Almost a month after LeBron James strained his groin on Christmas and the Los Angeles Lakers subsequently dubbed him day-to-day, the 34-year-old four-time NBA MVP will return to practice.
The Lakers announced on Wednesday that James would not travel with the team for road games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, but he has been “cleared to practice commencing next week.” No timetable was set for his first game back beyond a statement that suggested James would “progress towards a return to game play thereafter.”
The Lakers (24-21) are 4-7 since LeBron suffered the injury in the second quarter of their Christmas Day victory against the Golden State Warriors. In the process, they have fallen from fourth place in the Western Conference to a tie with the resurgent Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Thursday’s game in OKC marks the start of a brutal schedule stretch entering the All-Star break. Ten of their next 12 games come against playoff contenders, including Monday’s rematch with the Warriors. It is unclear if LeBron could begin practicing and be cleared to play in a game so soon next week. The Lakers then have two off days in Los Angeles before hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 24.
The Lakers originally listed LeBron as day-to-day once he “dodged a bullet” after feeling “a pop” in his groin on Christmas, but his agent, Rich Paul, told The Athletic’s Joe Vardon on Monday, “They told us three weeks was the best-case scenario. And then after three weeks, if he’s able to play, he’ll play.”
Next week marks a month since LeBron last played. When he does return, the Lakers will need him to be every bit the MVP candidate he was pre-injury, because the West playoff race waits for no one.
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