LeBron James returned to the lineup on Friday night after missing the past 20 games with a right ankle injury, but the Los Angeles Lakers were ultimately upset by the Sacramento Kings, 110-106.
James physically looked like his old self and showed no ill effects of his injury, but it was clear he and the Lakers were not on the same page as they struggled to connect on routine plays. Despite the uneven play, Los Angeles walked into the fourth with a 10-point lead but ultimately squandered it by allowing Sacramento to outplay them on both ends of the floor.
It is worth noting that there were several combinations that the Lakers have not had much time to evaluate due to all the injuries. With James officially back, head coach Frank Vogel now has the unenviable task of figuring out his rotation for the remainder of the 2020-21 season and admitted it will not be a smooth process.
“We’re gonna look at as many things as we can down the stretch as we can,” explained Vogel. “We don’t have enough time to look at everything, we don’t have enough time for those guys to really find a chemistry necessary for the playoffs. But we’re gonna make the best of it. Everybody is in their own unique situation and I believe that over these final nine games and into the playoffs, we’re gonna find the right rhythm and timing and chemistry and have success in the playoffs. But it’s gonna be a little bit bumpy along the way.”
Vogel added that it will be a tough balance of figuring out rotations and regaining chemistry while also trying to win games.
“We got to do both. I said it’s a very, very disappointing loss. We expect there to be an adjustment period, some bumps in the road. It’s gonna be bumpy over these final nine games. It was bumpy going into the playoffs last year too, but we got to balance that. We got to try to get these guys each day to find their rhythm and timing and their chemistry together with one another and win as many games as we can along the way.”
Vogel has admitted there is some concern about getting James up to speed due to the lack of remaining games, and their loss to the Kings was a prime example that there are several issues that need to be ironed out.
One major issue is the front-court situation as there are several players deserving of minutes who will ultimately be squeezed out. For example, Marc Gasol saw minutes in the first half after Montrezl Harrell got hit in the face, but when Harrell eventually returned, Gasol was benched the rest of the way.
With only nine games left, it is a fair question as to whether or not the Purple and Gold have enough time to get things together. This final stretch will say a lot about the Lakers and their title chances.
Vogel compares challenges of 2020-21 season to 2019-20
Vogel added that this season has a similar challenge from the 2019-20 campaign in regards to trying to build continuity with the team. “Yeah, we certainly can draw some success that we were learning each other, or re-learning each other during that restart last year,” Vogel said.
“It’s a little bit different, we have new teammates this year and guys coming off a long layoff because of injury, not a long layoff because of the pandemic which is what last year was. But it’s gonna be a little bit bumpy along these final nine games, but we saw last year that it was bumpy going into the playoffs. If you just have a growth mindset going into this stretch you can still prepare for the playoffs and have success.”
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