LeBron James shoots before the Lakers' game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 29, 2019.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

LeBron James to Make Return Against Clippers

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

After a strained left groin caused him to miss the last five weeks of action, LeBron James will return for Thursday’s game against the LA Clippers.

LeBron will not have a minutes restriction, per coach Luke Walton, who added that the Lakers will keep a “close eye” on their superstar’s conditioning considering he has been out for the last 17 games.

James was considered “doubtful” to play against the Clippers Thursday morning, but had ramped up his return over the Lakers’ last two practices. He was a full participant in both, including for contact drills and scrimmages.

Thursday will mark the end of the longest absence of his 16-year career.

“What I know of him, he’s probably pretty locked in right now, ready to compete,” Walton said before Thursday’s game. “This is the longest he’s been without being able to help his team. I know it’s been very frustrating for him, the competitor that he is.”

LeBron — who is averaging 27.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists — had been playing some of his best basketball prior to his injury.

He had recorded four straight double-doubles, including one against Golden State on Christmas Day before leaving that game with the strained groin.

The Lakers were rolling with James, amassing a 20-14 record to start the season. While their defense has kept them competitive in his absence, their offensive decline contributed to a 6-11 mark without him.

“We would’ve liked to have won some more of those games, but I thought our guys really competed and different guys did step up for us,” Walton said. “If we can get through this stretch and slowly start to get healthy again and start to put some stuff together, I think this adversity will make us stronger by the end of the season.”

LeBron’s return could be at a pivotal point in the Western Conference playoff race. Thursday’s opponent, the Clippers, currently sit two games ahead of the Lakers (26-25) for eighth place.

James will be joined in the starting lineup by Kyle Kuzma — who sat the last two games with a left hip strain — as well as Rajon Rondo, Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac.

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