LeBron James took a small, small step toward making his return for the Los Angeles Lakers at practice on Tuesday.
According to Lakers head coach Luke Walton, James got shots up at the training facility for the first time since suffering a groin strain on Christmas Day against the Golden State Warriors.
“He’s doing things ... treating his injury. He got some shots up today,” Walton said. “He’s working on his body, his game, himself all of the time, but that was the first time I’ve seen him shoot.”
The Lakers have struggled to find their footing without their leading scorer, but they made significant progress on Sunday when they beat the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center. Walton couldn’t deny that the team’s first win without James provided a nice boost to the locker room’s morale, but he said that they still have a lot of room to improve.
“It was good for us, for sure, but we know that was one game and it was a nice win,” Walton said. “Now it’s all about getting refocused and getting better. We did a lot of things sloppy in that game. We were fortunate to be able to win it, but there was a lot of things we could have and should have done better.”
They can’t afford to play sloppy on Wednesday, when they host Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the the No. 3 seed Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time this season. The Thunder are ranked first in the NBA in defensive rating (101.7), steals per game (10.6) and points off of turnovers (21.3).
The Lakers have shown they can win games without James, but this will easily be their biggest test to date. It will be interesting to see if they rise to the occasion.