It has been about three weeks, and while the latest update on Ball’s progress from Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times doesn’t make it sound like Ball will hit the four week end of the team’s original timetable, he is at least getting closer to a return:
Ball has been progressing well in his rehabilitation. He’s begun running on an underwater treadmill and is progressing toward being able to run on an Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill. He was on crutches for less than a week and was able to remove his walking boot shortly thereafter.
Four weeks from Ball’s original injury would be Feb. 16, and six weeks would be Mar. 2. Luckily for the banged-up Lakers, the NBA All-Star break will start for them after their game tomorrow (Feb. 12) and they won’t have another game to play until Feb. 21, meaning the latter game would be the soonest that Ball could theoretically return.
If he has only progressed to running underwater, that fast of a comeback would seem to be unlikely, even if there are reasons to believe a quicker-than-average recovery is possible.
And regardless of when it happens, the Lakers do need Ball back for their playoff push. Kyle Kuzma and LeBron James said as much after the team got lit up on defense in their most recent loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, and they’re right. The Lakers are allowing a staggering 6.9 points per 100 possessions more on defense while Ball is off the floor, which according to NBA.com is nearly the same as the difference between the top-ranked Milwaukee Bucks and 21st-ranked Charlotte Hornets in defensive efficiency.
There is some noise in those numbers, but it is clear that the Lakers are better off defensively with Ball on the floor, so any small steps he’s taking towards returning — even if they’re just underwater ones — should be a welcome sign as the Lakers fight for a playoff spot.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.