LeBron James has ankle scare as Lakers win, will face Warriors in playoff play-in

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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) drives to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans forward Wenyen Gabriel.
Lakers forward LeBron James drives to the basket against Pelicans forwards Wenyen Gabriel and Naji Marshall on Sunday night in New Orleans. (Derick Hingle / Associated Press)

LeBron James limped to the Lakers’ bench in the fourth quarter after he “tweaked” his right ankle after stepping on the foot of New Orleans’ Nickeil Alexander-Walker, his body hitting the court after scoring on a 360-degree layup.

James stayed down for a few seconds looking at his ankle, the same one that forced him to miss 20 games with a high ankle sprain, the same one he played two games on and then had to sit out six games because of too much pain in the ankle.

He played in the final two games, but when James went down with 6 minutes 35 seconds left, Lakers Nation was holding its collective breath.

James stood on the sideline afterward, a towel over his shoulder and a smile on his face, an indication that he was OK.

He had played 27 minutes and produced a stat line of 25 points, six assists and three steals in helping the Lakers win their fifth consecutive game following a 110-98 victory over the Pelicans on Sunday night.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. It was a little tweak,” James said on Zoom. “I stepped on Alexander’s foot on the way down after that last layup. But I’ll be fine.”

James and Anthony Davis both got a taste of action, their final dress rehearsal before the Lakers play the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night in the NBA’s play-in tournament game at Staples Center.

They played just enough to get their stamina and legs under them against the Pelicans and enough for James and Davis to declare themselves fit to start down the path towards defending their NBA championship.

Davis had 14 points and five rebounds in his second game back after missing one because of groin tightness.

“From where I am right now, after sitting out for as long as I did, take away the two games I played momentarily, but I’m pretty good,” James said. “Had a lot of explosion. Defensively I was able to play the passing lane a few times tonight, get out on the break. I made some cuts, was in the passing lane, get in transition. So, came out pretty well.”

The Lakers became the seventh seed in the Western Conference after the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Denver Nuggets Sunday night in the season-finale for both teams.

Though the Lakers and Trail Blazers have the same record at 42-30, Los Angeles lost the tiebreaker to Portland, 2-1.

So, that means James, Davis and the Lakers gang will have to face the eighth-seeded Warriors and Stephen Curry, who won the NBA’s scoring title this season by averaging 31.8 points per game.

If the Lakers defeat the Warriors, L.A. will advance to the NBA playoffs as the seventh-seeded team and will face the second-seeded Phoenix Suns.

“It was really relying on Portland to lose a game. They did what they had to do,” Davis said. “So, we’re seventh and we’re going to meet Golden State and do everything we can to win that game to be the seventh seed in the playoffs.”

In playing their fourth set of back-to-back games this month, the Lakers had their entire starting lineup score in double figures.

Andre Drummond had his fourth straight double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Dennis Schroder, playing in his second game after being out for seven while in the health and safety protocols, had 12 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 10.

Two weeks ago, when the Lakers lost to Toronto, it was their eighth defeat in 10 games and there was concern.

But Lakers coach Frank Vogel made sure his team stayed together, and now here the Lakers are on a winning streak.

“No, I don’t think things were unraveling,” Vogel said. “I think we were just all frustrated that we weren’t winning games at that point. And with where everybody was at with their health and coming back from injuries and just how we were playing overall. But I just wanted to make sure that our guys remained confident in where we were going and where we were going to be. But I never felt like things were unraveling. That was the point behind the message, like, we’re going to be OK.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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