LeBron James’ first return from a high ankle sprain lasted less than two full games and the Los Angeles Lakers superstar really didn’t look quite like himself when he was on the court. After taking another couple of games off to further heal, James’ second return looked much different.
James poured in 24 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the Lakers’ 122-115 victory over the Indiana Pacers. When things got close down the stretch it was James who kicked in with seven consecutive points to ensure the Lakers’ win.
But as good as James looked on the court, the most important thing is how he was feeling after the game. Thankfully, he provided an update and there seem to be no issues.
“I felt pretty good,” James said. “A lot better than I did the last time I suited up. We’ve put in a lot of work obviously off the floor, just getting my ankle right, getting my foot right. But I felt pretty good going into the game. The last game I played I think that was Toronto, I think that halftime break kind of stiffened my leg up, stiffened my ankle up. But tonight it was a complete 180 for me allowing me to still play the game that I wanted to play. So I think every game I’ll get better and better but it was a good first test for me.”
James added that he’s not quite at the level he was at before first suffering the ankle injury when he was perhaps the favorite to win MVP, but he believes he can get there with some time.
“I was much better then obviously, I had how many or so games underneath my belt. I think I missed one game up until that point, I think that was the game right before the break. So as far as conditioning-wise, my conditioning was at a really good place, my game was at a really good place. So it will take a few games to get it all the way back but I like where I’m at today.”
The Lakers are gearing up for a playoff push and their quest to defend the 2020 NBA Championship. Having James not only on the court but playing like his normal self raises the team’s ceiling significantly and pushes them right back amongst the title favorites.
James definitely looked like the player capable of leading a championship team from the beginning and that was apparent with one huge play. The Lakers were able to get out in transition and Dennis Schroder would throw an alley-oop to James slightly behind him. But James rose up and reached way back to throw down a tomahawk jam that made it very clear he was back in what he called a good test.
“I think it definitely helps just from a sense of being able to have a quick-twitch mind of when the turnover happens, so when the turnover happens you have to readjust where you were and quick-twitch turn to go the other way,” James said.
“So I was able to do that and AD pushed the break and kicked it up to Dennis and I just tried to fill the left wing which I’ve been good at kind of like my whole life, just filling wings and DS threw it up there and that was a test for me. It was a test to go up and get it and I was able to finish it home. It was a good test for my ankle and a good play for our team.”
The chemistry between James and Davis picked up right where it left off and the former also made some great reads to set up Andre Drummond with good looks as well. This team hasn’t had much time to play together, but James’ unbelievable basketball IQ can be a great equalizer and help to accelerate that process.
Of course, none of that matters if James can’t be on the court at his best, but it finally looks like the injury concern is behind him and the Lakers.
James feeling ’10 times’ better than Raptors game
When James originally returned from the injury, he was only able to play in two games and left the second one against the Toronto Raptors early due to soreness in the ankle before sitting out a couple more weeks.
He discussed how much better he is feeling now compared to how he felt in that game.
“Well what was different, I don’t know, I think it was just time. Being out in that Toronto game just gave me a sense of where I was physically as far as my ankle. But I needed that. I needed that test to see where I was then to know where I needed to go. And today was another opportunity to see where I’m at and how far I can go with it too. I still got some more room for improvement as far as my ankle mobility and my strength.
“But I’m 10 times better than I was in that Toronto game and I believe I can get 5-10 times better in the future so like I said, the more games that we have, the more opportunity I have to really get to continue to strengthen it, strengthen everything around it and continue to get better. So like I said, we got a great team, I got a great team around me, my trainer is on me every single day and I’m on myself about doing what I can do to be available to this team and controlling what I can control. That’s all I can worry about.”
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