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Anthony Davis days away from return, LeBron James progressing to ‘light work’ on court

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LOS ANGELES — Anthony Davis is days away from making his return from a nearly nine-week absence and LeBron James has progressed to “light work” on the court, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said before his team’s game against the Utah Jazz on Monday.

Vogel said that Davis, who has been sidelined since Feb. 14 with a calf strain and tendinosis in his right leg, was able to get in some “good work” on the court after L.A.’s morning meeting and will “build up” over the next two days going into the Lakers’ next game Thursday, on the road against the Dallas Mavericks.

The last hurdle for Davis, according to Vogel, is working to get his wind back.

“The biggest thing is conditioning right now,” Vogel said. “He’s healthy. But having not played and not really being able to ramp up his physical on-court activity over the last two months, it’s going to take some time before he gets his wind under him and obviously, that’s the biggest thing. Because if his legs aren’t under him, we don’t want him to be at risk for re-aggravation of the injury or another injury. We want to keep a close eye on that.”

James has been out since March 20 when he suffered a high right ankle sprain against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Lakers have managed to mostly hold down the fort since their stars went down, going 14-15 since Davis’ injury and 7-8 since missing both Davis and James, coming into Monday.

Vogel cautioned that while the Davis and James news is encouraging, the Lakers still have their work cut out for them without the dominant duo. Davis’ playing time, for instance, will be restricted to the 15-minute range in each of his first two games back to the lineup, according to Votel.

“I don’t think we’re there yet, to be honest,” Vogel said when asked if the defending champs were finally out of the woods. “I know I’m not, my coaching staff is not. Even when Anthony returns, it’ll be in short, limited minutes … We’re still in a stretch where we’ve got to compete and win games for the most part without those guys.”

While Davis’ potential return can be circled on the calendar, James is still believed to be weeks away from getting back into game action, sources told ESPN.

“Just trying to do a little bit more with his activity each day,” Vogel said of James.

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What's at stake on final day of the NBA season?

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Here’s what’s ahead for each team leading up to 2020-21 season finale.

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Gregg Popovich misses San Antonio Spurs game to attend Tim Duncan’s Hall of Fame enshrinement

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Gregg Popovich took Saturday off, for good reason. There was no way he was going to miss Tim Duncan’s enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The San Antonio Spurs played Saturday afternoon without their head coach after Popovich made the decision to fly to Connecticut to see Duncan — with whom he won five NBA championships — officially go into the Hall alongside Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and six others.

The bond between Popovich and Duncan started getting forged in 1997, when the Spurs were about to use the No. 1 pick in that year’s draft on the forward who was coming off a stellar career at Wake Forest. Popovich flew to the Virgin Islands, Duncan’s home, and wanted to learn everything about him.

The chemistry was immediate, and it has lasted.

“It started there, it started with him going out of his way to want to know who I was as a person, wanting to meet my friends, wanting to meet my father, sit down and speak with him,” Duncan said. “It started there. And he built that trust from early on, just trying to understand who I was — not just as a basketball player, but as a person and beyond.”

Popovich said earlier this month that he still marvels at Duncan’s story, how a kid from the islands just happened to become one of the best players to touch a basketball.

“I do, especially since he was a swimmer and wanted to be an Olympian, as far as that goes. So, it’s a pretty incredible story. Everybody knows the story, but it’s true. That’s something that we’re all very happy about. We still toast him when we have dinners; as we’ve said before, ‘Thank you, Timmy.'”

Popovich had another compelling reason to attend. He quietly championed the Hall candidacy of Rudy Tomjanovich for years; Tomjanovich, the two-time champion coach of the Houston Rockets in 1994 and 1995, also finally will be enshrined as part of this Hall class.

“I never really understood why he was continually overlooked,” Popovich said of Tomjanovich. “I mean, as much success as he had, year in and year out, and the championships he won were really hard-fought. He came from the lower end of the rankings in both situations to just gut it out. He was the coach of the Olympic teams and got a gold medal. He was a class act. His players loved him. He has the game in his blood. I always thought he was an obvious choice. So, for it to finally happen, is just a wonderful thing for him and his family and all of us who are his friends.”

Popovich is not in the Hall of Fame, though it is widely assumed that his call is coming in the not-too-distant future. He is not a finalist for the 2021 class, which will be announced on Sunday and enshrined in September.

The enshrinement ceremony for this year was moved to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut largely because of the additional space it provides for a socially distanced event that adheres to protocols put in place for gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. The 2021 enshrinement ceremony, scheduled for September, is tentatively scheduled to return to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts — with some parts of that weekend back at Mohegan Sun as well.

The Spurs’ game Saturday didn’t mean much to San Antonio standings-wise; the Spurs will be the No. 10 seed and be on the road for a play-in tournament game at either Memphis or Golden State on Wednesday. For their opponent, the Phoenix Suns, it still meant something — which is why Suns coach Monty Williams didn’t hop on a plane like Popovich did.

Williams has never chartered a private jet. He almost did, just so he could be there with Duncan as well.

“I’m really happy for Tim,” said Williams, a former Spurs assistant. “He’s meant so much, not just to the community of basketball, but meant so much to me. He’s one of my best friends. I’ve been able to live vicariously through him. Some of the highs of his career, I’ve been able to watch when he’s able to achieve something or had something cool going on.”

The last time Popovich missed an entire Spurs game was March 3, 2020 — a matchup when Duncan, who spent last season as a San Antonio assistant, filled in against Charlotte. Duncan got the role that night because he was the assistant coach in charge of that game’s scouting report; for the same reasons, Mitch Johnson got to fill the head coach role Saturday against Phoenix.

“We approach it the same way we always do — collaborate, work as a team, approach the game as a group in terms of what can help the guys and try to put them in positions to be successful,” Johnson said.

Popovich is expected back in San Antonio for Sunday’s regular-season finale, also against Phoenix.

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LeBron James to play against Indiana Pacers after six games out

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As the Los Angeles Lakers seek to win out and avoid the play-in tournament, LeBron James is set for his return Saturday against the Indiana Pacers, according to coach Frank Vogel.

James has missed the past six games to continue to recover from a high ankle sprain, but he practiced Friday and Vogel told reporters that the All-Star would play Saturday.

Vogel said Dennis Schroder, out the past seven games because of the league’s health and safety protocols, also will play against the Pacers. Alex Caruso is available as well, but Vogel said he may keep him out.

Currently the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, the Lakers can move up to at least No. 6 and avoid the play-in tournament if they win Saturday against the Pacers and Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans and if Portland Trail Blazers lose to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.

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