LeBron James Suffers High Ankle Sprain: What This Means for Lakers’ Futures, MVP Race

LeBron James Suffers High Ankle Sprain: What This Means for Lakers’ Futures, MVP Race article feature image

Michael Owens/Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James.

Bad news came Saturday for LeBron James, the Lakers and bettors of both Lakers regular-season futures and James' MVP props.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter against the Atlanta Hawks. James writhed in pain before eventually checking back in, hitting a 3-pointer and then exiting to the locker room.

LeBron has been ruled out for the rest of today’s game with an ankle injury. pic.twitter.com/4bO3kSbUR5

— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) March 20, 2021

Later in the day, the Lakers announced James had been diagnosed with a high ankle sprain.

That is considerably worse than just an ankle sprain. For more, here's Jeff Stotts from In Street Clothes:

The timeline of recovery for ankle sprains widely varies based on a number of factors including the severity of damage, the involved joint, and any other accompanying injury. Treatment for a high ankle sprain is the same as a normal medial or lateral ankle sprains but generally take longer to heal. A big reason for this extended recovery time is linked to the disruption of overall stability and potential widening of the ankle mortise.

Over the last six seasons, the average missed time for an isolated high ankle sprain is roughly 10 games. However the variability is high and a quicker return is possible. For example, earlier this season Indiana’s Myles Turner was able to return to action from a high ankle sprain after just three days and one game lost.

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The severity is the question here. From James' reaction, you'd obviously assume it was pretty high. But then again, you try having your ankle bent inverted by a professional athlete and see if you yelp.

There's just no way to know at this point. James, in general, has been about as indestructible as it gets. The return time can be as short as two weeks or as long as 6-8 weeks.

That variance is going to determine multiple futures. The Lakers are 3-2 the last two seasons without James, both straight up and against the spread. But their odds of weathering the storm decrease with Anthony Davis also on the shelf.

The Lakers remained the favorite to win the Pacific Division before James' injury despite trailing the Phoenix Suns. Should the Lakers slip in the event of a prolonged absence for James, not only could Phoenix or the Clippers secure the division, but the playoff picture could be thrown into chaos as well.

The Lakers have 14 losses, while the Spurs, Nuggets, Blazers and Clippers all have 17.

Imagine the Lakers in the play-in tournament as the seventh-seeded vs. the Warriors.

Even if the Lakers don't slide that much, the situation could reach havoc. If the Lakers are in the fourth seed after a slide without James, the teams in the fifth seed would be tanking frantically to avoid them.

And if you're the No. 1 seed Jazz, you could be looking at the Lakers in a potential second-round matchup.

Then there's MVP.

With Joel Embiid on the shelf but due back in the next few weeks, James had momentum toward recapturing the favorite slot. The narrative push behind James is perhaps stronger this season than ever before.

Other candidates will have to finish with more games played, better metrics and more wins for their team.

The injury likely boosts Embiid's chances of reclaiming the top spot when he returns. Nikola Jokic with Denver has moved up to the fifth-seed, but the Nuggets will have to finish with a better record and Jokic will have to continue his stellar play. League insiders have consistently suggested Jokic has been the MVP, but there's a clear media bias toward awarding James his fifth MVP.

For bettors, it's best to wait for more information. Unlike most players, James will have an army of reporters looking to provide the most information on the severity of the injury and the results of a scheduled MRI on Sunday.

Expecting either the short or long end of an absence range for James would be a mistake. A three-week absence and James can lead his team back to the 1-seed and win MVP. An eight-week absence and the Lakers could be fighting to avoid the play-in.

Futures and awards props remained off the board as of this writing on Saturday night, and oddsmakers will surely be careful about hanging new odds with the league's best player over the past 15 years on the shelf for an unknown amount of time.

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