The Lakers have two back-to-backs over the next week, and four total for the rest of the season, meaning that eight of their final nine games will take place on one end or the other of a back-to-back situation. And with LeBron James returning from a high ankle sprain that kept him out for 20 games — the longest absence of his career — it’s fair to wonder if he will play in all of those matchups that the Lakers are essentially treating like practices.
At least for now, head coach Frank Vogel said he isn’t sure.
“No decision on that yet,” Vogel said when asked before Friday’s game.
The good news is that James came through that game unscathed, aside from a little expected tightness in his recovering ankle. And as the Lakers continue to ramp up for the postseason, James’ co-star Anthony Davis — who is also returning from a lengthy injury absence — has said he’s planning on playing in those games, and Vogel said earlier in the week that if it was up to James, he would likely do the same.
“His history suggests that he would play in both, that he would want to play in both,” Vogel said on Monday. “Obviously we’ll make game-time reads the day of the game as to where he’s at with his ankle and whether or not he should play in both of those games. But that’s not been decided yet.”
The Lakers will get their first opportunity to make such a decision this weekend, when they’ll host the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center on Sunday before getting a visit from the Denver Nuggets on Monday. Then, after two days off, they’ll “travel” to play the LA Clippers in a nominal road game on Thursday before flying to play the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.
Long story short? These next four games will give us a sense of both where James’ ankle is really at, and how cautious he and the team decide to be with it down the stretch. Every rep for this unfamiliar group is valuable right now, but not as valuable as James’ health heading into the playoffs. The Lakers will just have to hope those aren’t mutually exclusive goals.