OK, let’s try this again.
And we have to try it again because LeBron James already returned from his high ankle sprain on April 30, but after a second game just two days later, he re-aggravated it and has been sidelined from game action since May 2. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on a tweet from colleague Dave McMenamin, reported that LeBron James had been targeting tonight’s game against the New York Knicks (a TNT follow-up to this) as his return date.
But, wait, then today — as in while this was being written — Woj reported that James would give the ankle one more day, and instead of facing the Knicks tonight, James will return tomorrow against the Houston Rockets.
Maybe he just wants to rest on the front-end of a back-to-back as opposed to playing both nights fresh off the re-aggravation, but who knows?
In the two games James played since his return, the Lakers lost both. In the four he’s missed since, they’re 2-2, the most critical loss coming to the Portland Trail Blazers on May 7, but they rebounded to stomp out the second-seeded Phoenix Suns two nights later. Anthony Davis, who has battled his own injuries throughout the season, recorded a combined 78 points and 24 rebounds and 10 assists over the two games.
Currently, the 38-30 Lakers are seventh in the Western Conference, 1.5 games behind the Blazers [who own a 2-1 head-to-head tiebreaker over them] and are 2.5 games ahead of the Golden State Warriors. Winning out might not even do much for the Lakers so long as the Trail Blazers don’t entirely fall off in their final three games… but it actually isn’t conceivable considering what remains of the road Damian Lillard and his crew need to navigate.
The Blazers still have the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns [both on the road], and Denver Nuggets to end the season; the top two teams in the west, and the fourth-place squad, who is only one game out of third. The Lakers have the Knicks at home tonight, followed by the Rockets tomorrow, then at the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans to end the week, giving them a far lighter schedule than the Blazers remaining gauntlet. Still, without James tonight, it puts a Davis-led squad in must-win territory against one of the NBA’s most suffocating defenses, and a team that just held the Los Angeles Clippers in check during an impressive 106-100 road Mother’s Day victory.
Though they could use him tonight, Dennis Schröder is still out due to COVID protocols but hopes to return before the regular season is over.
As for what the league itself could be rooting for, where’s the loss? If the Lakers are unable to catch the Blazers, you’re likely getting a LeBron vs. Steph Curry Play-In game, so long as the Warriors don’t get lapped by the Memphis Grizzlies, who are 0.5 games behind them. If the Lakers do pass the Blazers, then you might have a Dame vs. Steph Play-In scenario. Still, the Lakers would obviously prefer to skip the Play-In altogether, making tonight their most critical game of the season by default.
By the way, speaking of things the league may want, the Knicks would be closer to locking in a No. 4 seed with a win tonight.