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Lakers vs. Pistons Preview: Reinforcements are on the way

The Lakers could see LeBron James return against the Pistons, in addition to Dennis Schröder and Thomas Bryant finally making their season debuts.

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Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Did you enjoy your little period of rest and relaxation from the perils of Los Angeles Lakers basketball? Are you ready to again see the purple-and-gold on your television screens?

The Lakers didn’t disappear overnight. Instead, they received a nice little four-day break in between Sunday’s win against the Brooklyn Nets and Friday’s game vs. the Detroit Pistons.

But while us fans may have enjoyed the break from the 3-10 team we’ve watched so far this season, the Lakers themselves may have enjoyed it even more. This is for a few reasons, starting with their ability to practice the most they’ve been able to manage in between games all season. Also, this is a team that had four-to-six players come down with a serious non-COVID illness, including LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Lonnie Walker IV, and others.

But most importantly, that break allowed a few players to seemingly finish off their rehabilitation periods to likely get ready to suit up for the game against the Pistons.

Below, we preview those probable returns before the Lakers start a period of 24 games in 46 days, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

Reinforcements incoming

Looking at the injury report for Friday’s game, the lack of two names pops out, as Dennis Schröder and Thomas Bryant will be set to make their season debuts (but not purple-and-gold debuts, as the two continue a storied tradition of being former-Lakers-turned-current-Lakers).

Both players suffered UCL tears in their thumbs during training camp at basically the same time, and they’ll now try and insert themselves into the rotation of a 3-10 team. One would assume that because they had nothing to do with this mess they’re walking into that they’d have ample opportunity to get on the court and show what they can do for the team, but not so fast...

Schröder will be joining an already crowded backcourt that still includes Russell Westbrook as we get closer and closer to the oft-reported 20-game mark when the Lakers may finally decide whether or not to trade him. Of course, Schröder brings a combination of adequate-at-worst offense and defense that not many of the other backcourt players bring, which means he is almost certainly going to at least see the floor on Friday night.

As for Bryant, the jury is still out on if he will play despite being active. Damian Jones — the Lakers’ only other center up to this point outside of Anthony Davis — has only played 8.3 minutes per game this season as Darvin Ham has opted to instead play small-ball lineups with Wenyen Gabriel being the only other big out there at most times.

Is this strategy more a reflection of disappointing play from Jones? Or is it due to a more macro element of how the team can best maximize the talent on its roster? Bryant will obviously be hoping it’s the former.

Either way, Ham now has to figure out a new rotation with the availability of these two players. It’s a new challenge at the wrong time for the 3-10 Lakers, but luckily, they play the Pistons (who have the worst net rating in the league) on Friday and then the Spurs for three of the next four games. San Antonio ranks 28th in net rating which is right behind the 27th-ranked Lakers.

It would be understandable to doubt that Schröder and Bryant will make that big a difference for a team this deficient — but let our own Darius Soriano tell you how you could end up being surprised at what they bring to the team — however, either way, I’m burying the lede here... LeBron James has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable on the injury report of Friday’s game. He has missed the past two games for the Lakers due to a left abductor strain.

Obviously, questionable still doesn’t mean he will suit up. However, Ham did make sure to tell reporters after Thursday’s (no-contact) practice that LeBron looked “great” and was running and jumping.

Hopefully with LeBron’s return, Schroder and Bryant’s debut, and a chance to take some deep breaths with the long break, the Lakers can take advantage at home of a 3-12 Pistons team that is in even worse shape than they are.

Notes and Updates

  • Other than LeBron’s questionable status, the Lakers’ injury report also includes Juan Toscano-Anderson (mid-back soreness) as questionable, Anthony Davis (lower back tightness) as probable, and Max Christie (health and safety protocols) as out.
  • Scotty Pippen Jr and Cole Swider will also be unavailable due to G-League play.
  • The Lakers also receive an added boost to their chances of winning on Friday in the form of promising sophomore Cade Cunningham already being ruled out of this game. The Pistons play on Thursday vs. the Clippers (another boost), with Cunningham missing that game due to shin soreness that was first announced on Nov. 12. The Pistons announced at that time he’d miss their next three games.
  • The rest of the Pistons’ injury report for the Clippers game on Thursday can be seen below.

The Lakers and Pistons will tip off at 7:30 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.

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