It’s been over a week since LeBron James had his name added back to the injury report, and while his highly-anticipated return has been teased at various points during that time, he has yet to suit up for the Los Angeles Lakers again.
The question is: Why?
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel did his best to answer that query before the Lakers’ tipped off against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, and his general message was simple: James just isn’t ready yet.
“I think he wanted to be back long before now, but obviously you have to listen to your body,” Vogel said of James. “When guys have injuries, they have to be out ... I think he’s being intelligent with it but he certainly wants to be out there as soon as possible, I can tell you that much. He’s very eager to get back.”
James could be back in the Lakers’ lineup as soon as Saturday, when they’ll take on the Indiana Pacers at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Vogel even said that he’s going to try and get James a practice on the road before then. However, Vogel wouldn’t say for sure that James will play in the Lakers’ final two regular season games.
“I think it’s possible,” Vogel said. “We’re hopeful that he’s able to play before then. But like I said, we’re evaluating this day-to-day, how his ankle is responding to the rehab work... We’re hopeful he’s able to play before the play-in game.”
Vogel also said that for as much as the team was impressed with James’ workouts this week, that’s not the same thing as him playing in an NBA game.
“I think we’re all hopeful,” Vogel said. “I mean, we can watch him in a 1-on-0 workout and see him moving well and be encouraged by that, and we’re all eager to see him back out there, but you have to be realistic that this is a high ankle sprain and these things don’t go away quickly.
“I don’t know what percent he’s going to be at, but it’s a challenge to recover from this type of injury going into important games like we’re going to go into.”
The Lakers should be able to close the season strong without James, but the sooner that he’s back, the better it will be for everyone — well, everyone except for the 15 other teams competing for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.