LOS ANGELES — LeBron James was back after a month-long layoff. It didn’t help the Lakers on Sunday.
The Lakers lost to the Chicago Bulls, 118-108, and stalled their push for a playoff spot by falling a game below .500 after finally getting there two days earlier.
The Lakers (37-38) fell to ninth place in the ever-fluid Western Conference and start a string of five consecutive road games with a quick rematch Wednesday in Chicago.
James scored 19 points, but the story of the game was a tough Lakers loss at Crypto.com Arena.
“We weren’t aggressive enough or physical enough,” Lakers Coach Darvin Ham said. “At the end of the day, nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. We let one slip away.”
Bulls guard Zach LaVine scored 32 points and made 13 of 19 shots, pristine accuracy typically reserved for a big man, not a backcourt player.
It looked like the Lakers caught a break when Bulls center Nikola Vucevic was ejected late in the second quarter for arguing with referees. But the Lakers had trouble taking advantage of it.
Anthony Davis scored only 15 points on a mere eight shots. He battled foul trouble but still logged almost 36 minutes.
James, for his part, made six of 11 shots and played almost 30 minutes. He had five turnovers and only three assists, a rare game where he had a negative ratio.
“I felt OK. Obviously, the rhythm is the most important thing,” James said. “Had a couple drives where the ball got away from me, a couple shots didn’t feel as good as before. But I was out for four weeks, obviously.”
James missed 13 games after sustaining a torn tendon in his right foot. He came off the bench Sunday for the first time since 2007 and checked into the game midway through the first quarter, complete with his signature talc toss into the air at the scorer’s table.
After the game, James talked in-depth about his injury for the first time publicly.
First and foremost, will he need surgery after the season?
“I don’t know,” James said. “Right now, I don’t need it. It’ll probably get an MRI after the season and go from there.”
James also said two doctors recommended surgery. Why didn’t he have a procedure?
“Because I went to the LeBron James of feet and he told me I shouldn’t,” James said, declining to elaborate further.
James returned to action but the Lakers still weren’t full strength because guard D’Angelo Russell sat out a second consecutive game because of a sore hip.
Sunday also marked the Lakers’ first game against Patrick Beverly after they dealt him last month in a four-team trade that netted reserve center Mo Bamba.
Beverley scored on a jump hook over James late in the game and promptly gave the “too small” gesture by lowering his hand to about a foot above the court.
He finished with 10 points and five assists as the Bulls improved to 36-38. Chicago led by 21 points in the third quarter.
The Lakers have only seven more games before their April 9 regular-season finale. They’ll need to get James up to speed while dropping as few games as possible.
“He’s good enough, we’re good enough, I think, to figure it out on the fly,” Davis said. “I think we’ll be fine for sure.”