LeBron James Scores 24 in Return from Groin Injury as Lakers Beat Clippers in OT

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, right, tries to drive past Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

LeBron James is back just in time for the Los Angeles Lakers. 

The four-time MVP led the Purple and Gold to a critical 123-120 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday at Staples Center in his first game back since he suffered a groin injury on Christmas Day. He took over in the extra period with a mid-range jumper, steal and assist to turn a tie game into a five-point lead in the most importance sequence of the contest.

The Clippers entered play with a two-game lead over the Lakers for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, but James’ return and this result suggests their postseason spot is tenuous at best.

James challenged for a triple-double with 24 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, while Lance Stephenson and Brandon Ingram added 20 and 19 points, respectively. Seven Clippers finished in double digits, including Lou Williams (24 points and six assists) and Tobias Harris (15 points, eight boards and eight dimes).

                  

Thursday’s Showdown Will Carry Far More Weight Than One Game

  1. KD Giving Back to His Hometown with Durant Center

  2. Four Years Ago, Klay Drops Record 37 Pts in One Quarter

  3. Remembering the Night Kobe Scored 81 Points

  4. Happy 37th Birthday Dwyane Wade

  5. Steph Is a Few Shots Away from NBA 3-Point History

  6. Can Harden Keep His Dominance Going?

  7. Steph Gifts Fan Who Asked for Girls UA Kicks with New Curry 6s

  8. Happy 34th Birthday to LeBron 👑

  9. 4 Years Ago, Kobe Passed Jordan on the NBA Scoring List

  10. Drummond and Embiid Reignite Rivalry

  11. Happy 24th Birthday to Giannis Antetokounmpo

  12. D-Rose Turned Back the Clock and Put Up 50

  13. Dubs Trolled Fergie So Hard It Became a Challenge

  14. CP3-Rondo Blowup Was a Long Time Coming

  15. NBA Let Players Know They Have to Cover Branded Tattoos

  16. The NBA Is Back and the Soccer World Is Pumped

  17. Boban Is Back to Break It Down for Another Season

  18. Players Battle Campers in Rivalry of the Summer

  19. Happy 30th to KD!

  20. Andrew Bynum Is Making an NBA Comeback

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It is easy to get bogged down in an 82-game schedule, but some wins and losses carry increased importance. The Lakers earned one of those victories Thursday.

The two Los Angeles teams will likely battle for the last Western Conference playoff spot for the remaining 30 contests, and this head-to-head clash represented a two-game swing—with either one or three games separating them at the final buzzer. That is a drastic difference as the schedule shortens, especially given the surrounding teams.

The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz were the Nos. 5 through 7 seeds in the West entering play Thursday, and they will all make the postseason.

San Antonio is coming off 21 straight playoff trips with Gregg Popovich in charge. Utah has the Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert pairing and the confidence from winning a playoff series last year. Houston has James Harden as the potential MVP and will be healthy again down the stretch with the Beard, Chris Paul and Clint Capela in tow.

That leaves one spot for the Lakers or Clippers, and the latter won the first matchup. A victory for the Clippers would have meant the worst they could do was go 2-2 against their city rivals for tiebreaker purposes.

What’s more, they could have dealt a demoralizing blow to a Lakers team looking for a spark by beating them in James’ first game back.

The schedule also increased the importance of Thursday’s contest.

The Lakers’ next five games and seven of the next eight are on the road, including trips to the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Even the home game is against Harden and the Rockets, and they may rack up a number of losses if they aren’t careful.

That same caution applies to a Clippers team facing its next six and 10 of its next 12 on the road, including trips to the Toronto Raptors, Celtics, Denver Nuggets and Jazz.

James is back, and he hasn’t missed the playoffs since his second season in the league in 2004-05 and has made eight straight trips to the NBA Finals. The Lakers can rest easy with their leader in charge and a critical head-to-head win under their belt, but a loss would have changed the formula.

In that scenario, it would have been fair to start panicking in the face of the upcoming schedule, and some of the younger players may have pressed as they worried about being dealt in an Anthony Davis trade.

As for the Clippers, they have to worry about one of the greatest players in NBA history breathing down their neck with likely losses in the immediate future. Rather than having the confidence of beating James, two head-to-head wins and breathing room before a difficult stretch, they have little room for error entering the stretch run.

            

LeBron’s Return Puts Lakers Back in Comfort Zone

  1. KD Giving Back to His Hometown with Durant Center

  2. Four Years Ago, Klay Drops Record 37 Pts in One Quarter

  3. Remembering the Night Kobe Scored 81 Points

  4. Happy 37th Birthday Dwyane Wade

  5. Steph Is a Few Shots Away from NBA 3-Point History

  6. Can Harden Keep His Dominance Going?

  7. Steph Gifts Fan Who Asked for Girls UA Kicks with New Curry 6s

  8. Happy 34th Birthday to LeBron 👑

  9. 4 Years Ago, Kobe Passed Jordan on the NBA Scoring List

  10. Drummond and Embiid Reignite Rivalry

  11. Happy 24th Birthday to Giannis Antetokounmpo

  12. D-Rose Turned Back the Clock and Put Up 50

  13. Dubs Trolled Fergie So Hard It Became a Challenge

  14. CP3-Rondo Blowup Was a Long Time Coming

  15. NBA Let Players Know They Have to Cover Branded Tattoos

  16. The NBA Is Back and the Soccer World Is Pumped

  17. Boban Is Back to Break It Down for Another Season

  18. Players Battle Campers in Rivalry of the Summer

  19. Happy 30th to KD!

  20. Andrew Bynum Is Making an NBA Comeback

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The Lakers were 20-14 after Christmas and looked the part of a true contender in the group behind the Warriors, but they went an ugly 6-10 and fell out of the playoff picture without the King.

The young building blocks weren’t ready to fill leadership roles, and the team looked lost against the majority of the formidable opponents it played without someone to consistently turn to when it needed to stop a run or spark something offensively.

If there was a silver lining for the Lakers regarding James’ injury, it is that some of the young players garnered experience. Still, they need James on the floor, as they know they have the best player in the league when an important basket is needed—such as in Thursday’s overtime.

He also takes the pressure off the early stages of the game, and James was able to assume more of a facilitating role for stretches rather than score 40-plus points.

The ball movement was more fluid against the Clippers, there was more spacing because of the attention James attracts and Ingram took full advantage by slicing through the lane on multiple occasions. 

James’ impact extends beyond his immense individual talent. His teammates can play within a comfort zone with more open looks and the knowledge they have the ultimate ace in their back pocket should they need it, and the result was an important win.

          

What’s Next?

Both teams are on the road Saturday with the Lakers facing the Golden State Warriors and the Clippers playing the Detroit Pistons.

NBA News

via Bleacher Report – NBA http://bit.ly/2gMI6gF

January 31, 2019 at 10:42PM

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