Lakers No. 1 goal for playoffs: A healthy LeBron James

Frank Vogel working to build chemistry while L.A.'s superstar is out

The Los Angeles Lakers will take some short-term pain for potentially long-term gain.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel will navigate his way through the short-term pain now, playing without LeBron James and Dennis Schröder for Thursday’s game against the crosstown Los Angeles Clippers -- and likely longer.

James returned for two games last week -- after a six-week absence due to a right, high-ankle sprain. However, James missed his team’s win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday. He re-aggravated the ankle over the weekend in a loss to Toronto and will sit out at least Thursday’s game against the Clippers to allow for more recovery time.

“My thing is, I need to be healthy,” James said after the setback. “I need to make sure my ankle is where it was before the injury. So, I have to be smart with it.”

Vogel said James is day-to-day.

Point guard Dennis Schroder missed Denver’s game due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, and will be out 10 to 14 days, according to the team. Talen Horton-Tucker also did not practice Wednesday and is questionable for Thursday with a right calf strain.

Alex Caruso will start in place of Schröder and run the offense as the team’s starting point guard.

“We want him back as soon as possible, but we want him back as healthy as possible,” Vogel said about James. “That’s our No. 1 goal. Wherever we end up in the standings, we want him as healthy as possible going into the playoffs. Other than that, we’re just going to compete and win as many games down the stretch as we can here.

“It’s not an ideal situation. Ideally, we get him to 100 percent, and he has 10 games to get his rhythm and timing under him. We’re not going to have that situation, so we’re just going to make the best of it.”

Vogel said James did not do anything with the team in practice on Wednesday. However, James did his normal rehab work with the training staff.

Over the final seven games of the year, Vogel will work to strike a balance between doing what’s best to win games, but also build chemistry heading into the postseason.

Vogel still needs to figure out the three-center rotation of Andre Drummond, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol, along with build chemistry between new guys like Drummond and Ben McLemore with Anthony Davis and James when he returns.

And the Lakers have limited practice time to speed up that process.

“You have to build this cohesiveness in the games,” Vogel said. “Obviously, if we have practice time the whole process gets accelerated further. But again, nobody in the NBA has practice time right now. So, nobody is feeling sorry for ourselves.

“We’re going to make the best of it each time we’re together, whether we’re touching the floor or in film sessions. All those types of things move the needle a little bit, and we’re just going to try and push the process each day we’re together.”

Drummond said he got a glimpse of what it’s like to play with James for at least two games and looks forward to when the team’s superstar is healthy.

“Just being on the same side of him instead of preparing to play against him was huge because he demands a lot of attention,” Drummond said. “I didn’t realize how much attention he draws, until being on the same court as him.

“I know when you prepare for him, you try to do things to frustrate him, or play him a certain way to try and get him out of his game. But to witness how other people prepare for him is crazy. The whole floor is open because everyone is staring at him the entire time.”