MILWAUKEE – After the Los Angeles Lakers lost 109-102 to defending champions Milwaukee Bucks this season to drop to 8-8, LeBron James opened the door to his return from a tummy tuck in Boston on Friday.
“I hope,” James told ESPN on Wednesday when asked if he would play the Celtics after missing the last eight games and 10 of LA’s 16 games due to injury. “I hope.”
While Lakers coach Frank Vogel said James was “commonplace,” sources close to James told ESPN that there is a “50-50” chance he will be back on the lineup at TD Garden.
In 54 regular season games in Boston, James averaged 28.9 points per game, his highest point average in any street arena other than Cleveland, where he averaged 29.1 points in 17 games as a visitor.
James completed a practice session on the pitch ahead of Wednesday’s game, with Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy taking him through ball handling and target practice. James, who will turn 37 next month, paused exercise on a handful of occasions to crouch in what appeared to be an attempt to straighten his stomach.
“I was hoping he would play any of the last seven games or whatever it was since he was out,” said Vogel. “I always hope he plays. I’m always optimistic. He’s still day after day. No decisions are made.”
The coach was asked what hurdles, if any, James would have to overcome to get the green light to play.
“I’ll leave that to the medical team,” said Vogel. “I know he did some work today. I haven’t had any reports on how that went. But I’ll leave that between him and the medical team to decide when he’s ready to go.”
LA fell to 4-6 without James that season but were 4-2 with him despite James not meeting his usual standards.
In those six games, James averaged 24.8 points – his lowest score since a rookie average of 20.9 points – while also averaging his lowest number of rebounds (5.5) since his rookie year and lowest number Assists (7.0) since 2015 scored -16. His 46.7% shooting mark out of the field is also the lowest since he shot 41.7% as a rookie, and his 4.2 sales per game are tied to his 2017-18 season for his career high point.
When asked to rate the Lakers at about 20% of the season on the books, Anthony Davis cited James’ injuries and the general lack of health of the squad as reasons why it is difficult to make an accurate estimate.
“We put a team together and haven’t seen it yet,” said Davis. “When we’ve got it all back, to be honest, we can somehow see. Until then, we just have to fight with what we have.”