Friday, June 14, 2024

Lakers say LeBron James is day-to-day, but report says he could return Friday

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PHOENIX — As LeBron James’ absence stretched to five straight games, Coach Darvin Ham stressed patience on Tuesday night ahead of tip-off against the Phoenix Suns.

“We’re in a good rhythm right now so there’s no rush,” Ham said. “There’s no panic mode.”

But according to a report during the TNT broadcast, James might return as soon as Friday night when the Lakers face the San Antonio Spurs in Texas.

The 37-year-old has been out since leaving a Nov. 9 game against the Clippers early with an injury, which the Lakers have called a left adductor strain. The Lakers have designated him as questionable for three straight games – on Tuesday, however, they ruled him out officially during their morning shootaround at the Footprint Center.

When asked directly if James might be able to return this weekend, when the Lakers have a back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday in San Antonio, Ham said he’s going day by day: “As of today, I can’t answer that question.”

But the TNT report indicated that James might have his own timeline, which has often been the case throughout his Lakers tenure. The four-time league MVP rehabs intensively with Mike Mancias, his personal trainer for the better part of two decades since his first tenure in Cleveland. More than once as a Laker, James has returned from long-term injury despite being listed as doubtful even on the day of the game.

The Lakers trust James to take care of his own rehab. He was present at Tuesday’s shootaround in Phoenix, and Ham said he had been able to get into the weight room to strengthen his adductor. But entering the night with a 3-1 record without James on this latest stint, Ham said winning without his franchise star has felt a little like playing with house money.

“For him not having to go out and play like crazy for us just to be competitive – he can take his time, let his body heal,” Ham said. “Not put himself in position where it’s a lingering matter. So just being able to have some success with him in street clothes, it’s been phenomenal.”

The Lakers have an off-day in Phoenix on Wednesday and will spend Thanksgiving in San Antonio before taking on the Spurs, who they trounced by 31 points on Sunday.

James has missed six games total this season. While he’s widely expected to challenge Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s regular-season scoring record (38,387 points), availability will play a role in his bid to reach it this year. At his 24.9 ppg pace, James would need 44 more games to catch Abdul-Jabbar. In the last two seasons, he’s played 101 of 154 possible games, missing time with various injuries.

The Lakers also were again without forward Juan Toscano-Anderson (mid-back soreness) and rookie guard Max Christie (COVID-19 protocols). Neither has played in the last three games. Toscano-Anderson worked out on the court with assistant coach Phil Handy before the game.

Suns point guard Chris Paul, one of James’ closest friends and a fellow 37-year-old, also missed Tuesday’s game with a heel injury, marking his seventh consecutive absence.

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