After missing a month with a foot injury, LeBron James returned to the court on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.
It just wasn’t enough to lift the Lakers to a win.
The Chicago Bulls cruised past the Lakers in dominant fashion to pick up the 118-108 win at Crypto.com Arena. The win marked the seventh in the Bulls’ last nine games.
James went down with a foot injury last month after taking an awkward fall against the Dallas Mavericks. James yelled out, “I heard a pop” after the non-contact injury, but he returned to finish out the game. James then missed 13 games due to the injury. The Lakers went 8-5 without him.
James said after the game that he tore a tendon in his right foot, and that two different doctors recommended he undergo season-ending surgery. But after seeing the “LeBron James of feet,” James healed “faster than they’ve ever seen.”
James came off the bench on Sunday for just the second time in his career. The only other time came during the 2007-08 season when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. James received a huge standing ovation at Crypto.com Arena when he checked in just before the midway mark of the first period. He still made sure to hit the chalk toss at the scorer’s table, too.
James finished with a team-high 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists in 30 minutes. He shot 6-of-11 from the field, and went 0-2 from behind the arc.
Troy Brown added 18 points and shot 7-of-13 from the field in the loss, and Dennis Schroder finished with 17 points and four assists.
Bulls center Nikola Vucevic was ejected just before halftime for arguing with an official after fouling James. Vucevic appeared to smack James in the face as James got past him and put up a shot near the rim. Vucevic immediately ran toward the referee who called the foul to complain, but was hit with two technicals and tossed from the game.
He finished the night with four points and two rebounds in 15 minutes. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 32 points after shooting 13-of-19 from the field, and DeMar DeRozan finished with 17 points and 10 assists.
Though it didn’t translate into a win, James’ return comes at the start of a critical stretch for the Lakers. They have just seven games left in the regular season, starting with a rematch against the Bulls in Chicago on Wednesday. They entered Sunday eighth in the Western Conference standings, but were tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans. They were within two games of six other teams on either side of them in the standings, too.
A strong finish with James could lift the Lakers out of the play-in. If things go the other way, though, there’s still a risk of James missing the playoffs completely for just the fifth time in his career.