LeBron James warned everyone about this way back in November when the Lakers were still chugging champagne and shaking confetti out of their hair after winning their 17th world championship.
The league wanted to get in enough regular-season games to fulfill national and local TV contracts, have a full playoff season (including time for a new play-in setup), and still be finished before the Olympics.
Not enough time to rest, said James, who has as much power over the league as does Adam Silver. Then where’s the money going to come from, asked Silver, at which point James and the rest of the A-level players in the league relented. The season started on Dec. 22, jamming 72 games into a 138-day window.
Now, as the Association heads toward the two-thirds mark, what James feared seems to have come to pass. Despite load management that forces some big-timers to sit out one game of back-to-back sets, injuries have taken an extreme toll, making bettors with futures tickets wondering if they jumped in too soon and those without them wondering what it all means and if the opportunity exists to cash on afterthoughts like the Nuggets and Suns.
And no injury has scrambled the league more than the right ankle turn suffered James himself in an otherwise unmemorable game against the Atlanta Hawks on March 20. With Batman down, normally the Lakers would turn to Robin, but Anthony Davis is also sitting out with an Achilles injury.
Lakers fans have gotten a glimpse of life with James and Davis, and unsurprisingly they don’t much like what they see. Without James running both the offense and the defense, and without Davis cleaning things up in the paint, Los Angeles lost four of its first six games sans the two, and have fallen in the middle of the playoff pack in the Western Conference.
The two injuries, plus Brooklyn’s surge in the East, have dropped the Lakers’ title odds ever so slightly. In many books, LA is now 3/1 to win its 18th league championship. The Nets, who are starved for a title and will sign any available NBA player with any kind of pedigree, is now the favorite at around 12/5.
Meanwhile, the questions that Laker backers want to know are:
***When will James be back?
***Will he be 100 percent for the playoffs?
The answer to the first depends on who you ask, and the answer to the second is he better be because otherwise the Lakers are cooked.
It only makes sense that LA will be uber-cautious with James’s ankle, considering that the whole season depends on it being at least close to fully healed when the games actually count. The team says it looked like LBJ would be out as many as six weeks, but a family member (his mother) says 3-4 is more like it.
No matter how long James is forced to sit, there will be no tears from other teams, who for years have seen their own stars sidelined while James goes on game after game, appearing nearly indestructible. James Harden and Kevin Durant are both out in Brooklyn, LeMelo Ball was drawing Rookie of the Year talk in Charlotte before going down, Joel Embiid was looking for a spot in his den for an MVP trophy before being injured. The list of big names goes on and on.
Bettors, meanwhile, can only scratch their heads and wonder what the injury reports will show when James and other stars return to action. Will he (they) be on minutes restrictions to save their legs for the playoffs? Will James and Davis not play in the rear end of the four remaining back-to-backs left on the schedule? Will they be game-time decisions? Will there be ANOTHER injury?
Don’t forget, too, that the league is determined to start NEXT season on time (around Nov. 1), so that will mean another year of play with less than a full off-season to recover.
So many questions, so few answers.