LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers (second from left) shoots the ball against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on November 24, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (AFP)
Los Angeles superstar LeBron James returned from the first suspension of his NBA career to score 39 points Wednesday and lead the Lakers to a 124-116 overtime victory over the Indiana Pacers.
Russell Westbrook added 20 points for the Lakers, who trailed by 12 in the third quarter but rallied despite the absence of ailing star Anthony Davis, who missed the game with flu-like symptoms.
Indiana, led by the 28 points of Malcolm Brogdon, were in control for most of the night, the Lakers taking their first lead of the game at 101-100 on Malik Monk’s three-pointer with 4:30 left to play.
James then dug in, delivering a pair of free throws, a driving finger-roll layup and a pull-up three-pointer as the Lakers pushed the lead to 110-104 with 1:17 left in regulation.
But the Pacers weren’t finished and Dominican Chris Duarte drained an unlikely, off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime.
A fired-up James scored eight of the Lakers’ 12 points in the extra session, draining a pair of three-pointers for the win in his first game back since serving a one-game ban as his team fell to the Knicks on Tuesday.
“Just taking what the defense gave me, just trying to get into a rhythm,” James said of his late shooting. “I understand that it’s closing time, it’s winning time, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“Chris Duarte made an unbelievable shot to send it to overtime, so (I was) just trying to do my part and had a couple go.”
The victory saw the Lakers finish their five-game road trip 2-3.
They won in Detroit on Sunday when James was ejected after a bloody scuffle with Pistons center Isaiah Stewart.
Although the results have been spotty, James said the Lakers “have been playing better of late.”
He noted that injury and illness absences had made it hard to get a rhythm.
“We’re going to continue to work on our habits, continue to play Laker basketball and if we do that close to 48 minutes we put ourselves in position to win,” he said.
It was close in Cleveland, where the Phoenix Suns held off the determined Cavaliers 120-115 to push their winning streak to 14 games.
Devin Booker scored 35 points and veteran Chris Paul added 17 with 12 assists for the Suns.
Paul made four free throws in the final 8.8 seconds to ensure the Suns kept alive a winning streak that started with a victory over the Cavs on October 30.
It was a close-run thing, however, with Cleveland’s Ricky Rubio missing three free throws in the waning seconds that could have turned things the other way.
Jarrett Allen led the Cavs with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Cedi Osman added 23 points off the bench for Cleveland, who lost their fifth straight.
There were comfortable wins for the Brooklyn Nets and reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks.
Australian veteran Patty Mills led the Nets with 23 points, including seven three-pointers, in a 123-104 wire-to-wire victory over the Celtics in Boston.
Kevin Durant scored 21 points and passed Allen Iverson and move into the top 25 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Durant entered the contest with 24,367 points, one behind Iverson, passing him when he drained a jump shot in the opening minutes.
In Milwaukee, the Bucks roared to a 14-0 lead against the sluggish Pistons and eased home in a 114-93 victory.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 33 points and Bobby Portis added 28 as Milwaukee won their fifth straight.