The Cavaliers superstar is expected to miss at least the next two weeks with injuries to his left knee and back. The timing of the injuries are another blow to the Cavaliers, who have been jarred by a rash of medical issues and failed to live up to the enormous expectations triggered by James re-signing as a free agent with Cleveland last summer.
The team said Thursday that James has been diagnosed with knee and back strains. He'll be treated with "anti-inflammatories, rehabilitation, training room treatments and rest," and the Cavs projected he will miss two weeks. If he's out for just that span, James will be back for a Jan. 15 game in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The Cavs begin a five-game West Coast trip on Jan. 9.
James, who turned 30 on Dec. 30, missed his second straight game on Wednesday. Before the Cavs lost 96-80 to Milwaukee, the four-time league MVP said all tests on his knee had come back negative. He acknowledged his knee has been hurting all year, which helped explain why James hasn't shown the same explosiveness driving to the basket and his willingness to defer to teammates.
He also acknowledged that 11 NBA seasons have taken a toll on his body.
"I've got 41,000 minutes on me, including the playoffs," he joked. "You drive that car in the winter time."
James has never missed more than five straight games in his professional career. If the two-week timetable holds up, his absence could reach 10 games or more. That could be a major problem for the Cavs, who've had issues with chemistry and recently lost starting centre Anderson Varejao for the season with a torn Achilles. On top of that, forward Kevin Love missed Wednesday's game with back spasms and reserve Shawn Marion has sat out the past two games with a sprained ankle.
If that wasn't enough, first-year coach David Blatt has come under intense scrutiny for the team's sluggish start.
At 18-14, the Cavs have lost three straight and four of five heading into Friday night's game in Charlotte.
James briefly left Cleveland's game at Miami on Christmas Day — his first in the regular season against his former team — after jumping into the stands to chase an errant pass, and was grabbing at his left knee in obvious discomfort not long afterward. That was not the cause of the injury, just a recurrence of an ongoing issue, James said before the Milwaukee game.
"It was before that, but it reaggravated it," James said. "It's been hurting pretty much all year. I've been playing with it and it goes away, it comes back. The one in Miami kind of reaggravated it."
Including playoffs, James has logged 41,082 NBA minutes — ninth-most among all active players.
James lost weight before this season, but insisted it wasn't to compensate for a loss of speed, to help him jump higher or try to prolong his career. However, he seemed to understand that he needed to make changes to remain the game's best all-around player.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.