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The Lakers could get Jarred Vanderbilt back for Game 5 in Denver.

The Los Angeles Lakers have upgraded forward Jarred Vanderbilt to questionable for their Game 5 matchup with the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.Vanderbilt has not appeared in a game since suffering a mid-right foot sprain against the Boston Celtics on Feb. 1. Vanderbilt was reportedly eyeing a return for Game 3 or Game 4 at Crypto.com Arena, but was never cleared by the Lakers’ medical staff. The Lakers have not formally updated Vanderbilt’s progress for weeks.

The versatile defender missed the first 20 games of the 2023-24 regular season with left heel soreness. In 29 games (six starts), Vanderbilt averaged 5.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals on 51.8% shooting in 20 minutes.

D’Angelo Russell interrupted Austin Reaves to give Jarred Vanderbilt his flowers. “When y’all tweet make sure y’all give Vando some love, he played his ass off.”

Austin: “He should be in here instead of me … I said I’d come sit in here and listen to DLo talk.” pic.twitter.com/OSSB5x93Xz

— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvo_) January 26, 2024

The Lakers have missed Vanderbilt’s length and disruptiveness on the perimeter. Against Denver, Austin Reaves and Gabe Vincent have admirably kept Jamal Murray under 40% shooting in all four games, but Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, and Taurean Prince have struggled to track shooters and cutters, especially Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. (Murray is questionable for Game 5).

The Lakers lost the transition battle through the first three games — an absolute no-no if they want to pull the historic upset. Vanderbilt, at full strength, excels at pushing the ball up-court and turning chaos into easy buckets. Of course, the Lakers can’t expect the Swiss Army Knife to be at his sharpest coming off two months in street clothes.

After being acquired at the 2023 trade deadline, along with D’Angelo Russell (and Malik Beasley), Vanderbilt started 24 of 26 games down the stretch for the Lakers, and 13 of 15 games in their run through the 2023 NBA Playoffs.

Vanderbilt’s role was reduced in the Denver series, though, largely due to his inability to switch onto Nikola Jokic in two-man sets with Murray. He had two field goals and four rebounds in 41 total minutes across the sweep. He was a DNP-CD in Game 4.

Still, the Lakers could use all the help they could get with their 2023-24 season on the line as they head into a hostile Mile High environment.

“Energy,” LeBron said at practice last week when asked about what Vanderbilt’s return mid-series could offer the Lakers. “Super high energetic, defensively, some of the things he brings to our team, you don’t even teach. You just allow him to go out there and just be Vando. We don’t know for sure that we’re getting him back, we don’t know, we’ve only seen a couple reports. But he knows his body better than anybody.”

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