LeBron James returns, but Lakers struggle in loss to Kings

Lakers forward LeBron James scores past Kings center Damian Jones.
Lakers forward LeBron James scores past Kings center Damian Jones during his return to play on Friday night at Staples Center.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

His first basket didn’t come until there was 1.9 seconds left in the first quarter, allowing LeBron James to break out a mini celebration by bobbing his head while bringing a smile to the face of the Lakers forward, who was playing in his first game since March 20.

His final shot was a three-pointer for the go-ahead basket, a shot that hit the back of the rim with 2.7 seconds left, a shot that left James retreating while looking up at the Staples Center scoreboard that showed his team down by one point.

James then stood at the free-throw line with his hands on his hips and watched Sacramento Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton make two free throws with 0.9 seconds remaining to put the finishing touches on a 110-106 Lakers defeat Friday night at Staples Center.

James figured to be rusty after missing the last 20 games because of a high right ankle sprain suffered against Atlanta when Hawks forward Solomon Hill collided with him on March 20.

In 32 minutes of action Friday, James had 16 points on six-for-12 shooting, eight rebounds and seven assists.

“Yeah, I mean, I haven’t played in a game in six weeks. And no contact, no five-on-five,” James said. “I’ve been doing a bunch of individual workouts and a lot of running — trying to keep my heart rate going, my conditioning going and for my first game in six weeks. I felt OK. As far as my wind, I felt pretty good. As far as my ankle, it was a little tight at times, obviously. Just doing different movements, different things that I haven’t done obviously in a game situation in six weeks. So, I think as the games go on, that will continue to improve. But I came out unscathed and pretty good. So, it’s a good start.”


His 40 days of not playing showed up in his three-point shooting and ballhandling.

James was just one-for-five shooting from three. He had five turnovers, two late in the game when the Lakers were playing catch-up after blowing an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“Well, it’s been urgency for me to get back ever since I got injured,” James said. “So, that’s just who I am. You guys could have seen the logging of the minutes and hours per day that I was doing as far as rehab and treatment, it was a lot more than I slept. So, over the last six weeks, that’s all I’ve been doing, is having an urgency to get back and play. I knew I wasn’t going to get back to 100%. It’s impossible. I don’t think I will ever get back to 100% in my career. But I feel comfortable where I knew I could get on the floor and help my team win.”

James scored his first basket while being fouled late in the first quarter, but he missed the free throw.

“That play I was able to push off my right ankle, going left and the ankle that was hurt and be able to get a good step on a really good defender and then finish at the rim,” James said. “So, that was a good step for me mentally.”

How the Lakers decide to use James during the final nine regular-season games remains uncertain.

The quandary for the Lakers is that they are fifth in the Western Conference standings, just half a game ahead of the Dallas Mavericks and one ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers.

But the Lakers want to be careful with their superstar.

Highlights from the return of LeBron James in the Lakers’ 110-106 loss to the Sacramento Kings on April 30, 2021, at Staples Center.

They have four sets of back-to-back games beginning Sunday at home against Toronto and Monday against Denver; Thursday at the Clippers and Friday at Portland; at home May 11 against New York and May 12 against Houston; and on the road May 15 against Indiana and May 16 against New Orleans in the regular-season finale. The Lakers also host Phoenix on May 9.

Vogel said there has been “no decision on that yet” on James’ availability for the back-to-back encounters. But the Lakers have lost five of their last six games and time is running out.

“We’re going to figure it out,” said Anthony Davis, who had 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. “It’s going to be fine. No one is (in) there (with) their head down nor kind of sad because we’re losing games or anything like that. We know we’re going to be fine. It’s an adjustment period getting guys back figuring their roles out again and we got nine games left to try to get it going.”