LeBron Watch: an ankle takedown or full recovery

LOS ANGELES – One of the earmarks to winning a championship is having a team stay relatively healthy. The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title last season in large part because they managed to keep their players out of harm’s way and healthy. This season has proven to be the opposite of that.

LeBron James. Anthony Davis. Marc Gasol. Dennis Schroder. At various times this season, the Lakers have found themselves short-handed as the injury bug has sort of sidetracked their goal of going after a repeat title performance. But picture the Lakers can possibly get to that milestone if a couple of scenarios play out for them.

Number one is making sure James, who missed 20 games due to a high-ankle injury, is fully healthy. After scoring 16 points against the Sacramento Kings in his first game back on April 30, James was forced to not finish out the Lakers’ 121-114 defeat to the Toronto Raptors at STAPLES Center.

James scored 19 points and had seven rebounds in 28 minutes against the Raptors. A combination of the Lakers trailing by double-digits late in the fourth quarter and some pain he felt in the ankle put James down for the rest of the night.

“The first half it felt really good,” James said in a postgame video conference. “Obviously warming up for the game, everything is going well. In the last two games at halftime, you know after the break, it got a little sore on me, a little tight. Obviously, coach (head coach Frank Vogel)decided not to…you know put me back in towards the end because of that. So, that’s pretty much it.”

Unfortunately for the Lakers, this is not it. Not after losing six of their last seven games. Not with the Denver Nuggets coming town. Not with a matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers on May 6 right around the corner and a showdown with the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns on the nearby horizon.

What the Lakers cannot afford is for James to re-injure his ankle. Because if Captain James is out any more games between now and the playoffs, the Lakers are going to be in trouble. As it stands right now, the Lakers are sitting at the No. 7 spot if the postseason were to begin. Any more game slippage and the Lakers would be in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.

“I think that our team is predicated on health,” said James. “That is the number one thing for our ballclub. We’re a team that needs to be healthy and we need to be full, If it’s not one thing it’s another.

James and Vogel know what is at stake. So, the plan for the team is to wait. Wait to see how James is feeling after he wakes up. Basically, that’s just keeping the fingers crossed and hoping that James and his ankle will be okay.

“Well, that’s the plan,” James said. “The plan is to see how I feel and go from there. Definitely want to get healthy.”

That’s probably an understatement. A fully healthy James and Davis would go a long way in strengthening the Lakers’ chances of repeating as NBA champs. That’s not the only challenge Vogel and the Lakers face. The other mountain staring them in the face is the real possibility of not making it back into the postseason.

With the regular season winding down in a couple of weeks, the Lakers are going to have to play with a bit of urgency. Playing with urgency was an ingredient that was missing from the Lakers’ playbook in the second and third quarters against Toronto. After the Lakers rushed out to a 38-32 lead after the first quarter, the Raptors had their way with the home team during the middle quarters.

Behind the hot shooting of guard Kyle Lowry and the inside presence of Pascal Siakam, Toronto dropped 40 points on the Lakers in the second quarter. And that’s with James playing over eight minutes in the period. At one point in the third quarter, the Raptors led the Lakers by 21 points. That’s because Lowry and Siakam were too busy dominating the action.

Siakam scored a game-high 39 points for Toronto. Lowry was right behind his teammate with 37 points and 11 assists. That’s 76 points scored between the two players. Defensively, the Lakers simply had no answers for Toronto’s super duo.

“We battled two guys that got super hot; two All-Star level players in Pascal and Kyle. They were too much for us,” Vogel said.

As equal concern for the Lakers besides the obvious of players being on the floor by being healthy is trying to get the team chemistry on point before the postseason. As James and Davis have displayed since both are coming off the injured reserved list, team chemistry is like a mandate for titleholders.

However, first things first. Making sure James’ ankle is OK is at the top of everyone’s wish list.

“He’s balanced soreness upon his return as is expected, and so we decided not to bring him back,” Vogel said. “Like I said, we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

Featured Image: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, center, tries to shoot as Toronto Raptors forward Freddie Gillespie, left, guard Malachi Flynn, second from left, guard Rodney Hood, second from right, and center Khem Birch defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, May 2, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)