After sitting out all of last week, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James could be making his return Tuesday against the New York Knicks, or Wednesday against the Houston Rockets, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. James was a full participant in practice on Monday and reportedly felt no pain in his ankle over the past few days, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. James returned to the court on April 30 following a 20-game absence due to an ankle injury, but after playing in two games — the second of which he exited early — he went back on the injury list as he was dealing with soreness in the same ankle that caused him to miss significant time.
The Lakers have been extra cautious with James’ injury, as they’ll want him at full strength when the playoffs start next week. However, in LeBron’s absence, the Lakers have continuously slid down the West standings and now sit seventh with a game separating them and the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. As the seventh seed in the West, the Lakers would have to go through the play-in tournament to secure a playoff seed before even reaching the postseason.
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Playing extra games before the playoffs isn’t ideal for a team that’s already dealing with injured players, and James has already expressed his distaste for the tournament, stating that whoever came up with the idea should be fired. “That’s wack,” James said of the play-in tournament. “You’ve got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny.” James may not like the idea, but having to qualify via the play-in tournament is a real possibility for the Lakers now.
However, with James expected to return to the lineup, the Lakers still have a shot at getting out of the No. 7 spot in the West to avoid the play-in. A huge win Sunday night against the Phoenix Suns, led by Anthony Davis putting up 42 points, helped keep L.A. within reach of getting to the sixth spot. But the Lakers will need Portland to lose some games in the final week of the season to get some help in order to get there.
In addition to playing the Knicks and Rockets this week on a back-to-back, the Lakers will finish out the season on the road against the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans, two teams who have been struggling as of late. There’s still a chance the Lakers can improve their playoff positioning, and with James predicted to be back in the lineup, you can’t count this team out from making a jump.