Lakers News: LeBron James' Injury Update, Praise for Russell Westbrook and More

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 5, 2021

Lakers News: LeBron James' Injury Update, Praise for Russell Westbrook and More

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    It's been a strange start to the 2021-22 NBA season for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    There have been a few muscle flexes along the way that show why so many liked this club to escape the Western Conference. There have been more injury issues, which was probably expected given the collective age of this roster. However, the injury bug has hit their young players the hardest.

    There have been more wins than losses, so it could be worse. But there have also been two losses to the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder, so it could also be much better.

    Let's dive into the latest news dispatch out of Laker Land.

LeBron Likely Out 'At Least One Week'

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    LeBron James masterfully eluded the injury bug for much of his 19-year career, but it is predictably popping up to pester the 36-year-old more and more.

    The 2021-22 campaign is barely two weeks old, but he's already on the injury report for the second time. Ankle soreness cost him two contests first time around. This time, an abdominal strain could sideline him for longer.

    ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported James is expected to miss "at least one week" with the injury, as the medical staff "wants to take their time" with the recovery process. Lakers coach Frank Vogel wouldn't confirm James' return timetable but did express optimism that the four-time MVP wouldn't be out long.

    "Any time LeBron's out and he's going to miss some time, there's obviously concern," Vogel told reporters. "Hopefully this is something that's minimal, and hopefully he'll be back soon."

    James' health has proved an accurate barometer for L.A.'s upside. He missed 22 games in his first season as a Laker, and they missed the playoffs. He lost 27 games to injuries last season, and L.A. lost in the opening round. Sandwiched between was the 2019-20 season, when he played all but four games and the Lakers went 16-5 in the playoffs to capture their 17th world title.

Russell Westbrook Gets Major Praise from LeBron

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    Chris Elise/Getty Images

    James has liked what he has seen from Russell Westbrook—and not just this season.

    While crediting Westbrook for "being himself over the last few weeks," James nonchalantly labeled Westbrook the "most explosive point guard in NBA history," before saying his teammate and Derrick Rose share that label.

    The most important thing here for the Lakers is Westbrook's present, and James is right. Russ is being Russ. Despite changing conferences and switching All-Star running mates this season (he played with Bradley Beal in Washington in 2020-21), Westbrook's numbers haven't changed much. He averaged 22.2 points on 43.9 percent shooting with 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds last season. Now, those numbers are 20.2, 44.4, 8.1 and 8.4, respectively.

    The most interesting angle is James' assessment of Westbrook and Rose—who, it's probably worth noting, have both played alongside him. Then again, both have strong cases to be made, even if Baron Davis, John Wall and Steve Francis should be in the discussion too. Still, an in-prime Westbrook and pre-injury Rose had burst and bounce like this game had rarely seen from any position.

James, Anthony Davis Met with Damian Lillard This Summer

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    After the Portland Trail Blazers were knocked out of the first round for the fourth time in five years, Damian Lillard was restless this summer. He wasn't sure whether the only NBA franchise he had known was still the right fit for him.

    He crossed paths with James at a WNBA game and later received an invitation to James' home. The next day, Lillard arrived and had lunch with both James and Anthony Davis, discussing, among other things, how the three could work together in L.A.

    "[James] painted the picture to me that if I were to leave, the situation could look like this," Lillard told Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes. "... I told him, 'I know if I were to play with y'all, I know it would work out because of my skill set,' and who I am and who they are."

    Lillard also told Haynes he didn't see the meeting as a recruiting presentation, but the 90-minute chat almost certainly was. As Haynes reported, the Lakers "were already privately evaluating their options on potentially landing Lillard."

    Dame was hesitant about joining any superteam, though, and decided Portland was still the right spot for him. So this gets filed away among the many fascinating what-ifs in NBA history.