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Lakers eye wins sans James

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — The Los Angeles Lakers offered no firm timeline for LeBron James’s return from a right foot injury, but coach Darvin Ham said their “mission is still the same” with their superstar sidelined.

The Lakers, 12th in the Western Conference, are trying to claw their way into the post-season, with the 10th placed team in each conference gaining a spot in the play-in tournament.

Ham said he had met with players on Tuesday morning and emphasized three things: “We’ve got to continue to play the right way, we’ve got to continue to be together, and we’ve also got to continue on with the mission.”

“The mission hasn’t changed for us. The goal of securing a playoff spot is still very much alive,” Ham said as the Lakers prepared to take on the Grizzlies in Memphis.

Their chances of turning things around in the closing stretch of the season took a big hit on Sunday, when James went down hard in the third quarter but stayed in the game as the Lakers completed a remarkable rally from 27 points down to beat the Dallas Mavericks.

James limped out of the American Airlines Center in Dallas that night, and the Lakers had already confirmed that the NBA’s all-time leading scorer wouldn’t play on Tuesday, listing him as out due to “right foot soreness.”

While several US media outlets reported the Lakers feared James would be sidelined multiple weeks, Ham said only that diagnostic tests were ongoing.

ESPN reported Tuesday that he would likely be re-evaluated in two weeks.

“It’s unfortunate that LeBron went down, but injuries are a real part of our sport,” Ham said.

“We’ve got to step up and hold down the fort until he returns.”

James’s injury came less than three weeks after he eclipsed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the most prolific scorer in National Basketball Association history, breaking a 39-year-old record that many thought would never fall.

The four-time NBA champion said prior to a record-tying 19th All-Star Game appearance that the final stretch of the regular season was “23 of the most important games of my career for a regular season,” and he hoped he could find a way to be available every night.

Instead, the Lakers will be scrambling to find a way to win without him. They are 5-9 in games he has missed this season.

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