James, the reigning Finals MVP, suffered a high ankle sprain in the game against the Atlanta Hawks. With the LA Lakers already missing their other star player, Anthony Davis, the defending champions risk losing more ground in a stacked Western Conference.
In James' absence, the LA Lakers have lost three of their last four games, falling behind the red-hot LA Clippers, who are now on a five-game winning streak.
This is a golden opportunity for the LA Clippers to create separation between the two cross-town rivals. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George could cement their team's place at the top of the West as the Purple and Gold play catchup till James returns to the fold.
On that note, let's take a look at three Western Conference teams that could take advantage of LeBron James' absence in the LA Lakers roster.
3 Western Conference teams that could bolster their seedings following LeBron James' injury
It is safe to say that LeBron James' injury has cleared the path for other Western Conference playoff hopefuls to make a move in the top six.
The ongoing season has been full of twists and turns, but LeBron James going down at this stage of the season has to be one of the biggest ones.
In a worst-case scenario, the LA Lakers could struggle to qualify for the play-in tournament.
While their rivals would love to see that, Frank Vogel's men are unlikely to slump that far in the standings, even in LeBron James' absence. Nevertheless, teams are now in hot pursuit of the defending champions, and things are about to get very intriguing in the Western Conference.
So without further ado, let's take a look at three Western Conference teams that could capitalize on LeBron James' injury.
#1 Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets are quite familiar with the LA Lakers, having met them in the 2020 Western Conference Finals, where LeBron James and co. beat them in five games.
After a shaky start to their season, Nikola Jokic has displayed MVP caliber form to bring the Nuggets back into playoff reckoning. While Jokic continues to lead his side in virtually every category, he has also received enough support from Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
As things stand now, the Denver Nuggets are 1.5 games behind their Conference rivals, the LA Lakers.
Michael Malone's side have won seven of their last ten games and could take over LeBron James' LA Lakers in the coming days.
The Western Conference finalists have done well at the 2021 trade deadline by adding key pieces to their roster. Aaron Gordon could make a good fit on the wing, while former LA Lakers' center and reigning NBA champion JaVale McGee could prove to be the difference-maker in the playoffs.
#2 Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers have been touted as the dark horse candidates coming out of the Western Conference.
Terry Stott's men will undoubtedly seek to climb up the standings, with LeBron James of the LA Lakers on the sidelines for the next few weeks. Like the Denver Nuggets, the Trail Blazers are only 1.5 games behind the reigning champions. The Blazers are on a two-game winning streak post the trade deadline and have a favorable schedule in their next four matchups.
It is a safe assumption that the LA Lakers won't risk an early return for both their stars to aggravate their injuries. That leaves the door possibly wide open for a team like the Trail Blazers to move up the standings.
Damian Lillard and crew will ideally like to end their regular season with a top-four seeding. If they can manage that feat, it would do wonders to their morale heading into the playoffs.
While league experts and pundits obsess over marquee names at the trade deadline, the Portland Trail Blazers have quietly made the biggest gain with the addition of Normal Powell.
The Blazers are looking scary good on paper and could pull off a major upset in the postseason.
#3 Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks need to find an extra gear to make full use of this opportunity.
A legend like LeBron James going down with a major injury is rare. If the Mavericks don't get their house back in order now, they might not get another chance like this to make up ground on the LA Lakers.
The LA Lakers' roster is designed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But with both of them out for an extended period, the Lakers lineup probably won't hold up against teams that are hungry to defeat the reigning champions.
The Dallas Mavericks are well behind the LA Lakers at this stage, but things move quickly in the NBA. A couple of wins could change all that in a blink of an eye. The Dallas Mavericks have the talent to launch a winning streak and could potentially fight their way back into the top six in the West.
The 'Unicorn' Kristaps Porzingis is finally healthy and playing at a high level. The time is right for Rick Carlisle's side to make a push for the playoffs before LeBron James and Davis make their return to the NBA hardwood.