Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel has a conundrum heading into the backstretch of the regular season.
With Vogel's team scratching to reach the postseason, the Lakers face four sets of back-to-back games over the next two weeks to finish the schedule. The Lakers will host the Denver Nuggets on Monday night, just 24 hours after a disappointing loss to the Raptors in which Los Angeles trailed by as many as 21 points.
So Vogel will have to figure out how much to play LeBron James over that stretch as the superstar works his way back from a high-ankle sprain. The Lakers are 0-2 since James returned to the starting lineup after missing 20 games due to the injury, which he aggravated late in a 121-114 loss to Toronto on Sunday. He sat nearly the final seven minutes of the game.
"His ankle is battling some soreness," Vogel said afterward. "We decided not to bring him back."
James said the ankle has tightened on him at halftime in both games, and he and his coach were in a wait-and-see mode as to whether the four-time league MVP could play against Denver.
"The plan is to see how I feel and go from there," James said.
The Lakers struggled offensively against Toronto with point guard Dennis Schröder out due to the NBA's health and safety protocols. Schröder missed four games earlier this season for the same reason.
"We're going to have a next-man-up mentality and not let it slow us down in any way," Vogel said about Schröder being unavailable.
Vogel said he doesn't know how long Schröder will be out, or if he'll be able to play Monday.
Losers of six of their past seven games, the Lakers (36-28) have the same record as the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers but would be the No. 6 seed if the Western Conference playoffs began today.
Playing in the second of back-to-back games at home at Staples Center, the Lakers host a Nuggets team that is riding a five-game winning streak -- the longest active winning streak in the NBA -- and has won nine of the past 10 games.
Denver (43-21) is a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (43-22) for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
And Denver has done it without one of its best players in Jamal Murray. The talented shooter suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on April 12. The Nuggets are 9-1 without Murray, who is in Los Angeles recovering from surgery and attended his team's win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center over the weekend.
Michael Porter Jr. has filled the scoring void for the Nuggets. The 6-foot-10 shooter has been more aggressive on the offensive end, averaging 29.2 points and seven rebounds over the past five games.
"We saw Jamal at the hotel yesterday (Friday) and got to talk to him," Porter said. "He's been doing well out here. His energy was very welcome. We were very happy to see him. He told us the goal is still a championship, making it as far as we can, and he's here with us. And it's just good to have him around."
--Field Level Media
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