NBA: LeBron James returns as Lakers visit Pacers

Field Level Media/Reuters

Posted at May 16 2021 04:03 AM

The Los Angeles Lakers should have their top three scorers on hand as they seek their fourth consecutive victory and the regular season nears its conclusion, visiting an Indiana Pacers team Saturday afternoon at Indianapolis that is battling for play-in tournament position.

The Lakers (40-30) ripped off three straight home wins, a run capped Wednesday when a shorthanded lineup edged the Houston Rockets 124-122 in the second half of a back-to-back.

LeBron James participated in the team's Friday practice and coach Frank Vogel said Saturday that James will play in Saturday's game. James had missed six consecutive game since a brief, two-game return from a lengthy ankle injury.

Anthony Davis, who missed the victory over Houston due to a groin injury, and Dennis Schroder, who has been out since early May while in COVID-19 protocols, are also expected to be in the lineup on Saturday.

Facing a rash of injuries throughout the campaign has required various Lakers to step up. In the victory over the Rockets, Talen Horton-Tucker emerged with 23 points and 10 assists. Kyle Kuzma flirted with a triple-double off the bench: 19 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists.

Vogel also credited Wesley Matthews for key contributions amid the winning streak.

"We don't win the last two games without his final, big plays: the offensive rebound (May 11 in an overtime win over New York) and obviously, the steal on (Kelly) Olynyk to save the game (Wednesday)," Vogel said. "He's really rounded into form. He's had a little bit of an up-and-down season, but these last couple weeks, he's performed at a really, super-high level."

Amid the uncertainty around James and Davis, who have missed 27 and 36 games this season respectively, the remainder of the Lakers roster kept the reigning NBA champions in the postseason hunt. With two games remaining, they can still pass Portland, Dallas or both to ascend as high as No. 5 in the Western Conference, but head into the weekend at No. 7 and in the play-in tournament.

Indiana (33-37) can't climb out of the play-in tournament in the Eastern Conference, but the Pacers move into their final two games with an opportunity to move into the No. 7 or 8 spots. The seventh and eighth seeds only need to win one play-in tournament game to advance to the playoffs.

After defeating Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia on Tuesday, Indiana dropped a 142-133 shootout at home to Milwaukee on Thursday.

Eight Pacers scored in double-figures, led by Justin Holiday's 26 points, while 20.8-point per game scorer Caris LeVert was sidelined with a bone bruise in his right knee. Indiana has also been without 21.4-point per game scorer Malcolm Brogdon since May 1 due to a hamstring injury.

Amid the rash of absences, which also includes Myles Turner (toe), Edmond Sumner (knee) and Jeremy Lamb (knee), T.J. McConnell stepped into the starting lineup Thursday and scored 23 points - before spraining his left thumb.

"We're missing guys, we have different guys playing. I think we did a pretty good job with the guys we had in there," Holiday said. "We're a team that likes to play together, move the ball, and it just puts somebody else in that position. ... I think we could have been better defensively."

--Field Level Media


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