LeBron James Injury Update: Lakers Star Targeting Return on Thursday vs Clippers

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts a basket during warmups prior to the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on December 18, 2018 in New York City. Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are hopeful to have LeBron James back on Thursday night but declined to set a precise return date for the 34-year-old.

The three-time NBA champion has missed the last 17 games after suffering a groin injury in the Lakers' road win over the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day.

According to ESPN, however, LeBron could be available for the Lakers' matchup against the Clippers on Thursday night but a decision will be made in the coming days.

Earlier this week, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times also indicated LeBron was looking to return against the Clippers, pending the outcome of more practice sessions.

There's hope from the Lakers that LeBron James plays Thursday against the Clippers, but he's looking to get a few more practices in. His availability will depend on how his body reacts to those.

— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) January 28, 2019

On Monday, LeBron seemingly hinted he was close to return as he shared a picture of himself on the practice court on Instagram, with the caption: "Almost that time again!"

Without the four-time MVP, the Lakers have gone 6-11, slipping from fourth to ninth in the Western Conference rankings and now sit two games behind the Clippers, who currently occupy the last playoff spot in the conference.

The 17-game layoff is already the longest absence of LeBron's career and even if he featured in all the remaining 31 games, he would finish the regular season having played in 65 games. That would be the second-lowest total in his career, since he made his debut in the NBA in 2003.

In the 2011-12 campaign, LeBron played only 62 games but the season was shortened to 66 games because of the lockout between the players and the NBA.

The 15-time All-Star watched from the sidelines as the Lakers lost 121-105 against the Philadelphia 76ers at home and slipped to 26-25 for the season.

His absence was compounded by injuries to Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball, which left the Lakers short of scoring options and came after Rajon Rondo returned from a 15-game absence.

"[The injuries to James and Rondo] doesn't completely change what we can do and how we can play," Lakers head coach Luke Walton was quoted as saying by ESPN.

"But [there's] just a huge influence and impact on the difference between winning a lot of these games and dropping some that we feel like we shouldn't have dropped."

There were some positive notes for the Lakers, as Brandon Ingram finished with a career-high 36 points in 39 minutes, scoring at least 20 points for the fourth time in the last five games.

Ingram shot 16-of-20 from the court and spoke of his growing confidence.

"I've shot these shots repetitively over and over in the gym and they were just going in," he told the Los Angeles Times.

"I'm getting to spots and feeling comfortable in where I'm going to."

The game against the Clippers on Thursday marks the beginning of a six-game road trip, which will see them face the Warriors, Pacers, Celtics, Sixers and Hawks.