LeBron James did not play Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs, with Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel saying pregame that James had “significant” soreness in his left knee coming off his 56-point effort against the Golden State Warriors.
James, 37, missed five games because of his knee from late January until early February, but had not missed any time because of it since.
“With the heavy load that he’s carrying for us this year, we know that it’s always a possibility,” Vogel said of James sitting out, before the Lakers’ 117-110 loss. “I think that’s why we continue to list him as questionable to see how it’s responding over the 48 hours between games. And this is just one of those days where it was significant enough to hold him out.
Aside from James’ 39-minute workload against Golden State, Los Angeles’ travel day on Sunday — when a mechanical issue caused the Lakers to sit on the runway for two hours before changing planes for the nearly three-hour flight to San Antonio — did not help with recovery time, sources told ESPN.
Vogel said the Lakers are “hopeful” James will play Wednesday in Houston. After the loss to the Spurs, Vogel said the knee is in better shape than it was when James initially had to sit out because of swelling.
“We don’t think it’s that,” Vogel said. “We’re hopeful that another day or two will get us back, get him back for the Houston game.”
James’ performance against the Warriors was his highest-scoring game with the Lakers and tied for third-highest in his 19-year career, as Los Angeles rallied from a 14-point deficit to win 124-116.
Any momentum generated from that win was short lived. Monday marked two months to the day since L.A. last posted consecutive victories, and the loss to the Spurs dropped the Lakers’ record to 28-36, leaving them in ninth place in the Western Conference, just a game ahead of the No. 10 New Orleans Pelicans and three games up on the No. 11 Portland Trail Blazers.
“[James’] health takes precedence over any matchup, any individual one game, for sure,” Vogel said of the playoff implications of James resting.
Los Angeles also is dealing with the absence of Anthony Davis, who has been out for nearly three weeks with a midfoot sprain.
James is averaging 29.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 36.8 minutes per game for the Lakers this season.
The Lakers started Austin Reaves, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk and Russell Westbrook against the Spurs, accounting for the 32nd different starting lineup of the season.
“No one player is going to have to try to pick up where he left off,” Vogel said. “Although I did tell Malik that he’s got to score 56 tonight since Bron’s out, he can try to have that mindset. And then I told him quickly that I was just kidding. Because he will actually go out and try to do that. But, it’s the next man up, but when it’s someone like LeBron, it has to be done by committee.”
Monk scored 17 points — one off Horton-Tucker’s team-high 18 — but shot just 8-for-22, including 1-for-7 from 3.
“I got to hit a couple more shots, man,” Monk said. “I take full responsibility on that. Not being LeBron, but taking a little load, a little more of a load than I do when he’s there.”
Vogel was asked how he thinks James’ knee will be a factor down the stretch as the Lakers jostle for a spot in the play-in tournament over the final games of the regular season.
“I think the simplest way to put it is he’s going to plan on being in unless his knee tells him otherwise,” Vogel said. “I don’t know if we can really forecast any more clearly than that.”