James exited the Lakers’ 99-94 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the first half after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle. James knocked over a chair in frustration on his way to the locker room, and received X-rays and an MRI on the ankle after the game, sources told ESPN.
Hill was called for a foul with 10:50 remaining in the second quarter when the Hawks’ forward fell on James’ right ankle while trying to steal the ball.
James immediately shouted in pain and rolled off the court, clutching his right leg. The Lakers called timeout to check on the 18-year veteran, with several teammates, coaches and members of the medical staff trekking across the court to surround James while he was on the floor.
“I haven’t necessarily seen him scream and scowl like that probably ever,” teammate Kyle Kuzma said.
Several of James’ teammates took exception with Hill’s involvement in the play.
“A guy dove for a loose ball, took his leg out from up under him,” Montrezl Harrell said. “I really don’t feel like it was one of those loose-ball plays. He had to go through his leg to get the ball, man. He was turned sideways. The ball was behind him. I mean, you’re jumping at an angle, going across this way, I mean, I don’t know how you feel that’s a loose ball.”
Dennis Schroder concurred.
“That’s an unnecessary play to dive in the leg like that,” he said.
After the game, Hill tweeted a note to critics, who might have thought the move was intentional.
— solomon hill (@solohill) March 20, 2021
James, 36, was able to stand on his own and limped back to the bench where he laced his sneakers and stayed in the game after the timeout.
On the Lakers’ first possession out of the timeout, James hit a 3 from the corner, lifting his stat line to 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting, keeping his streak intact of 1,036 straight games — including Saturday — scoring 10 points or more.
The Lakers called another timeout shortly thereafter and James checked out of the game for good with 10:04 remaining in the second quarter, with his team trailing 34-30.
Shortly after, the Lakers made the announcement he would not return.
Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka and Anthony Davis were among the group of Lakers staffers to accompany James to the locker room.
“I won’t disclose what any mood of LeBron was like internally,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “It’s in-house.”
Kuzma said that the team did not see James after the game and the four-time champion did not speak to reporters. He did, however, write an optimistic post on Twitter.
Nothing angers and saddens me more than not being available to and for my teammates! I’m hurt inside and out right now. 🤦🏾♂️. The road back from recovery begins now. Back soon like I never left. #ThekidfromAKRON🤴🏾
— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 21, 2021
The Lakers’ next game is on Sunday on the second leg of a back-to-back on the road against the Phoenix Suns. James did fly with the team for the game, according to a team spokesperson.
Some players expressed optimism about James’ recovery prospects after the game.
“He’s bounced back before and he will in a couple of days,” Schroder said. “So, I’m not worried.”
Said Harrell: “This guy is a pro, man. I don’t think it’s going to set him back too much, but he is human, man.”
Coming into Saturday, James was averaging 25.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists and played in all but one game for the Lakers this season, keeping his name atop the MVP conversation. L.A. lost the game James missed for rest, 123-120 to the Sacramento Kings, right before the All-Star break.
The defending champions were already undermanned to begin with, missing an All-Star in Davis the past 14 games because of a calf strain and tendinosis in his right leg and playing without starting center Marc Gasol the past seven games while he was in the league’s health and safety protocols.
“We have enough offensive firepower and we have a defensive mentality with our group so to me, we have enough to win,” Vogel said.