LeBron James missed 24 games due to a severely sprained ankle injury, but he participated in practice on Monday and could return to the hardwood when the New York Knicks play the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center in downtown LA on Tuesday evening.
LeBron is considered day-to-day for the defending champion Lakers, but he wants to get a couple of regular-season games under him before the postseason begins. All signs point to LeBron returning for a nationally televised Lakers/Knicks tilt.
“What I’ve seen from LeBron today, he’ll be fine,” said teammate Anthony Davis. “Trust me. He’ll be fine.”
The Lakers look like they’re destined for the Western Conference play-in tournament after slipping to the #7 spot. The play-in games begin one week from today.
LeBron knows he’ll experience pain while his ankle injury persists, but he really needs game-time situations to make sure he’s in peak condition. The NBA playoffs are an entirely different beast from the regular-season games. Players and teams unlock an entirely different level of intensity and ferocity when the postseason begins.
“He’s been in this game long enough, obviously he’s missed a ton of games, but he’s been in this league long enough to be able to come in and lock in and do what he has to do to help the team,” added Davis.
Lakers Futures Betting
Despite LeBron missing 24 games with the injury, the Lakers are among the favorites to win the 2021 NBA Championship. The Brooklyn Nets are the consensus favorite to win the title at +200 odds, according to a new update by the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas. Right now, the Lakers are the second-highest team on the futures board at +400 odds.
The Lakers are the consensus favorite to win the Western Conference, even though they’re the #7 seed, according to an update by DraftKings.
The Lakers are -5.5 favorites over the visiting New York Knicks tonight, but that’s assuming that LeBron returns. if you like betting totals, the Lakers are the best under team in the NBA. The current total is 214 o/u. Meanwhile, the Knicks boast the best betting record in the league with a 43-24-1 ATS clip.
The Slide from #2 to #7
The Lakers started this season 21-6. That’s an impressive feat considering their short turnaround between last season and this season. They went deep into the 2020 NBA Playoffs and won the championship, but their players didn’t have time to properly celebrate their victory and heal from injuries before they had to return to action at the start of the current season.
The Lakers were cursed by the injury bug when Anthony Davis went down in mid-February with a calf injury. At the time, the Lakers and Clippers were jockeying for the #2 seed in the West, trailing the Utah Jazz after their auspicious start to the season.
At the end of March, LeBron suffered an ankle injury and everyone in Southern California freaked out. Losing Davis was tough, but the Lakers battled on without him. However, losing Davis and LeBron spelled doom for the Lakers without their two alphas and top scorers.
Ten weeks later, the Lakers tumbled to the #7 seed while other teams overtook them, including the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, and Dallas Mavericks. LeBron tried to return to the lineup a couple of weeks ago, but he lasted only two games before he decided to shut it down and rest for another week or so.
“Our team is predicated on health,” LeBron told the LA Times last week. “That is the number one thing for our ballclub.”
The Lakers are also without starting guard Dennis Schroder. They lost him to COVID-19 last week and hope he’ll be ready in time for the playoffs next week.
On Deck: Knicks, Rockets, Pacers, Pelicans
Don’t sleep on the New York Knicks, who are the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers/Knicks will be a battle of two of the top defensive teams in the NBA, so keep an eye on that total regardless if LeBron plays.
Julius Randle (23.9 ppg, 10.3 assists), the Knicks’ leading scorer and lock for the NBA Most Improved Player award, returns to Hollywood where he spent four seasons with the Lakers. The Lakers drafted Randle out of Kentucky back in 2014 before he bolted in free agency to New Orleans for a season, and then onward to New York City.
After the Knicks game on Tuesday, the Lakers have a somewhat easy schedule for the rest of the week. They host the last-place Houston Rockets on Wednesday to complete back-to-back games. It’s also their final home game of the regular season at the Staples Center.
The Lakers end the season with back-to-back road games. On Saturday, they battle the Indiana Pacers. On Sunday, they complete the season against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans were on the Western Conference playoff bubble, but their postseason hopes vanished after Zion Williamson went down with a season-ending fractured finger.
By the way, did you ever hear about the time James Gandolfini portrayed Tony Soprano in a pitch video to help lure LeBron to sign with the New York Knicks in 2010?