When the Los Angeles Lakers signed LeBron James last summer, the expectations and trajectory for the franchise changed dramatically. While a second All-Star was not acquired, the likes of Michael Beasley, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson were signed to pair with the young core as a supporting cast.
Although the roster clearly lacked the traditional shooters that historically were part of James-led teams, the Lakers front office maintained confidence their group would fare well enough, and that the playmakers would alleviate pressure on the 16-year veteran.
How that would unfold has been seen intermittently because of suspensions and injuries throughout the season. The peak came on Christmas Day in a rout of the Golden State Warriors.
But it came at a significant cost, as James and Rondo both suffered an injury. Rondo missed 14 games, adding to the 20 he’d already sat out because of a suspension and right hand surgery. Thursday will be James’ 18th consecutive game missed if he doesn’t return.
“It’s tough to say,” answered Rondo when asked how he would evaluate the Lakers this season. “I’ve missed 60 games, LeBron’s missed 48. It’s tough to assess it but I love our mental toughness and how we’ve been able to kind of get through it.
“We’ve had some tough stretches but it’s a long season. We continue to try to go into the break with a little momentum, and then coming back after the break we’ll be fine.”
After facing the Clippers as the designated away team, the Lakers will play five true road games leading into the All-Star break. Although the hope remains James returns prior to that point, the team has made it clear they will not rush him.
With or without James, the current stretch in the schedule presents challenges in the form of the Warriors, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.
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