LeBron James cleared to increase on-court participation

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — LeBron James’ strained groin is turning out to be perhaps the most significant injury of the famously durable superstar’s 16-year NBA career.

James likely will miss at least three more games after being cleared to increase his on-court activity in his comeback from the injury, the Lakers announced Thursday after an evaluation by their medical staff.

The Lakers say James’ healing is “progressing,” and the four-time NBA MVP will participate in more functional basketball activities during the upcoming week. But the team also says it will provide another update on Jan. 16, which probably means James will miss the Lakers’ three upcoming games against Utah, Cleveland and Chicago.

If James sits out as expected, he will miss 11 consecutive games before his next update, and he will have been out of action for over three weeks since getting hurt during the Lakers’ win at Golden State on Christmas.

Those are significant numbers: James never missed more than 13 games during any of his first 15 NBA seasons, and he never sat out for more than two full weeks during his decorated tenures with the Cavaliers or the Miami Heat.

The Lakers and James, who turned 34 last month, are being prudent with this injury to a star famous for playing through all types of physical ailments, both major and minor. He has never missed a playoff game despite innumerable minor knocks, and he played in all 82 games for the Cavs last season while leading the NBA in minutes played in both the regular season and the postseason.

Before his injury, James was off to yet another outstanding start in his first season with the Lakers, who are a playoff contender after missing the postseason in a franchise-record five consecutive years.

James is the NBA’s sixth-leading scorer with 27.3 points per game along with 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The Lakers (23-19) began Thursday in eighth place in the Western Conference standings after beating Detroit on Wednesday night to improve to 3-5 in James’ absence.

Fans haven’t forgotten about him, of course: James leads the NBA with 2,779,812 votes for a spot on the Western Conference’s All-Star team, according to returns released earlier Thursday.

The Lakers traveled to Salt Lake City on Thursday to face the Jazz on Friday night, followed by a return for home games against the Cavs and Bulls. The next update on James’ condition will be delivered one day before the Lakers travel to Oklahoma City to begin a difficult stretch of consecutive games against the Thunder, Rockets and Warriors.