The Lakers Lose More Than a Game

By Eric Lambkins II Sports Reporter

The Lakers suffered a more significant loss than the 99-94 score would indicate last Saturday

March 20. In the second quarter, down 32-27, Lakers Center Montrezl Harrell set a routine

cross-screen on Atlanta Hawks guard, Rajon Rondo, to spring Lebron James free to drive to the

basket. As Lebron curled around the screen from the left-wing and toward three Hawks

defenders, Atlanta's Solomon Hill poked the ball away from James and dove for it to secure the

possession. The problem, James had already recovered the ball, and Hill's attempt to reach

across James' body for the steal, combined with his momentum, caused the Lakers' star to roll

his ankle.

James immediately went to the floor, clutched his ankle, and let out a scream as he writhed

in pain. James' injury sucked out what little energy and life that existed inside the empty

Staples Center. Shock, awe, and fear overcame the faces of the Lakers players and staff.

The tank-built and seemingly indestructible James tightened his laces, attempted to walk off

the injury, and opted to stay in the game. He hit a 3-pointer when Alex Caruso found him open

in the corner on the Lakers' next possession. When it became apparent that he could not finish

the contest, Lebron removed himself from the game and walked toward the locker room,

tossing a chair in frustration.

After the game, several Lakers voiced their displeasure. "A guy dove for a loose ball, took his

leg out from up under him," Montrezl Harrell said. "I really don't feel like it was one of those

loose-ball plays. He had to go through his leg to get the ball, man. He was turned sideways. The

ball was behind him. I mean, you're jumping at an angle, going across this way, I mean, I don't

know how you feel that's a loose ball."

Lakers' Guard Dennis Schröder echoed the same sentiment. "That's an unnecessary play to dive

in the leg like that."

The Lakers, already without their All-NBA big man, Anthony Davis, must now wait to see

what develops in the trade and buyout markets to fortify their roster. The Lakers' ability to

weather a rash of injuries will prove pivotal in their hopes to defend their title. The Lakers

currently have $1.7 million in available cap space. Their limited funds, coupled with a lack of

draft picks, puts them in a bind to make moves as the trade deadline looms. The Lakers'

inability to facilitate trades is further complicated because they do not own a first-round pick

until 2027, and their next available second-round selection isn't until 2023.

The buyout market remains viable. Players who wish to play for a ring may choose the

Lakers; however, other title contenders can offer them title contention plus higher

compensation than the Lakers.

If the Lakers take a cautious approach in handling James' injury, they could be without their

captain for an extended time. James, who has staved off Father Time by spending an excess of

$1 million a year in maintenance and care of his body, would have to defy the regular

recuperation timetable of 6-8 weeks, and up to three months in some extreme cases, of high

ankle sprains. The 18-year veteran has returned from ankle injuries quickly in the past.

The Lakers' seeding for the playoffs won't matter as long as they have a healthy James and

Davis, but with only four losses separating them and the 8th seeded Mavericks, they'll hope to

get their starts back sooner than later.

When asked who should take the mantle of leadership with Lebron out, Kyle Kuzma stated,

"I don't know. I really don't know at all." The Lakers and their fans hope that Kuzma can step

into this role. Kuzma can provide a considerable boon to the Lakers' title hopes both now and,

in the future, if he can manufacture enough offense to keep the Lakers afloat while their stars

are out.

The Lakers have lost more than their two All-Stars. They've lost leadership, consistency, and

dependability. To whom they turn to remains to be seen. Now is the time for Kuzma to evolve

into a consistent and legitimate scoring threat. The Lakers' ability to defend their title could

depend on it.

The Lakers play three home games in a row starting with the game on Friday against

Cleveland at 7:30 p.m., Sunday they face Orlando at 7 p.m. and and Wednesday they play

Milwaukee at 7 p.m.

Follow Eric on Twitter @elambsquared


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