In their first game after the NBA All-Star break, the Lakers are going to look mostly the same as the team that left it. Anthony Davis (right calf and Achilles) and Marc Gasol (health and safety protocols) are both still out for their first game back against the Indiana Pacers. This will be the third game Gasol has missed, and Frank Vogel said there is no timeline for when he can return. Davis will be re-evaluated after the game.
But in addition to those two, the status of a few more guys may be in jeopardy. According to the team’s injury report, Kostas Antetokounmpo (health and safety protocols) is out as well — his second absence this season due to the protocols — while Alex Caruso (neck spasms), Jared Dudley (right knee contusion), LeBron James (sore left ankle), Damian Jones (lower back pain) and Kyle Kuzma (right heel contusion) are all probable.
James has been listed with some variation of that ankle injury for every single game this season other than the team’s opener against the Clippers, and despite some theorizing that the team is just listing him with it to not incur the wrath of the league if they sit him later, it certainly doesn’t sound like he’s planning on resting it much more than he did in the first half of the season, when he only missed one game, the final one before the All-Star break.
“It’s go time. Second half of the season, it’s time to get prepared for that last lap going into the postseason,” James said at practice on Thursday. “You guys know me by now. I’m not in the looking ahead, let me take this off or take that off. Nah, it’s go time for me.”
Whether or not it’s “go time” for his other teammates on the injury report remains to be seen. While all three are listed as probable, the Lakers may opt to be careful given that these neck spasms are now a recurring issue for Caruso, and because this heel contusion has been similarly nagging at Kuzma. But chronic injuries are also just part of playing in the NBA. James has been playing through them for years.
“I want to feel as good as I can, but I’m never going to be healthy again. Shit, I haven’t been healthy since the first year I entered the league,” James said.
Even younger players like Kuzma feel the physical toll.
“At the end of the day, we all have lingering issues, especially as you get older and older,” Kuzma said, and that’s not just because the Lakers are paying a price for the short, two-ish month offseason. Kuzma says that playing hurt is just part of the NBA experience.
“I’m not that old, but I just know that being in the league for four years, I feel a lot different now than I did when I first came into the league. Waking up, having body parts stiff, sore, stiff ankles, all those types of little things. We’re playing 72 games this year, but usually it’s 82 games,” Kuzma continued. “You’ve got practice every day and your body is not meant to do that. But it just comes with the territory, and that’s why they pay us so much money.”
James has famously used some of that cash to reinvest in trying to keep himself healthy, reportedly spending upwards of $1 million a year of his own money on his body. It hasn’t left him pain free, but he’s able to get through.
“I do a great job of just keeping my body in the best shape I can possibly be in during that particular season, but more importantly than my body is my mind. As long as my mind is fresh then I can get over the bumps and bruises that my body may endure,” James said. “My mind on the floor gets me through games and I’m still able to play at a high level... because of my IQ.”
But even he has never gone through anything like this season, and is just trying to deal with it as best he can.
“That first half of the season I just wanted to try and get my legs up underneath me, get my wind going, get my rhythm going and now that I have that, I know I can just give it a little bit more, push it a little bit more,” James said. “I view the first half of the season as being in gear one, two and three, and then in the second half being in more like four, five and six, and then when the playoffs start in seven(th gear). That’s kind of how I’ve always done it over the last few years of my career, just kind of ramping more and more as the months go on, as the games go on into the playoffs.”
The Lakers still have 35 games to go until then. As their injury report makes clear, they didn’t make it through the first 37 unscathed, but — starting against the Pacers — they’re going to try and make it through the second half as best they can. Even if it won’t be easy, or painless.
Notes and Updates
- With Gasol out for this one, expect Damian Jones to start at center again in his place while playing out his second 10-day contract so that Montrezl Harrell can come off the bench like he prefers to.
- Even when Gasol returns, he may face competition for minutes eventually, as the Lakers are reportedly looking for another center in part because of his underwhelming play.
- In other notable news, Jeanie Buss seemed to hint that she’ll pay what it takes to keep the Lakers competitive in unsurprising but still newsworthy remarks.
- For a more specific preview of this game, I went on Locked on Pacers to talk about this matchup. And for a more granular look at how the Lakers got to this point and evaluating some of the role guys midseason, check out my conversation on the Indy Cornrows podcast. If those episodes aren’t up yet, I imagine they will be soon. Caitlin Cooper and Mark Schindler also can get you caught up on the Pacers and what they do (and don’t do) well in written form over at our sister site, one of our best SB Nation team communities.
The Lakers and Pacers will tip off at 7:30 p.m. PT. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet, and nationally on NBA TV.