Los Angeles Lakers star forward LeBron James returned to the team during Sunday’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls at Crypto.com Arena, a performance that saw him come off the bench for only the second time in his 20-year career.
James had been out of action since late February as he recovered from a right foot injury suffered during a comeback win against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Lakers announced that James would be returning against Chicago, but the team’s published starting lineup did not list James in his usual role as a starter.
Instead, James came off the bench for only the second time in his career. The last time James played in a game he did not start was on Dec. 11, 2007 when he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer suffered a right tendon sprain in that win against Dallas, just days after the Lakers completely retooled their roster at the trade deadline for a late playoff push.
The Lakers went 8-5 in LeBron’s absence, bolstered by vintage performances by James’ costar Anthony Davis, and the emergence of Austin Reaves, who has averaged 17.8 points and 6 assists per game during that span.
In his return to action, James scored 19 points in just under 30 minutes of play, leading the team in scoring.
Despite the King’s return, the Lakers fell to the Bulls behind former UCLA star Zach Lavine’s 32 points.
The loss brought the Lakers record to 37-38 and dropped them in the standings to the ninth seed in the NBA’s crowded Western Conference.
Despite early season struggles and major injuries to both Los Angeles costars, the Lakers still have hopes to secure a playoff berth in James’ 20th season.
With seven games left in the team’s season, the Lakers will have to compete with a number of different teams lumped together with similar records as they fight for the playoffs. A chance to avoid the play-in tournament is still seemingly within reach, but missing the playoffs entirely is also not out of the question.
With their win Sunday, the Bulls improved to 36-38 on the season. Chicago is currently 10th in the Eastern Conference standings with a comfortable lead over the 11th place Washington Wizards.