LOS ANGELES • The Los Angeles Lakers will attempt to put LeBron James' injury nightmare behind them when they visit the Phoenix Suns this morning (Singapore time) in a nationally televised affair with first place in the Pacific Division at stake.
James injured his right ankle in a collision with Atlanta's Solomon Hill in the second quarter of a 99-94 home loss to the Hawks in the National Basketball Association on Saturday afternoon.
After shouting in pain and prompting the Lakers to call a timeout in the second minute of the second period, he was able to remain in the game long enough to hit a three-pointer that gave him 10 points and extended his streak of double-figure scoring games to 1,036.
The Lakers called another timeout on their next possession and he was pulled from the game for good. ESPN later reported that an MRI scan revealed a high ankle sprain and that he faced an "indefinite" injury layoff.
Depending on the severity, high ankle sprains can take anywhere from a few weeks up to several months to recover from.
James did not speak to reporters, but tweeted later that he would return as soon as possible.
"Nothing angers and saddens me more than not being available to and for my teammates!" he wrote. "I'm hurt inside and out right now. The road back from recovery begins now. Back soon like I never left."
A lengthy layoff for James would be a devastating blow to the reigning champions, who are already without star Anthony Davis as he recovers from Achilles tendon trouble.
"It's certainly going to be a challenge any time you are undermanned," coach Frank Vogel admitted. "But if you play team-first basketball and you defend at a high level, you have a chance to win. That'll be our mindset."
Lakers teammates Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell admitted that the sight of James leaving the arena was unnerving.
"We do forget he's human sometimes, to see him in pain like that," said Harrell, who was unhappy with Hill's dive for the ball that led to James' injury. "We don't feel like it was one of those basketball-type plays. He had to go through his leg to get the ball."
With James missing, the Lakers offence struggled to get in the groove as the Hawks (22-20) - fuelled by 27 points and 16 rebounds from John Collins - notched their eighth straight victory, the longest active streak in the league.
James has missed just one game this season, when he sat out a 123-120 loss at Sacramento in the final game before the All-Star break.
As they embark on a three-day, two-game road trip that concludes tomorrow in New Orleans, the Lakers are also without Marc Gasol, who has rejoined the team after missing six games due to the NBA's health and safety protocols but is still working himself back into game shape.
Saturday's loss, which snapped a four-game winning streak, dropped the Lakers (28-14) less than one percentage point behind the Suns (27-13) in the division as the clubs prepare to meet for a second time this season.
The Suns, second in the West, have alternated wins and losses in their last five games, the two defeats dropping them temporarily below the Lakers in the Pacific until Los Angeles lost on Saturday.
Phoenix won the first meeting 114-104 in Los Angeles earlier this month, using a balanced attack to overcome James' 38-point effort.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE