For just the second time this season, the Los Angeles Lakers had all five projected starters for the postseason in the starting lineup.
LeBron James (right ankle sprain) and Dennis Schröder (health and safety protocols) returned to the starting lineup, joining Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and recent addition Andre Drummond.
Now at full strength, the Lakers will work to build some cohesiveness before the playoffs begin next week.
“It’s building the chemistry in a little time,” Drummond said. “That’s our main focus now, trying to build some chemistry going into the offseason. So, we’re going to use these games to obviously play as serious as possible and get these wins. But definitely use these games to build chemistry.”
The Lakers got a good start toward doing that in a 122-115 road victory over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.
Anthony Davis led the charge with a team-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, including 17 in the first quarter. James totaled 24 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Drummond contributed 11 points and 15 rebounds.
Caldwell-Pope added 13 points and Schröder contributed 12 points and four assists. All five starters finished in double figures. Talen Horton-Tucker posted 11 points off the bench.
Caris LaVert led the Pacers with 28 points and 12 assists.
Los Angeles now has a four-game winning streak for the first time in over two months.
The Lakers improved to 41-30 with the victory but remain the No. 7 seed with a game left in the regular season, which means they would be in the play-in game starting next week.
However, the Lakers could move into the No. 6 seed if they defeat the New Orleans Pelicans on the road and the Portland Trail Blazers (41-30) lose the Denver Nuggets on Sunday at home in Portland.
With teams appearing to manipulate playoff position during the final weekend of the regular season -- potentially avoiding first-round opponents they don’t want to face in the playoffs -- Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said his main priority is on winning games and getting his team ready.
“My opinion is win as many games as you can and let the seeds fall where they may,” Vogel said. “And be unafraid of any matchup. So, I would say I believe in the basketball gods.”
After sitting out six games to give his sore ankle more time to recover, James looked like his old self, playing a total of 28 minutes.
“The ankle just felt better,” James said after the game, when asked about the injury. “I had a lot more mobility, a lot more movement. It was warm. I had a tiny bit of soreness today, right now as the game is over, which I expected. But I didn’t have a setback today.”
Los Angeles led by as many as 14 points, but the Pacers cut the Lakers’ lead to three points with just over three minutes left to play. From there, James scored seven points down the stretch to close out the win.
“We’re trying to strike that balance of getting him some work so he can build his conditioning and work on his rhythm and timing, without agitating the ankle,” Vogel said. “We’re hopeful to get him some time during the regular season before we get into the playoffs, and today we’ll be that day.”
Schröder played a total of 27 minutes after sitting out seven games due to the league’s health and safety protocols. Alex Caruso was available but did not play, as Vogel chose to give him some more rest for a sore right foot.