Saturday, May 18, 2024

Lakers’ Dennis Schröder, Thomas Bryant set to return against Pistons; LeBron James is questionable

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EL SEGUNDO — For Lakers guard Dennis Schröder, missing the first 13 games of the season with a thumb injury had quite a few bits of silver lining.

For one, he spent his summer playing Eurobasket, giving his offseason a feel of hardly any time off at all. He also was sick shortly before joining the Lakers in October, dropping about 10 pounds from his ideal playing weight. As much as Schröder wanted to be on the court, once he was sidelined with a right thumb injury, he learned to embrace the time away from the game.

Then there was the fact that he had someone with an almost absurdly similar circumstance who could relate: teammate Thomas Bryant, who had surgery on his left thumb the day after Schröder had it on his right.

“It was pretty cool for these circumstances, that we both had the same injury and we went through it together,” Schröder said. “Talking to each other, what he does, what I do, just to be back tomorrow and I think we’re working our butt off just to come out every day. I think we didn’t take a day off from the thumb.”

About a month removed from their respective surgeries, both Schröder and Bryant are expected to make their season debuts for the Lakers on Friday night against the Detroit Pistons. While they’ll supply depth at opposing ends of the lineup – Schröder is a 6-foot-3 ball-handling guard, while Bryant is a 6-10 forward with some shooting upside – both players are hoping to make an impact for a 3-10 team coming off a long respite.

Coach Darvin Ham might be challenged to figure out how to squeeze each into the rotation, especially Schröder who joins an already stocked set of small, ball-dominant guards. But Ham said both are likely to see court time after a few good practices. Neither was even on Thursday’s injury report.

“They’re both competitive, they both love togetherness, they care about their teammates,” Ham said. “They’re both willing to acknowledge that they made a mistake and handle it the right way when their teammates are off a little bit. But we’re excited, we’re excited to get them.”

The Lakers are also hoping for the return of LeBron James, the team’s leading scorer (24.9 ppg) who has missed two games since straining his left adductor. The Lakers didn’t practice with contact on Thursday, but Ham said the 37-year-old forward was running and jumping and looked “great.” He’s listed as questionable, and the team has gone 1-2 in games he’s missed so far.

Schröder and Bryant faced a more tedious road to recovery since their Oct. 17 and 18 surgeries, respectively. Thumb injuries are common in the NBA – Bryant said he couldn’t even recall how he injured it – but they can be slow and somewhat frustrating to rehab.

“People would actually think it’s kinda boring because it’s a lot of hand motion stuff, a lot of thumb motion just getting your flexibility back into your thumb – making a four, thumb wave up and down,” Bryant said. “Even with the band I have here, just putting it around, opening it up and stretching it.”

In the meantime, the two have been conditioning and lifting weights (learning safe grips for their injuries), and they have been eager to get back on the court.

Assuming Schröder and Bryant both play Friday – the team’s first game in five days – they’ll both be making return stints for the Lakers. Bryant was drafted by the franchise in 2017 but was waived after just one season; Schröder was a prized trade acquisition before the 2020-21 season, but he tumbled out of favor after not signing an in-season extension with the Lakers, then was allowed to go elsewhere after the Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook the next offseason.

Schröder has the unique experience of being teammates with all of the Lakers’ principals before, including playing with Westbrook in Oklahoma City during the 2018-19 season. He figures to play more of an off-ball role – particularly with Ham’s current alignment of James running the starting lineup and Westbrook running the reserves. But the German point said he’s ready to fit in as needed.

“I just try to win ballgames, that’s it,” he said. “At the end of the day, whatever they need me to do – and I’ve seen a couple of games where people don’t touch the paint and spread it out and play defense, pick up 94 feet. All those things, little things, are what impacts winning I believe. And we just got to do it. That’s where I come in.”

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