The Lakers got a big surprise on Sunday afternoon as LeBron James made his return to the floor much sooner than many expected. Unfortunately, James’ return proved not enough as the Lakers ended their homestand on a low note, losing to the Chicago Bulls 118-108.
The Lakers are now 37-38 on the season and fall to the ninth spot in the Western Conference standings.
The team started well in the opening minutes as Anthony Davis scored six of the team’s first 11 points. Then, at the 6:32 mark, James returned to thunderous applause. His opening minutes showed some of the rust from his long layoff, as he had a turnover, failed to jump for a lob pass and didn't show much burst.
James eventually worked himself into a rhythm the longer he was out there, but noticeably was reserved in his return to the court. In his 30 minutes of action, James finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists off the bench.
With the combination of James’ slow start, Lonnie Walker IV getting minutes over Rui Hachimura, and the Lakers still missing their starting point guard D’Angelo Russell, Chicago took advantage.
The Bulls went on a 9-0 run to start the second quarter and led by as many as 20. The Lakes settled down and responded with an 8-0 run of their own, then a Nikola Vucevic foul-call on a James’ drive turned into an ejection. The Lakers ultimately ended the half on a 17-4 run and trimmed the lead to just eight.
Vuvevic just got tossed with double technical fouls, both of which Schröder hit, and LeBron hit his first FT (from initial foul) before a Bulls time out. If he makes the 2nd, LAL can trim the deficit to 10.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 26, 2023
Backup center Drummond - who scored 8 points in his 8 minutes - is in.
Unfortunately, the Lakers couldn't carry their momentum into the third quarter as they came out lethargic and slow-footed on defense. Former Laker Patrick Beverley was the best version of himself, hitting a corner three and forcing a turnover. After another converted layup, he let anyone watching know he was wreaking havoc against his previous employer.
Zach LaVine (32 points) and DeMar DeRozan (17 points) spearheaded a lights-out shooting performance from the Bulls, as the lead ballooned back to 20 minutes into the fourth quarter.
Although they lingered, Chicago never really let the Lakers back into it as a floater from Beverley put an end to the team’s late push.
It’s become clear that with every game being now a must-win, Darvin Ham will only play a nine-player rotation. After his strong showing against the Thunder, Ham opted to give Walker the nod over Hachimura in a game where the team’s perimeter defense struggled.
It was a questionable move that didn't work on Sunday. It remains to be seen if this will be a permanent change, but it’s the type of marginal decision that could prove costly with the team’s slim margin for error.
For now, the Lakers have to get over this loss and get ready to face the Bulls again on Wednesday. This time in Chicago, as the Lakers kick off their final road trip of the season. How they perform away from Los Angeles could all but decide the Lakers’ postseason fate.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.