It is possible James could miss more games, sources said, as he works through discomfort in a right ankle that kept him out six weeks until a brief two-game return that included home losses to Toronto and Sacramento over the weekend.
The Lakers were able to upset the No. 3 seed, the Denver Nuggets, on Monday without both James and Dennis Schröder, which bought them another night in the Western Conference’s top-six seeds. If they’re going to stay there, they’re going to need to pull off another upset in their next two games.
On Thursday, the Lakers will play the No. 4 seed, the LA Clippers, for the third time this season. While they’re dealing with their own injuries, they’re still expected to have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George when they play the Lakers on Thursday. Patrick Beverley might also be available. Beverley, who made the All-Defensive Second Team last season, hasn’t played since April because of a re-injured knee and a fractured hand.
If the season ended today, the Lakers and Clippers would play each other in the first round. However, if James is going to miss the next two games, they could fall a few spots in the standings and avoid that scenario altogether. Friday’s game is of particular important to their place in the Western Conference.
On Friday, the Lakers will play the Portland Trail Blazers, who are currently in one of the four dreaded play-in spots but are slowly crawling back into the top-six. Right now, the Trail Blazers and Lakers are only separated by one game. By the time they play on Friday, that gap could be even smaller.
James being healthy for a deep postseason run is obviously the most important thing for the Lakers, but the more games he misses in this final stretch, the harder said run is going to be. Hopefully these next two games are all he needs to feel like himself again.