LeBron James suffered a strained groin in Miami’s streak-snapping overtime loss to Sacramento last night. As gifted players often do, he played through the pain… only to tweak his left ankle after a missed layup later on. He remained in the game, finishing with 33 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.
The valiant, but ultimately futile, effort left King James limping off the court and limping badly in the locker room. The Heat are scheduled to take on LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers tonight, with or without their leader, whose status for the game is very much up in the air.
According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, LeBron James is waiting to see how his groin/ankle feels by game-time. If James deems himself able to play, head coach Eric Spoelstra is unlikely to limit his minutes. The Heat will need every advantage to win in Portland; especially in the second game of a back-to-back.
But what if he doesn’t play? Dwyane Wade (knee), Ray Allen (knee), and Chris Andersen (back) all missed last night’s romp in Sacramento. The Heat must be able to trot out at least two of their big three if they hope to compete, making LeBron James’ relative boo-boos extremely important.
With the notable exception of rookie guard CJ McCollum (foot), the 24-5 Trail Blazers are all healthy, all rested, and all ready to defend their home turf tooth-and-nail. Can Miami’s supporting cast scrap together a ‘wounded animal’ performance if need be? Or will this game be over before it started?
We can all guess how a LeBron-less Blazer victory would be seen. The Trail Blazers’ efforts would once again be widely discredited for beating an elite team at their lowest point. In a sense, Portland needs LeBron James to play as much as Miami does. Even losing to a fully optimized Heat team would net them more recognition than stepping over a weakened opponent.
The most unfortunate thing about the criticisms lobbied against the Trail Blazers is that they hold a high degree of truth. Many of Portland’s big wins have come at home in back-to-back exploiting situations. Their league-leading record can be cheapened with asterisks that are out of their control, and it would be nice for them to have a fighting chance at irrefutable ratification.
Ultimately, I’d just like to see the highest level of basketball possible, whenever possible. LeBron James must play in order for the Trail Blazers to be tested in the way that I want them to be. Just as iron must be heat treated to make steel, so must this evolving Portland team. Watch LeBron’s status carefully as the game approaches.