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Lakers vs. Spurs Preview: Return of The King?

Although they may not need it against the Spurs, the Lakers may be receiving a large boost to their rotation for Friday’s game in the form of one LeBron James.

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New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers! To them, as well as to our non-American readers, we’re thankful for you all! With our food hangovers in tow (as well as possibly the traditional hangover), we’ll now get ready for another Lakers game. This time they will be facing off against the San Antonio Spurs, and no, that’s not a typo. The Lakers are, in fact, playing them for the second time this week with a perplexing third time in four games coming on Saturday as the purple-and-gold play a back-to-back against the black-and-silver in The Alamo.

Here’s our preview of that first, Friday matchup.

The King Returns?

LeBron James has missed six of his last seven games, with the last five straight absences due to the adductor strain in his groin that he suffered on Nov. 9 vs. the Clippers. It sounds as if that streak of missed games will be broken vs. the Spurs, as Bleacher Report and TNT’s Chris Haynes reported that LeBron is expected to return in Friday’s game.

Of course, he will probably still be listed as questionable on the injury report prior to the game (the injury report has not been released at the time of this preview publishing) to accommodate the possibility of a last-minute setback keeping him from the floor. With that said, we all know that when we get these types of reports from Haynes or others that it usually means LeBron is more than ready to return.

The Lakers went 3-3 in the six games he’s missed this season, and although that .500 winning percentage is better than the .200 percentage they’ve had in games he’s played in, obviously his return will be a welcome sight.

If you were even slightly questioning whether or not this team needs LeBron, you only need to look at the team’s last four games. It turns out that games against the Nets, Pistons, and Spurs are a little easier than a game against what may be the best team in the NBA right now in the Phoenix Suns. Because of that, the Lakers lost 115-105 to the Suns despite the fact that Anthony Davis literally had a stat line that no other NBA player has ever had.

In that loss vs. the Suns, the Lakers had a -4.5 net rating while Davis was on the floor with a -35.0 net rating in his absence, with Darvin Ham putting out some truly puzzling bench lineups without him. Of course, Rob Pelinka did not leave Ham with a roster capable of putting out adequate lineups at all times when LeBron (and Juan Toscano-Anderson and Max Christie who missed the game as well) is available, let alone when he’s missing games.

That stark difference in efficiency from the team can also be seen in the full five-game sample of games LeBron has missed lately, as the Lakers have a +11.6 net rating with AD on the floor in that span of time while the net rating is -2.3 with him off the floor.

Although the Lakers are back to playing the bottom-of-the-barrel in the NBA, they’ll still welcome LeBron back with the most open arms you’ll ever see. Candidly — and I recognize the hilarity of this statement given it’s about a 5-11 team’s best player — they probably don’t need him for either of these Spurs games.

But speaking against that sentiment, the Lakers need to not only build momentum in the win column, but they need to build team-wide momentum in terms of making their product better and better every day in hope of the front office finally seeing the light and making a trade to make this team whole.

On Friday, they’ll move one step closer to that dream with the likely return of The King.

Notes and Updates:

  • At the time of this preview being published, both teams were likely enjoying their Thanksgivings too much to update their injury reports. How selfish of them, right?!
  • LeBron’s designation will obviously have to be monitored, but I’d also wonder about Davis. He hasn’t shown any sign of that back issue bothering him lately, but I wonder if the Lakers see one of these Spurs games as an opportunity to get him some rest, especially in light of the back-to-back.
  • Juan Toscano-Anderson (back) has missed the last three games, with no word yet on if he will be available on Friday.
  • Max Christie has also missed the last three games after landing in health and safety protocols. However, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Wednesday that Christie had cleared those protocols with the expectation that he will play on Friday vs. the Spurs. Christie had been starting to rise in the rotation, playing around 20 minutes per game in the four games leading up to missing some time.
  • We’ll have to see what Spurs players are unavailable as the injury reports get released. A big absence in the Lakers’ dominant 123-92 win against the Spurs on Sunday was that of Jakob Poeltl. Without him, AD was able to do whatever he wanted. Poeltl is one of the more underrated rim defenders in the NBA, and if he plays, it’ll be interesting to see how it affects AD.

The Lakers and Spurs will tip off at 5 p.m. PT on Friday. 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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