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LeBron James, on his time with ankle injury: ‘I was more stressed than I’ve ever been’

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LeBron James struggled mentally with missing so many games for the Lakers.

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Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

LeBron James may have felt “pretty good” in his return for the Lakers after the longest injury absence of his NBA career, but he admitted after the game that he felt the furthest thing from good during the 20 games he had to watch from the sidelines, unable to help his teammates.

“It was horrible, honestly, for me. I was more stressed than I’ve ever been,” James said. “Watching the games and not being able to play, and sitting on the bench and knowing that you can’t make much of a difference, it’s very stressful.”

James admitted that the time off wasn’t all bad, though. He got some time to see his family during a year that’s seen him play more condensed basketball and spend more time away from them than ever. He called those moments “very rewarding,” and says that being back on the floor is going to help his mental state even more.

“I’m happy I’m playing now, so (I get) a little stress relief,” James said.

The relief may not last long, however, because there is plenty for James and his teammates to be stressed about as the Lakers close the season. He and Anthony Davis have still played fewer minutes together 63 games into this season (537) than they did in last year’s 21 playoff games (566). They have only both been available at the same time for 24 games this season, less than half of what the Lakers have played. And with just nine games left to re-establish their tandem and build chemistry with new starter Andre Drummond, all while they fight for seeding, there are plenty of factors that can raise the collective blood pressure of everyone around this team.

When the prospect of figuring things out with just single-digit games remaining was raised to James by Bill Oram of The Athletic during his postgame media session on Zoom, he admitted he still hasn’t quite wrapped his head around the situation.

“I mean it just sounds so weird Bill, what you just said, it’s only nine games left. It’s just been a hell of a season obviously. Everything is so, so rushed. It’s a game every other day. Or it’s back-to-backs, or you can have as many as four or five games in a week,” James said.

“It’s a been long, super quick season. So how much can we make out of these nine games? I’m not sure. I know as far as our chemistry, we continue to build that, we continue to log minutes (together) out on the floor, continue to build some things obviously, but we can’t...” James continued, trailing off briefly, seemingly calculating how candid he wanted to be before deciding to slip back into coachspeak cliches rather than admit what the Lakers can’t do.

“It’s just a different season. Not only for us, but for a lot of teams,” James said. “We look forward to the challenge. It is what it is, this is the season, and we’ve got to make the most of it.”

As James sat on the sideline and waited to return, his basketball supercomputer of a brain was constantly running calculations, both trying to help the team be better in the moment by pointing out what was going wrong and giving his teammates tips, while also attempting to simulate in his mind what would be different if he was out on the floor. He says the latter part is what was harder, because it made him feel more helpless while his team clearly needed his help.

“That’s the stressful side, when you know that if you were on the floor that you could make those plays and you could help your teammates win, but you know you physically can’t be out there to do it,” James said. “That’s the stressful part.”

And when Rachel Nichols of ESPN replied to James to he should be stress-free from now on then, now that he can play, he punctuated his postgame session by admitting that there is only one prescription that will make him feel better during a season unlike any he’s ever experienced during his nearly two decades in the NBA.

“We get some wins, then I’ll be stress free,” James cracked.

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