That’s the claim of ESPN’s NBA expert Amin Elhassan.
LeBron will endure the longest spell out hurt of his career with the Lakers’ meeting with the Utah Jazz tonight his ninth straight game off the floor due a groin strain sustained on Christmas Day.
The Lakers have gone 3-5 so far having claimed back-to-back wins over the Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons to regain some form and improve their overall record to 23-19, which sees them occupy the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
But LA’s upcoming schedule – after the Jazz, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Bulls – sees them face a much tougher test.
Oklahoma City, Houston, Golden State, Boston, the LA Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers are among the opposition the Lakers face in a 21-game stretch before facing the Bulls once more on March 12 in Chicago.
And Elhassan thinks that if LeBron – who is out for until at least the Lakers’ meeting with the Thunder – misses out, LA’s hopes of ending a five-year run without playoff basketball will be severely damaged.
Elhassan told The Jump: “On Christmas when he got hurt Jorge Sedano and I went through the Lakers’ schedule and said, ‘You know what, if LeBron was ever going to miss extended time during the regular season – that was the time.’
“Some of those they have lost, yes, the Knicks for example, Sacramento – they should have beaten Sacramento.
“These last three [Utah, Cleveland and Chicago] are the end of the fun times!
“Between Chicago at home and Chicago on the road, you have 21 games.
“If LeBron doesn’t play I’d say 18 of them are L’s. Eighteen of them.
“If LeBron doesn’t play they’re not beating the Celtics, the Sixers, the Pacers, these are all better teams than them.”
Issuing an update on LeBron’s fitness this week, the Lakers said in an official statement on Thursday: “LeBron James was evaluated by team medical staff and physicians today.
“The healing of James’ groin injury is progressing and James has been cleared to increase on-court functional basketball movements.
“A further update will be provided on January 16.”
It is thought that, so far, LeBron has only taken part in standstill shooting and no other basketball activity in practice.