Reports: Anthony Davis, LeBron James could return for Lakers on Friday

View Original Notice ? Reports: Anthony Davis, LeBron James could return for Lakers on Friday

SALT LAKE CITY — As reports surfaced Thursday afternoon that Anthony Davis and LeBron James might return on Friday night against the New Orleans Pelicans, Lakers coach Frank Vogel stressed patience.

“We can’t answer that question until tomorrow,” he said. “Both those guys are out tonight.”

Both Davis and James missed Thursday night’s game in Utah, the final leg of an otherwise disastrous three-game trip that saw the Lakers cough up a 23-point lead in New Orleans then fall so far behind Dallas as to not remotely threaten the Mavericks at all.

But ESPN reported that Davis (right foot sprain) is poised to make a return from an 18-game absence on Friday in a key matchup at home against the Pelicans, while James (left ankle sprain) would test out his injured ankle and make an effort to play as well.

The Lakers have been reeling from the loss of both, going just 4-13 since the All-Star break (when Davis was injured against the Jazz) entering Thursday night’s game. James has now missed two in a row since spraining his ankle in New Orleans on Sunday and hobbling through the second half of that loss. James (averaging a league-best 30.1 points per game) was an early scratch against Utah: The team confirmed on Wednesday that he had flown home early to get treatment.

Vogel acknowledged the psychological toll of James’ injury – particularly as the Lakers try desperately to stay in the mix for a spot in the four-team play-in tournament that decides the seventh and eighth seeds for the first round of the Western Conference playoffs – had profoundly shaken his group.

“I don’t feel like we’ve caught ourselves yet,” he said. “That was a big blow, having Bron go down. Even in the second half, while he was still out there, we knew he wasn’t quite right. And we knew it was going to be an uphill battle and we didn’t overcome that.”

Davis’ return could be a big help. Looking for size against the Jazz on Thursday night, the Lakers started Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza and Stanley Johnson, the 37th different starting lineup of the season.

Vogel said Davis worked out both Wednesday and Thursday, getting court time on Thursday as part of his rehab. Davis (23.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg) has played in just 37 of 76 possible games this season, missing time with a knee sprain in the middle of the season.

While Davis once described a patient mindset to returning stronger after that first injury, the Lakers’ precarious playoff situation has motivated him to accelerate his timeline. Davis only started full practice with contact on Monday, notably after James got injured.

“He’s been working extremely hard and he wants to get back as quickly as possible,” Vogel said. “That’s the energy that we’ve felt from Anthony in terms of once getting cleared and passing certain hurdles. And then, obviously, ramping up his work, letting the increased workload recover and see how it responds. And he’s shown a great urgency to try to get back on the floor.”

Without either of his stars, Vogel admitted he’s been searching for lineup combinations that can provide a spark. After not playing Ariza in 14 consecutive games, Vogel subbed him into the Dallas game on Tuesday, then elevated him into the starting lineup. Before introducing the starting lineup against the Jazz, Vogel acknowledged he’s been benching players after big losses like the one against the Mavericks.

“I’m a coach that, honestly, prides myself on a boring rotation and erring too, too much on the side of stability,” he said. “And I’ve not been able to do that this year and that’s been very difficult for me as a head coach. But you got to make tough decisions and try to find something that’s going to get the job done and it’s not the way I had certainly envisioned it but you have to adjust on the fly in this league.”

The Lakers (31-44) went into Thursday’s game one-half game ahead of the San Antonio Spurs (31-45) for 10th place in the West and 1½ games behind the ninth-place Pelicans (33-43).

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