The Los Angeles Lakers have lost four of their last five games with LeBron James sidelined by knee soreness and swelling, but the cavalry is on the way when they host the New York Knicks on Sunday: The team announced about 45 minutes before tip-off that James would return to the starting lineup.
The buzz started earlier in the day, when Dave McMenamin of ESPN reported that James would work out before the team game to see if he could get back on the floor:
Game is 8:30 ET*, 5:30 PT— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 5, 2022
James was previously listed as “doubtful” on the team’s injury report, so this represented a real upgrade in his status. Then, the team upgraded him to questionable, and prior to the game, head coach Frank Vogel said James would work out on the court and see if he could play.
Vogel also confirmed that his star very much wanted to play in the nationally televised matchup vs. the big-market Knicks on ABC.
“Itching to play isn’t a strong enough word,” Vogel said. “He’s been working day and night.”
LeBron’s a game-time decision, testing the knee now pic.twitter.com/gs4gWWKOV3— Cooper Halpern (@CooperHalpern) February 6, 2022
Phil Handy’s walking LeBron through this pregame work pic.twitter.com/E1CEKr97Xz— Cooper Halpern (@CooperHalpern) February 6, 2022
Game speed test followed up by some free throws pic.twitter.com/BDxCc7qWUe— Cooper Halpern (@CooperHalpern) February 6, 2022
The Lakers evidently liked what they saw from that work, and from James’ pregame session. And with fellow veteran forward Carmelo Anthony out for this one with his own injury, James returning not only gives the Lakers their star back, but also provides just plain crucial depth at forward, where the team’s only remaining other options are Trevor Ariza and Stanley Johnson.
What to expect from James in his first game back from this injury is unclear, mostly because the Lakers haven’t been very specific on what exactly he’s been dealing with. But given how crucial he is to their short and long-term fortunes, it seems like a safe bet he and the team would not be considering this if they didn’t feel pretty good about where he’s at, health-wise.
Now that James is back, this will be another critical look at how he and Russell Westbrook can succeed alongside the newly reenergized Anthony Davis. And with the team sitting three games below .500, his return couldn’t come at a better time.
This breaking news story may be updated with more information and analysis as it continues to develop. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.