Los Angeles superstar LeBron James scored 16 points in his return from the longest absence of his NBA career on Friday, but the Sacramento Kings rallied to beat the Lakers 110-106 at Staples Center.
James, who missed 20 games with a sprained ankle, finished with eight rebounds and seven assists, but he also had five turnovers in 32 minutes of playing time.
“I came out unscathed. It’s a pretty good start,” James said.
The reigning champion Lakers are pleased to have the four time NBA MVP back for the Lakers stretch drive, but James will have to shake off some expected rust in order to get into playoff form.
“For my first game in six weeks, I felt OK,” James said. “My ankle was a little tight at times. It was just different movements and different things I hadn’t done. As the games go on that will continue to improve.”
The good news is that his play improved as the game progressed and he didn’t appear to show any serious negative effects of the ankle injury which kept him out since March 20.
James rejoined a Lakers team that has added Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore during his absence and that welcomed back Anthony Davis, who missed nine weeks with injuries of his own.
“We got to continue to get better,” James said. “We are working in two new pieces in Drummond and Ben and also working in myself and AD.”
At the time of the injury, the Lakers had the No. 2 record in the Western Conference and James was considered one of the front-runners in the league’s MVP award.
But James saw the Lakers go 8-13 when he was sidelined, and they have now lost six of their last eight.
“It has been a hell of a season. Sometimes we have a game every other day, back-to-backs, and we can have four or five games in a week. It has been a long super quick season.”
Heading into his return, James was averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists a game.
James wasn’t designated as available for Friday’s game until less than two hours before tip-off. He gave his right ankle a final test in pre-game warm-ups then announced he was ready to go.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel hadn’t planned to limit James’ playing time although James took his first break halfway through the first quarter with the Kings ahead 12-9.
He didn’t score his first basket until the final seconds of the first quarter.
Kings fight back
The Lakers led by 10 points at the end of the third quarter, but the Kings outscored Los Angeles 32-18 in the fourth.
James scored the Lakers final points of the game on a driving layup with 36 seconds left. He then put up a desperation 32-foot three pointer that bounced off the back of the rim and out with two seconds remaining that would have given the Lakers the lead.
Tyrese Haliburton led the Kings with 23 points and 10 assists and Terence Davis scored 10 fourth-quarter points.
The Kings earned their first victory at Staples Center since 2018 and they did it without key players De’Aaron Fox (Covid-19 protocols) and Harrison Barnes (abductor tightness).
Davis led the Lakers with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Drummond had 17 points in the loss.