fate. During the Lakers’ 99-94 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, LeBron James had to leave the game with what was later diagnosed as a high-ankle sprain.

X-rays returned negative on the superstars’ ankle, but he’ll undoubtedly miss at least a few weeks as he looks to recover to 100 percent before the playoffs come around.

As Lakers writer Bill Oram suggested on Twitter, the timetable for his return depends on the severity of the sprain:

What's going to be key here is the severity. Generally, a Grade 1 sprain could mean as little as two weeks. A Grade 3 could be more like six weeks, which would be pushing close to the start of the playoffs.

— Bill Oram (@billoram) March 20, 2021

I’m not a doctor or expert on athletic injuries by any means, but I have to imagine James won’t be seeing the floor for at least the next month. Although still in peak physical condition, he’s 36 and on the verge of logging 50,000 career minutes in the NBA. Still, if anyone is capable of coming back quicker and stronger than ever, it’s LeBron.

Nothing angers and saddens me more than not being available to and for my teammates! I’m hurt inside and out right now. ??‍♂️. The road back from recovery begins now. Back soon like I never left. #ThekidfromAKRON??

— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 21, 2021

What does the injury mean for the San Antonio Spurs?

As of now, Anthony Davis is scheduled to be re-evaluated on March 26th. Meanwhile, let’s conservatively say LeBron will be out until the third week of April. This would mean James will miss the next 16 games while Davis will probably miss at least half of them, depending on the progress he’s made so far.

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The series between the Lakers and Spurs is already over, as the Lakers took two of three from San Antonio in the first two weeks of the season. In that sense, the injuries don’t impact the Spurs’ win-loss record directly, but there will be indirect consequences.

As I discussed with my assessment of the Spurs’ chances of being in the play-in tournament, there are several teams we’ll need to keep a close eye on down the stretch.  The teams all currently within three games of San Antonio, whether behind or ahead, are the following:

LA ClippersDenver NuggetsPortland Trail BlazersDallas MavericksGolden State WarriorsMemphis Grizzlies

From now until April 19th, the Lakers have an east-heavy schedule, only playing one of these teams, the Clippers. However, they’ll be tipping off two games against the Mavericks to be played on April 22nd and 24th. If Los Angeles isn’t healthy by then, that could help the Spurs’ Southwest Division rival make ground with a cakewalk May still waiting for them.

As it stands, Dallas is only 1.5 games behind the Spurs at 21-19. Unfortunately, they have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, and eight of their final 10 games will be against teams that are currently out of the playoff picture. Meanwhile, the Spurs will face eight playoff-bound teams in their last 10 games.

The Lakers will face the Nuggets on May 3rd, and then the Clippers one last time on May 6th. They’ll follow that up with a trip to Portland the next day. If the injuries to their stars last longer than expected, these games could all impact the Spurs as well.

At 28-14, Los Angeles already has enough cushion to afford some losses, but they’re only three games up in the loss column of the Spurs and have Phoenix, New Orleans, and Philadelphia coming up. They’ll likely fall at least a few spots in a Western Conference whose standings fluctuate more than Bitcoin.

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The road for the defending NBA champions just got much harder, and their hardships will change the landscape of the playoffs in a significant way.