The Los Angeles Lakers are in a nine-game sprint to get ready for the postseason.
Los Angeles must reacclimate superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the team’s starting rotation, now they are back from injury, with new players like Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore.
Along with that, the Lakers must figure out how to win games over the next two weeks, so they don’t drop to the No. 7 seed -- facing the daunting task of a play-in game just to get into the postseason tournament.
In a game that they led by as many as 11 points early in the fourth quarter, the Lakers lost to the Sacramento Kings 110-106 at home on Friday night in James’ return to the court after missing 20 games due to a right, high ankle sprain he suffered on March 20.
James finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 34 minutes. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said the 36-year-old swingman would not have a minute’s restriction and the team would be responsible with his playing time.
With the loss, the Lakers (36-27) remain the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. However, Los Angeles is just a half-game ahead of No. 6 seed the Dallas Mavericks (36-28) and a game ahead of No 7 seed the Portland Trailblazers (35-28).
Los Angeles hosts the Toronto Raptors on Sunday in the second of a three-game homestand.
“Everything has felt so rushed,” James said. “There’s a game every other day, or games back-to-back. You can have as many as four or five games in a week, so it’s been a long, super-quick season. How much can we make out of these last nine games? I’m not sure.
“I know as far as our chemistry -- with that we can continue to build by logging minutes out on the floor. … It’s just a different season, not only for us but a lot of teams. But we look forward to the challenge. It is what it is this season and we’ve got to make the most of it.”
Physically, James said he felt fine in his first game action since March.
“For my first game in six weeks I felt OK,” James said. “As far as my wind, I felt pretty good. As far as my ankle, it was a little tight at times, as far as doing different things, different movements that I haven’t done obviously in a game situation in six weeks. So, I think as the games go on, that will continue to improve.
“But I came out unscathed and feeling pretty good, so it was a good start.”
The Lakers need to get things turned around after losing five of their last six games. The last nine games for Los Angeles include four, back-to-backs and five home games (one away game is against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on Thursday).
“We expect there to be an adjustment period,” Vogel said. “There’s going to be bumps in the road. It’s going to be bumpy those final nine games. It was bumpy going into the playoffs last year, too.
“But we’ve got to balance that. We’ve got to try and get these guys each day to find their rhythm and timing and chemistry together, with one another. And win as many games as we can along the way.”