Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: LeBron James
- Lakers forward LeBron James is out tonight vs. the Clippers and could miss the next few games.
- From 2014-2017, the Cavs in games without LeBron went 4-23 straight-up and 3-24 against-the-spread.
- Will the Lakers also struggle to cover without LeBron? Or are they more equipped to handle his absence?
LeBron James and the Lakers dodged a pretty big bullet when the MRI on his groin came back clean. James left the Christmas Day game vs. the Warriors and did not return. While James managed to avoid serious injury despite “hearing a pop,” James is still expected to miss several games.
So what does that mean for the Lakers (and the betting lines)?
The Lakers were 4.5-point underdogs to the Kings Thursday, and while they lost, they covered, led for much of the contest and it took an incredible Bogdan Bogdanovic fadeaway for the Kings to take it. The young Lakers played at a higher tempo than normal, which is predictable both without James and against the run-and-gun Kings.
The easy way to look at this would be to start with how the Lakers perform with James off the court. With James on the bench, the Lakers offense has been 2.9 points per 100 possessions worse; the defense has been 2.2 points worse.
Now, historically, LeBron’s recent teams have not fared well without him, as our own John Ewing noted:
3-24! That’s nuts!
But it’s also a testament to how bad the Cavs were around James. Forgive me while I go on a brief tangent.
I will never, ever understand why people continue to laud that Cavs team as great.
The 2016 team was great… eventually. From after the All-Star break through their miraculous title, they were a balanced team with shooting, defense, LeBron, Kyrie Irving’s bail-out potential and some toughness. The 2015 team didn’t have the firepower, and the 2017 and 2018 teams were the worst defensive teams we’ve seen in the Finals, maybe of all time.
So it’s not surprising those teams fell completely apart without him. Those teams were reconfigured and rebuilt specifically around James: one rebounder/shot-blocker in Tristan Thompson, one star in Kyrie Irving and spot-up shooters. (The fact that Kevin Love was reduced to this remains depressing even if he got a ring and a bunch of Finals appearances out of it.)