With LeBron James injured and out indefinitely, Lakers call for 'next man up'

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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, center, grimaces as he trips and injures himself over Atlanta Hawks forward Tony Snell, bottom, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Lakers forward LeBron James grimaces as Hawks forward Solomon Hill crashes into his right leg during a loose-ball scramble Saturday at Staples Center. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The right ankle injury LeBron James suffered in the first half Saturday at Staples Center left the Lakers without three starters against the resurgent Atlanta Hawks, putting the rest of Los Angeles’ group in a dire circumstance.

They lost James with 10 minutes 4 seconds left in the second quarter when he raised his hand and asked to come out of the game. He had been injured less than a minute earlier when Hawks forward Solomon Hill tumbled onto his right leg, rolling James' ankle.

James played for a few seconds, even making a three-pointer from the corner. But it was obvious the pain was too much for even him, so he left the game, forcing his teammates to carry on without their leader, All-Star forward Anthony Davis (strained right calf) and center Marc Gasol (health and safety protocols).

It was a load too heavy for the rest of the Lakers to carry. The 99-94 loss to the Hawks, who have won eight in a row, had the Lakers repeating what seems like their motto for months:

“Next man up. … Next man up. … Next man up.”

“That’s what it is,” point guard Dennis Schroder said on a videoconference after finishing with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists. “That’s what it is. Exactly.

“I mean, we just got to stay together as a team. That’s about it. Next-man-up mentality, and that’s it. I mean, we’re going to talk to him and see what’s going on, but at the end of the day, it’s next-man-up mentality. So, whoever comes in, be ready to play and we still got to get some wins.”

The Lakers, who had a four-game winning streak end, announced that James was diagnosed with a high-ankle sprain and will be out indefinitely. James was scheduled to get an MRI on Saturday night, according to people familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly.

The Lakers have three tough games this week when their next-man-up mantra will be tested. They play Sunday at Phoenix and Tuesday at New Orleans before playing host to Philadelphia on Thursday. The Lakers are percentage points behind the Suns for second place in the Western Conference, both 2½ games behind league-leading Utah.

Backup center Montrezl Harrell did his part Saturday, when he led the Lakers with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Veteran forward Markieff Morris contributed 12 points and six rebounds.

“It’s next man up,” Morris echoed. “We been dealing with injuries and the COVID all year, so we got to figure out how to get wins and figure out how we’re going to play, players in different positions, be team players and be aggressive.”

Forward Kyle Kuzma, who started the second half in place of James, was philosophical about how the Lakers will go about things without James, Davis and Gasol.

“You can only control what you can control. It’s very cliche and super simple. But that’s just life," Kuzma said.

Morris took a shot at the NBA and its scheduling practices.

“They set us with a trap game, whatever you want to call it. I don’t care how the NBA feel about it," Morris said.

"It was a trap game playing 20-year-olds at 12 o’clock in the afternoon. They trapped us. We just couldn’t really find it. Me, personally, I find all my shots were short. I end up making some late in the game, but throughout the game just really can’t get over the hump.”

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Update: The Suns (27-13) rebounded from a 123-119 loss to Minnesota on Thursday with a 113-101 win over the Timberwolves on Friday. All-Star guard Devin Booker leads the team with 25.1 points a game while point guard Chris Paul is averaging 16 points and 8.7 assists. Center Deandre Ayton is averaging a double-double of 14.2 points and 10.9 rebounds.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.