Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James battles soreness in injured ankle as Lakers fall in standings following loss to Raptors

In the Lakers' 121-114 loss to the Raptors, LeBron James, in his second game back after a 20-game absence due to a high ankle sprain, sat out the final 6:42 of the game and was back in the locker room far before the final buzzer sounded.

He had logged 28 minutes, finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five turnovers on 6-of-11 shooting from the field. Postgame, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel and James addressed his status and availability for the team's contest against the Denver Nuggets in less than 24 hours.

"His ankle is battling some soreness," Vogel said. "We decided not to bring him back. We'll see how he's feeling tomorrow."

"The last two games at halftime it has gotten a little sore on me, a little tight," James said. "The plan is to see how I feel and go from there."

In this contest, the Lakers had no answer for the Raptors stars in Kyle Lowry (37 points, 11 assists) and Pascal Siakam (39 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks) as they slumped to their sixth loss from their past seven games.

They are now tied for fifth in the West by record with the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers at 36-28. However, with the Mavericks being the division leader, the Lakers drop to sixth in the West.

More importantly, based on how the Lakers fare in their remaining games, they are in real threat of being forced to participate in the Play-In tournament. They have the fifth-toughest remaining schedule in the league, per Tankathon, while Portland has the eighth-toughest and Dallas have the fifth-easiest remaining schedule.

As daunting as that sounds, James is confident that the team just needs to get healthy and fit.

"I think our team is predicated on health. That's the No. 1 thing for our ball club."

When healthy and in sync, the Lakers would still be considered among the favourites to win the 2021 title and defend their crown. However, with just eight games remaining, they neither look healthy nor in sync.

During James and Anthony Davis' absence due to injuries, the Lakers have added a couple of players in Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore while still struggling to find consistency in their rotation.

Davis, in his sixth game back since missing 30, stuffed the stat sheet with nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals but he only finished with 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field.

"I think he's coming around. I don't think he's quite where he wants to be from a conditioning standpoint," said Vogel on AD.

"I'm still trying to get that game wind back. ... Just trying to get a rhythm," Davis said after the game. "It's the lowest we've been in awhile. ... We really can't get any lower than this."

While the turnaround factors seem obvious and quite clear, it's easier said than done with only eight games remaining. Not to mention, the physical and mental toll that will add-on if they are forced to participate in the Play-in.

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