The Lakers got some good news regarding the health of LeBron James.
In a team release, Los Angeles announced James has been cleared to return to practice next week. James will “progress towards playing” after making his return, according to the team. He will not travel with LA on their upcoming two-game road trip.
James leads the Lakers in points, rebounds and assists per game this season. He’s shouldered the load while the young players continue to learn how to play around him. In their last 11 games without him, Los Angeles has gone 4-7, including home losses against the Knicks and Cavaliers.
Even with James, the Lakers would’ve struggled to get road wins against the Thunder and Rockets. Los Angeles is a combined 0-3 this season against both teams with the average margin of each game at 10.33 points. In those three losses, the Lakers shot a combined 27.5 percent from 3-point range. However, the news does give the team some optimism in the near future regarding the star’s return to the court.
James has generated 566 points off his assists this season, the most on the team. Lonzo Ball has generated 522 points, but in 11 additional games. Despite touting the additions of playmakers like Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson in the offseason to take the creation load off James, the Lakers have relied on the star heavily on offense.
One thing James won’t solve is the team’s poor shooting of late. The Lakers have been one of the worst 3-point shooting teams since James’ injury and they were slightly below league-average with him on the floor. Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Ball and Brandon Ingram shot a combined 35.2 percent from behind the arc last season. This year, the quartet is sitting at 31.8 percent and that number is inflated by a hot start from Kuzma and Hart.
It’s unlikely James immediately returns to action against the Warriors following his first few practices back. The Lakers play four games over the next nine days, but have a two-day break before a game against Phoenix at home on January 27. That might be the most realistic date for James’ return to action barring unexpected setbacks in his recovery.
Even without James, the Lakers remain in the thick of the Western Conference playoff picture.
James coming back healthy could provide the necessary momentum for Los Angeles’ young core to get out of this recent rut. With the trade deadline approaching, the Lakers could also be looking for more outside shooting unless their young players can return to form, and James’ impending return could give them a needed confidence boost.
The Lakers survived a scare with James’ initial injury and they’ve survived his absence. With the league’s premier player being cleared to return to practice, Los Angeles is back in position to rise in the West.