The Lakers got LeBron James back on Friday night, but they couldn’t get a different result against the Kings than they’ve managed in their last several games without him, coming up short in a close, 110-106 loss as a flurry of turnovers and poor defense doomed them down the stretch, with James missing one final three near the buzzer that could have given the Lakers a lead before the Kings came down and iced things with two free throws.
Until then, however, James looked about as good as could have reasonably been expected after a 20-game absence. His shot was off early, but Frank Vogel inserting Marc Gasol to space the floor around his star helped James regain his rhythm while the Lakers rediscovered their own. He finished the night with 16 points, 7 assists and 8 rebounds, and if one was looking for reasons to feel optimistic he’ll be good to go for the postseason, this game offered plenty. His turnovers (5) were an issue, but also an issue to be expected from a guy who hasn’t played an NBA game in nearly six weeks.
On the less positive side of things, this was very much a defense-optional affair, and while Anthony Davis showed the most burst he has on that end since his return — racking up 4 blocks in the second quarter alone and even nearly saving the game with one late in the fourth quarter to set up James’ shot on the other end — this was not a game that’s going to leave anyone feeling good about this team’s ability to stop their opponents.
That said, the Lakers have given us plenty of tape to demonstrate they can be elite on that end when they want to be. It was their continuing issues with ball security that was more concerning, as the team turned the ball over 21 times to (literally) give this game away. That’s a somewhat expected issue as they all adjust to playing together, but one they’re going to have to have to figure out sooner rather than later.
This loss isn’t something to panic about, as the Lakers showed flashes of figuring things out and some rust was to be expected in their first game together with this group, but the standings wait for no one, not even the Lakers. This defeat drops them to 36-27, just half a game ahead of the Dallas Mavericks in their race for the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.
The Lakers will now get Saturday off before hosting the Toronto Raptors on Sunday at Staples Center for the first game of a back-to-back. Their recent problems may not have been fixed solely by James’ return, but at least now they can get started on ironing them out.