Coming off a strained groin injury, LeBron James played 40 minutes and led the Los Angeles Lakers to a 123-120 overtime win over the LA Clippers on Thursday.
After being listed as “day-to-day” for the past five weeks, James wasn’t his usual explosive self, but he still managed to flirt with a triple double — scoring 24 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and dishing out nine assists.
“I’m like 80 percent right now,” James said after the game. “But it felt good to 80 and just to be back on the floor and put on a Lakers uniform again. That’s what it’s all about.”
The importance of this win was pretty high, because the Clippers are currently ahead of the Lakers for the No. 8 spot in the western conference.
The Lakers were third in the west standings when James suffered his injury on Christmas Day. Over his 17-game absence, the Lakers went 6-11 and dropped to No. 9, losing Lonzo Ball to an ankle sprain in the process.
Ball’s timeline is four to six weeks, so the point guard likely won’t return until late March or early April.
The Lakers travel to Oakland to play the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, their third matchup of the season. The timing couldn’t be worse, because the defending champions are clicking on all cylinders since the return of Demarcus Cousins.
But despite not being at full strength, the Lakers should have room for optimism. As long as James is on the floor, they have a chance to make a push for the playoffs.