Saturday, May 18, 2024

LeBron James, Lonnie Walker IV, Patrick Beverley all miss Lakers’ game in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — Just a few days removed from hoping to play in back-to-back games, LeBron James tapped out on Monday morning.

The 37-year-old missed Monday night’s contest in Utah – a road arena where he’s struggled over the last decade – due to left foot soreness. He was the most prominent of three missing starters for their game against the Jazz: Lonnie Walker IV caught the flu that has been going through the locker room, while Pat Beverley didn’t travel to Utah at all with the same illness.

It put Coach Darvin Ham in a bit of a bind. But the team felt that it was a good opportunity to try to let James heal after some noticeable struggles on the court.

“It’s nothing structurally wrong with the foot. It’s just, it gets irritated,” Ham said. “But he’s stepped on people’s feet here and there the last couple of games and he’s tried to manage it the best he can. And we saw tonight as a good opportunity to just rest it. … Just with what he’s been dealing with his foot, this was a little more deliberate.”

It is the first game that James (24.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 7.1 apg) has missed this season. Just 10 games into the year, all three of the Lakers’ biggest stars, including Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, have already missed one game due to injury.

Ham, however, did not thrust Westbrook back into the starting lineup despite being without so many of their normal ball-handlers. Wenyen Gabriel, Kendrick Nunn and Austin Reaves started with Davis and Troy Brown Jr. Ham said he didn’t want to disrupt the flow he’s created in the rotation by subbing in Westbrook four or five minutes into the game.

“I think even moreso, with (starters) being out, we need to kind of manipulate our lineup to have a balanced attack for when we put those guys out on the floor all at the same time,” Ham said. “And we do well and then the next wave of guys come in and it’s not so good. So, I like where he’s at. I like the rhythm he’s in.”

Perhaps because of his health, James has started the season rusty. His 44.7% shooting is his lowest percentage since his rookie season, he’s taking a career-low 4.9 free-throw attempts per game, and his 3-point shooting (21%) has fallen off a cliff. In his 20th NBA season, Ham acknowledged James’ availability for back-to-back games is going to be “fluid” especially given his foot problem so far.

But Ham said he trusts James to keep himself as ready as possible, and he hopes the team getting healthy will help unlock the best version of his franchise star.

“There’s just straight-up truth and realness,” Ham said. “And so he understands where I come from and I understand where he comes from. Once we do get bodies healthy, we get Dennis (Schröder) back, we get Thomas Bryant, we’ve got Lonnie and Pat Bev – we get those guys back and we get to see us whole and healthy, then we’re gonna have a better synopsis of how we’re gonna progress moving forward.”

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