LeBron James made his return from a right foot injury on Sunday, but the Los Angeles Lakers' three-game winning streak came to an end with a 118-108 defeat to the Chicago Bulls. James finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes
The Lakers announced less than an hour before tipoff that James would be available after missing the past 13 games. He tested his foot in pregame warmups and was deemed good to go for the Sunday matinee. However, James was not part of the Lakers starting lineup. Instead, James came off the bench for just the second time in his NBA career (1,680 games counting the playoffs) and the first time since 2007.
James said that his injury was actually a torn tendon that typically requires much longer than four weeks to recover from. In fact, multiple doctors recommended season-ending surgery, but James sought another opinion from the "LeBron James of feet" and was able to return to the court on Sunday.
LeBron's first bucket back 👏— NBA (@NBA) March 26, 2023
Driving for the layup to put the @Lakers in front in Q1!
Watch now: https://t.co/Iwp2fxPMXA pic.twitter.com/j7DC39MwhY
The injury itself came in the middle of a Feb. 26 clash with the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers trailed by as many as 27 points in the game, but James played through the injury to help the Lakers complete the comeback. He finished that contest with 26 points, eight rebounds and three assists, but had been sidelined ever since.
The Lakers did more than just tread water in his absence. They went 8-5 without James, and after spending most of the season in the No. 13 slot in the Western Conference standings, had risen to No. 8. after Friday's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder got the Lakers to .500 for the first time this season. With the defeat to the Bulls, they are now back under .500 at 37-38, and have dropped down to No. 9 in the jumbled playoff picture.
Of course, getting to the postseason is one thing. Winning there is another. A hobbled James would have made a real playoff run almost impossible. Anthony Davis has kept the team afloat without James. Austin Reaves has emerged as a key starter and ball-handler with James out, but ultimately, this team's postseason dreams rely on having two superstars. James is one of them, and the roster around him looks significantly stronger since the Lakers traded Russell Westbrook for D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt at the deadline.
After Sunday, the Lakers have seven games left on their schedule. There is still time for LeBron to quickly ramp up for a postseason run. In 2021, James returned from an injury with only two games left in the regular season and was never quite himself in a first-round loss to Phoenix. With more time left to work with, though, the Lakers have never looked like more of a postseason threat than they do today.