PHOENIX — The Los Angeles Lakers will head into a potential elimination game without their leader, LeBron James.
James was ruled out of Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns with left ankle soreness, the team announced. It will be James’ third missed game out of the Lakers’ past four.
The Lakers, who have lost six games in a row, are two games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the final spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament. The Lakers can be eliminated from the play-in tournament contention with a loss to the Suns, coupled with a Spurs road win against the Denver Nuggets.
San Antonio could be without Dejounte Murray (non-COVID illness) and Jakob Poeltl (back) for Tuesday’s game.
Phoenix will have plenty of motivation against the Lakers. A victory would set the franchise record for wins in a season with 63, eclipsing the 1992-93 team led by Charles Barkley and the 2004-05 team led by Steve Nash, which both won 62 games. The Suns come into Tuesday’s game on a two-game skid, having blown their past two chances to set the win mark in Memphis and Oklahoma City.
The Suns are also cognizant of Anthony Davis’ comments made last month, asserting that Phoenix “got away with one” in the first round last season by beating the injured-riddled Lakers to advance.
Davis will be in the lineup Tuesday.
“I’m sure his comments will only add some fuel,” a Suns source told ESPN.
Even if Los Angeles wins its final four games, the Spurs would have to finish 1-3 over their final four games for the Lakers to get the 10th seed.
James is averaging 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists this season.
James leads the NBA in scoring this season, fractions of a point ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo (30.1) and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (30.0). However, in order to qualify for the scoring title, a player must play in a minimum of 58 games; James has played in 56 this season.
He would have to play in two of the Lakers’ final three games after Tuesday — at Golden State on Thursday, home against Oklahoma City on Friday and at Denver on Sunday — in order to qualify.
It would be the second scoring title of his career, coming 14 years after his first one in 2007-08.