OAKLAND (California) • LeBron James hopes to return as soon as possible, after he pulled his groin on the cusp of pulling off a Christmas Day upset in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Thankfully for him, his supporting cast at the Los Angeles Lakers stepped up to stun the Golden State Warriors 127-101 at the Oracle Arena in the wake of a rare early exit from their star.
With the Lakers leading 71-57 at the eight-minute mark of the third quarter on Tuesday, he indicated to his bench to take a timeout, holding his belt line in discomfort before departing to the visitors' locker room.
The Lakers announced during the fourth quarter that he had suffered a strained left groin, and he never returned to the court.
"Just overextended my groin, I guess," said James, who did not rule out playing today against the Sacramento Kings. "It's unfortunate."
Now in his 16th season, the 33-year-old forward has never suffered a serious injury. The only time during which he missed more than 10 games was 2014-15, when he struggled with back issues. Last season, he appeared in all 82 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After Tuesday's game, he said he "takes a lot of pride" in not missing games because of injuries.
Minutes LeBron James has averaged this season. He managed just 21 on Tuesday.
James has missed more than 10 games in just one season of his 16-year NBA career, in 2014-15.
"That's why it p****d me off not being able to go back into the game," he said. "Being available to my teammates, being available to my coaching staff. That's something that I take more personally than anything.
"So hopefully it's not a long thing, and I can get back on the floor as soon as possible."
Before the injury, he had been the game's central force, posting 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in just 21 minutes.
For once against Golden State, James was lifted, rather than let down, by his supporting cast.
In losing to the Warriors in three of the past four Finals, the four-time Most Valuable Player saw triple-doubles and 40-point games squandered by Cavs rosters that lacked talent, depth and awareness.
But on Christmas Day, the Lakers not only held on to a lead that James had built, they also extended it.
Los Angeles (20-14) closed out the win with a 50-44 margin following his injury, with forwards Kyle Kuzma (19 points) and Brandon Ingram (14) carrying the offensive load down the stretch.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr eventually withdrew his starters early with the game out of reach for the Warriors (23-12).
"There's a decent chance we could see the Lakers in the play-offs," he said, adding that James has been "as good as he's ever been" this season with the Lakers.
Lakers coach Luke Walton told reporters that he had planned to tightly defend Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson at the three-point line; the trio combined to shoot just six for 19 on threes.
"They played like they had nothing to lose. Everybody who touched the ball was aggressive," Curry, who had 15 points, said on ESPN.
As impressive as the Lakers' signature victory was, James' uncertain status casts a shadow over the team's short-term prospects.
Over his last four seasons in Cleveland, the Cavs were 207-94 with him and 4-23 when he was absent.
Already this season, the Lakers have enjoyed a LeBron bump: They went 35-47 last season but are off to a 20-14 start with James.
Even a brief absence could cost the Lakers play-off positioning, given that they are just two games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs, who are in ninth spot in the West.
Meanwhile, the league has absolved James of "tampering" claims. Some NBA front office executives had accused him of trying to lure New Orleans star Anthony Davis to Los Angeles when he said it would be "amazing" to play with Davis.
An NBA spokesman said: "It is not tampering when a player makes a comment about his interest in playing with another team's player."
WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES