The Lakers’ path to the playoffs just got much harder.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, superstar forward LeBron James is expected to miss “multiple weeks” with a right foot injury that he irritated in Sunday’s comeback win over the Mavericks.
Less than a week after James called the Lakers’ playoff push “23 of the most important games of my career for the regular season,” it appears the NBA’s newly appointed all-time leading scorer will watch most of the Lakers stretch run from the sidelines.
James’ injury comes at the most unfortunate time as Los Angeles was just starting to hit its stride with its new rotation. The Lakers had won four of their last five games since the trade deadline, sitting just one game outside of the Play-In Tournament and 2.5 games back from a top-six seed in the West.
With LeBron out indefinitely, who steps up for the Lakers as they pursue their path to the playoffs? The Sporting News takes a closer look below.
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How have the Lakers played without LeBron James this season?
James has missed 14 games this season, five of which came from an adductor strain back in November and the rest being lingering foot and ankle injuries or rest. It should come as no surprise that the Lakers are 5-9 in 14 games without James this season.
The 38-year-old has defied Father Time to this point in the season, averaging 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game. His absence leaves a massive void for Los Angeles, now missing its leading scorer and assist-man for an indefinite period of time.
MORE: How LeBron reacted on social media to foot injury news
While the Lakers are a better defensive team with James on the floor, the on/off splits aren’t nearly as drastic as the offensive end.
When LeBron is on the floor, the Lakers own an offensive rating of 115.1, which would place them top 10 in the NBA. When he is off the floor, their offensive rating drops to 107.2, which would rank dead last.
How will Los Angeles make up for James’ scoring and playmaking production during his absence? It all starts with Anthony Davis and the new additions.
Anthony Davis’ time to shine
Back in November when James was sidelined with an adductor strain, Davis put together one of the best stretches we’ve seen from the eight-time All-Star in quite some time. Now, with James sidelined again, it doesn’t feel exaggerated to say it’s on Davis to save the Lakers’ season.
In nine games without his co-star this season, Davis has averaged 27.8 points, 15.9 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals. Aside from his assists per game, every single one of those figures is higher than his season-long averages.
During the five-game stretch without James in November, Davis posted 33.2 points, 17.4 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 2.2 assists and 2.2 steals, filling LeBron’s shoes in a big way. He registered four consecutive games with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds, joining a short list of 12 Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers to achieve that feat.
Anthony Davis was unbelievable tonight, posting his FOURTH 30+ point and 15+ rebound game in a row.
He becomes only the second Laker in history to record 35+ PTS, 20+ REB, and 5+ BLK in a game, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5 times). pic.twitter.com/BFZULyfR81
— NBA (@NBA) November 23, 2022
The Lakers elected to run everything through Davis, drastically increasing his number of paint touches, post touches and total touches per game (as I detailed when I campaigned for Los Angeles to keep him as the focal point of the offense after that stretch).
Expect to see the exact same strategy deployed as Davis tries to handle the bulk of LeBron’s scoring load this time around.
If there was ever a time for Davis to step up and show he can carry a team, it’s now.
Who else steps up with LeBron James out?
The Lakers’ new trade deadline additions were already making the front office look good through their first five games, but now that depth is more valuable than ever before.
Offensively, it will have to be a sum of parts to make up a void of nearly 30 points and 10 assists per game.
All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell is dealing with an ankle injury of his own, but he’ll become vital for the Lakers upon his return. In three healthy games with Los Angeles, he averaged 17.3 points and 5.7 assists but don’t be surprised to see both of those figures increase.
Until Russell is healthy, expect Dennis Schroder and Austin Reaves to take on more playmaking duties.
As for the scoring, sharpshooter Malik Beasley will continue to fire away to try and lend Davis a helping hand. The 26-year-old has been hot and cold during his first five games as a Laker. In the two games he has scored over 20 points, he’s knocked down 13 3s at a 56.5 percent clip. In the three games he has scored under 10 points, he has shot 16.7 percent from 3.
Rui Hachimura should see more playing time and shots, too.
Defensively, the Lakers won’t change much as Swiss Army Knife Jarred Vanderbilt will pick up some tougher assignments (as he already was with James healthy).
While there is certainly a case to be made that Russell Westbrook would have been the perfect plug-and-play guy to fill James’ shoes, Los Angeles now has enough quality rotation players to maintain a LeBron injury-sized blow as it looks to continue its playoff push.