Injuries derailed the Los Angeles Lakers’ quest to defend the 2019-20 title, forcing out LeBron James and Anthony Davis, among others, for multiple weeks.
Davis played just 36 games last season due to issues with his calf and Achilles, which started just two months after the 2020-21 campaign tipped off. James then joined his All-Star partner on the sidelines with a high ankle sprain that lingered until L.A. exited the 2021 NBA playoffs in the first round.
The four-time NBA champion suffered his most serious injury ever right when he was playing some of the best basketball of his career. It hit James so hard he conceded the forward might never regain the same level of fitness again.
To make sure he could start the 2021-22 campaign healthy, the 19-year veteran said he had to give his ankle ample time to heal in the summer.
“It took a while,” James said at a recent practice. “I didn’t do much basketball stuff for probably like the first two months of the summer, which is very rare for me because my ankle wasn’t responding how I would like for it to respond.
“The best thing about the summertime is I had time. I had time to really to just give it an opportunity to get ready when my ankle is ready to go and I was always training. I wasn’t on the basketball court, but I was always doing other stuff training.
“Pushing anything I can do with my ankle until I got to a point where I didn’t feel any sharp pains anymore or my flexibility was back to where it was before.”
James appeared in great shape during the season opener against the Golden State Warriors. The forward scored 34 points and added 11 rebounds, although L.A. lost the game 121-114.
Frank Vogel looks to manage James’ minutes carefully
Even though L.A. put together the league’s newest Big 3 by trading for Russell Westbrook in the offseason, James’ health remains of paramount importance to the Lakers’ success. Head coach Frank Vogel plans to take care of the 36-year-old forward’s well-being and hopes to keep his minutes on the floor in the mid-30s in addition to giving him a few nights off during the regular season.
“We still want to be around a 34 range, as a script at 34-36 and then obviously hope for a situation where the group on the floor is playing well where you can leave them over there a little longer,” Vogel said.
“It actually, in some ways, if he stays over there too long and gets cold, it’s worse for him than to get back in there, especially since we’ve been playing this type of rotation for so long. But we want to keep it around about 34 minutes ideally.”
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