The Los Angeles Lakers saw their season spoiled by injuries last spring, and they are beginning to see a similar pattern this fall.
LeBron James won’t play against the host Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night because of an abdominal strain. The four-time NBA MVP and four-time champion sustained the injury in the fourth quarter of a 119-117 win over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.
“When he came over to the bench, he just said he felt something pulling,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He was able to finish the game, but then obviously discovered there was something there after the game.”
James missed a 107-104 loss to the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday that kept Los Angeles from sweeping its four-game homestand. He is expected to be out for a minimum of a week.
The Lakers might also be without eight-time All-Star center Anthony Davis, who sprained his right thumb against the Thunder and is listed as questionable for the Portland contest.
Vogel said he doesn’t want to use those injuries as an excuse to lower expectations.
“We’re going to be a little edgy when we lose. I hope we’re edgy when we lose,” Vogel said. “The film (Friday) was, and the work on the court (Friday) was, just really about growth. Failure is fertilizer for growth. That’s the mindset that you have to have.”
The Trail Blazers should be feeling confident after returning home on Friday night and beating the Indiana Pacers 110-106 to end a three-game losing streak.
“This game was a grind, and we knew it would be,” said Blazers coach Chauncey Billups, who added, “I thought our urgency and our defense were really good late.”
Portland has been a different team at home this season, owning a 4-1 mark compared to 0-4 on the road.
One player who surely will be looking to turn things around is six-time All-Star guard Damian Lillard, who shot 2-for-13 against the Pacers and scored four points. Lillard missed all six of his 3-point tries.
His shooting slump wasn’t limited to the Indiana game.
Lillard has never shot lower than 41.9 percent from the field or 34.3 percent from 3-point range in his previous nine seasons in the NBA, but he’s at 33.7 percent from the field and 21.7 percent from long distance this season.
Billups said he isn’t concerned about Lillard’s shooting: “No. Why would I be?”
If the Lakers continue to be without James and Davis for very long, they’ll need more from Russell Westbrook, who joined the Lakers in the offseason with the hope of helping them to another NBA title.
He had 20 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists in a loss to the Thunder on Oct. 27 when James was out with a sore ankle, but he also committed 10 turnovers.
Westbrook cut his turnovers down to four in the latest loss to the Thunder while contributing 27 points, six rebounds and five assists.
“He’s just got to continue to learn what we’re asking him to do within our system, and one of those things is keeping his turnovers down, which he’s done a better job of,” Vogel said. “And we got to continue to have him touch the paint and create as much as possible.”