After many months of drama and discontent, the sun was finally beginning to shine over the 2022-23 Los Angeles Lakers. They nailed the trade deadline, remaking their rotation for a relative bargain. They embarked on a three-game winning streak capped by a 27-point comeback against the Dallas Mavericks. And their competition in a crowded Western Conference faltered: The Pelicans and Timberwolves kept losing, while the Thunder sat Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and found a losing streak of their own.
And then a great, scary cumulonimbus blotted out that sun, in unity with the aberrant storm battering Southern California. LeBron James hurt his right foot in that win over Dallas, and the team fears he’ll miss multiple weeks. The Lakers’ faint optimistic hopes are gone as quickly as they arrived.
On Monday, before the announcement of LeBron’s injury, The Ringer’s NBA Odds Machine gave the Lakers just a 23 percent chance to make the playoff field. After two weeks of a LeBron absence are accounted for—which seems like a conservative estimate—those odds are now 18 percent, lower than those of every team in the West other than Portland, Houston, and San Antonio.
For the Lakers, it’s hard to overstate the magnitude of missing a player of LeBron’s stature and importance. The 38-year-old ranks eighth in the NBA in scoring average, at 29.5 points per game, and with Russell Westbrook gone, he leads his team in assists, too. The NBA’s career scoring champion remains a top-10 player even at his advanced age.
Fellow star Anthony Davis might help pick up the slack as the Lakers’ new primary option. With LeBron off the floor this season, the Lakers have been outscored by 8.5 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass—but when Davis plays without LeBron, they have a positive scoring margin (plus-2.6 per 100).