LeBron James hasn’t quite looked like himself since he made his return from a high ankle sprain on May 15. He’s had spurts where he’s seemed unbothered by the injury that kept him sidelined for 26 games, but more often than not, it’s appeared to have some effect on his explosiveness.
However, whenever James is asked about his ankle, he insists that it’s fine, and that answer is good enough for his head coach, Frank Vogel.
“I’m moving forward as if he’s a healthy player,” Vogel said after practice on Monday. “I understand there is going to be a play or two throughout the game where he doesn’t move on it very well, and that just comes with a guy playing through an injury.
“In an ideal situation he has another few weeks to put it fully behind him, but he’s moving pretty well in most situations,” Vogel continued. “I approach the game like he’s a healthy player and just understand that there are going to be a handful of plays where it looks like it limits him.”
Assuming that doesn’t change, the biggest question for the Lakers going forward will be whether or not they can win a championship — or even a series — with James in his current physical state.
James at 80-90% is obviously still a great player, but can the rest of the roster compensate for the physicality and dribble penetration that they’d lack if James can’t reach that next level? That answer starts with Anthony Davis.
In the last two games, Davis has settled for a lot of contested mid-range jumpers and he’s made very few of them. When you consider the fact that Davis’ ability to attack the rim and draw double teams was supposed to be an advantage for the Lakers in their series with the Phoenix Suns, that’s an issue.
Outside of Davis, the Lakers’ guards need to make the shots that James creates solely based off his otherworldly ability to find the open man. As a team, the Lakers shot 26.9% from 3-point range in Game 1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot a team-worst 1-7 from behind the arc.
Can the Lakers live with James just being a really good player? Yes, but only if everyone else is great.