Before missing his 10th consecutive game with a sprained ankle Thursday, LeBron James posted a photo of himself alongside injured costar Anthony Davis.
“The weatherman says the weather is changing soon and it predicts a thunderstorm is coming,” James wrote in an Instagram caption. “Folks prepare and take the proper caution measures to stay safe.”
Maybe it means James and Davis are closer to returning than the Lakers are letting on (they say both players are progressing but there’s no timetable for either to return). Maybe it means James got hacked by Dallas Raines. It’s all a bit murky.
“There’s not much time to think about it,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “But when you do think about it, it looks scary.”
But even if it’s hard to forecast when the Lakers’ stars will be back, an even more short-handed than usual Lakers team continued to show that they’re willing to scrap without them, losing 110-104 to Miami in a game they could’ve stolen.
Since the injuries, Lakers coach Frank Vogel has maintained that the Lakers’ short-handedness would benefit them long term without prohibiting them from winning now. It’s been pretty lofty and mostly unrealistic, but on nights like this, you get the optimism, you can see why James is so defiant in his prediction.
Minus an injured Kyle Kuzma and suspended Talen Horton-Tucker, the Lakers rolled out Caldwell-Pope, Dennis Schroder, Markieff Morris, Wesley Matthews and the returning Andre Drummond in another first-time starting five.
Some late-game misses, a couple of defensive miscues and
Morris’ ejection in the final three minutes knocked the game out of reach — the final score not indicative of 48 minutes where the Lakers never let the Heat get separation.
If the Lakers can continue to play games like this, putting themselves into positions to win against playoff-caliber teams like the full-strength Heat without four members of their regular rotation, things should be OK whenever James and Davis return.
“Key pieces for our team [missing] and we still made it a good game,” Schroder said.
With so many people out, the Lakers needed players to fill the void, and the reality is no one can be sure on a nightly basis who it’ll actually be.
Thursday, it was Caldwell-Pope scoring a season-high 28 points to lead things, helping erase the bad feelings from a lengthy midseason slump. Thursday’s big night was his third double-digit scoring night in the last week — the first time he’s been able to do that since early January.
Drummond, playing his first full game after returning from toe injuries, finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and two steals. And though Schroder missed 10 of 11 field-goal attempts, he dished out 14 assists and continued to imprint his competitiveness on his teammates.
But against the Heat, it wasn’t enough — too many good players in their beachwear instead of their uniforms.
Kuzma was one of them, his injury happening against the Raptors on Tuesday in Tampa a cautionary moment for the team to remember how significant injuries can ripple. Before James’ ankle sprain, Kuzma was averaging around 26 minutes per game. Since that injury, that number has rapidly climbed to 35, the workload a possible culprit for a calf strain an MRI confirmed Thursday.
Horton-Tucker will be back after a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during the on-court altercation between Schroder and Toronto’s O.G. Anunoby on Tuesday.
Montrezl Harrell was fined $20,000 for entering the fray and shoving Gary Trent Jr.
“He had my back, so I mean, we’re going to take care of that for sure,” Schroder said.
If they were at full strength, their errors against the Heat might not have been so pronounced. Without those guys, it meant they lost.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.