EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- D'Angelo Russell is expected to make his return to the lineup Friday against the Toronto Raptors following a six-game absence because of a right ankle sprain, Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.
Ham said Russell will be "pretty much a full go" when asked if there would be any restrictions on his playing time. Russell, who has been limited to contract drills with the coaches and no full team scrimmages during his ramp up to return, did not sound concerned about jumping back into action.
"My style of play kind of allows me to not overload any injury like that when it comes to the ankle or knee or things like that because I don't play that explosive," he said. "So it kind of benefits me in that sense."
The point guard will regain his spot in the starting backcourt, sending Dennis Schroder to the bench unit.
"I know starting is a big deal to a lot of people, but at the end of the day, finishing lineup is probably a little bit more important and Dennis will definitely be in the mix," Ham said of Schroder.
Russell has averaged 13.5 points and 5.0 assists in four games for L.A. since being acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves at the trade deadline. Schroder averaged 14.3 points and 8.5 assists while Russell rehabbed his ankle, helping lead the Lakers to a 4-2 record in that span with the team also missing LeBron James (right foot injury) for five of those games.
"Huge," Russell said of Schroder. "He carried the team, led the team. Did everything he could possibly do. The way he was guarding [Desmond] Bane in that Memphis game was huge and he's always been that guy. Just super competitive and leads by example as well, offensively and defensively. So, he's huge."
As Russell prepares for a return, the Lakers announced Thursday that backup center Mo Bamba will be out another two weeks with a high left ankle sprain before being reevaluated. Despite the injuries, the Lakers have registered the No. 1 defensive rating in the NBA since the All-Star break.
"It feels great," said forward Jarred Vanderbilt. "Feels like we're everywhere on the court. ... As a group, we all just been locked in on that end of the floor."
L.A. (32-34) is currently the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference, but just two games behind the Golden State Warriors for No. 5 with 16 games remaining in the regular season. Russell likened the upcoming stretch to a team starting the playoffs, needing to secure 16 wins to earn the title.
"It's just one game at a time," he said. "Y'all's questions are going to get heavier, the intensity is going to go up, everything is going to be glorified a little more. It's one game at a time with 16 games left. I've never had a road to the championship, but we'll take it like that, with that approach."