LOS ANGELES – Ninety minutes before tip-off, a reporter asked Clippers coach Ty Lew: What kind of problems does LeBron James pose at the center?
Lew was wearing a mask, but only the corners of his mouth were drawn into a sly grin as he replied: “LeBron is a problem in any situation.”
Exactly 48 hours ago, Lew and his staff had every reason to think James was about to miss Friday’s game. But when he was released from the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol on Thursday afternoon, things changed in a flash — not only for his former coach, Lew, but for the Lakers themselves.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he had been informed before Thursday afternoon that James’ return could be imminent, but tried to proceed as if James could still miss the game. COVID test results, as James learned from his false positives on Tuesday, can be a difficult thing to believe. But as soon as the news broke, the Lakers were moved.
“He was back, so obviously we were all excited,” Vogel said. “And we just started adjusting from a game-plan standpoint to include him in that.”
Vogel said James was present at the team’s morning meeting, but declined to provide details at his pregame press conference on how James reacted when he got back with the team. From the fast-break dunks of the first quarter, it seemed safe to assume that James was excited to be on the court again.
It was only James’ 12th game out of 24 this season for the Lakers. He averaged about 37 minutes per game in games, well above the norm for many overtime cases, but his overall game count is low: James did not play more than three consecutive games for the Lakers this season due to injury. have played. , suspension of one game and COVID-19 protocol.
Vogel said the Lakers were being circumspect on a case-by-case basis, trying to monitor James’ readiness in each game, especially after the lengthy overtime games that often happened this season.
“If you play him in an overtime game, do you play him the next night, so totality isn’t a concern? Do you take precautions in such cases?” he said. “It’s something we monitor in all cases, and we rely on the medical team to respond to how it’s doing, and make smart decisions.”
Horton-Tucker gets another chance
Thanks to Avery Bradley’s thumb injury, the Lakers introduced Talen Horton-Tucker, hoping to rally from his 21-year-old, third-year wing. Horton-Tucker got off to a hot start after returning from thumb surgery, but in his final seven games entering Friday night, he had only scored in double digits once, and looked shaky in other areas.
After paying off Horton-Tucker in the off-season, the Lakers are looking for him to make a jump, especially on defense. While Horton-Tucker’s injury has lengthened the timeline the Lakers want to use to evaluate him on defense, the goal, Vogel said, is for him to be able to work harder on defense – like the Clippers All. -Star Paul George on Friday Nights.
“They’ve done some really cool things on-ball, and they don’t need to work on screen, and then obviously have to work against some elite players,” he said. “But overall he has really good defensive instincts, and good toughness, length that he can use to deflect the ball.”