Los Angeles (AFP)
LeBron James pulled off his injury comeback as the Los Angeles Lakers continued their hopes of an automatic NBA playoff berth with a 122-115 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.
James finished with 24 points while Anthony Davis led the scoring with 28 as the Lakers made it known they had no intention of relinquishing their NBA crown without a fight heading into the playoffs.
Saturday’s win means the Lakers can still secure the sixth seed and avoid the play-in tournament if they win their last game of the regular season against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday and Portland lose to Denver in of their last game.
Based on Saturday’s evidence, the Lakers appear to have achieved the kind of form that delivered last season’s championship at the right time, with James bonding brilliantly to Davis while other key roster members returned from injury.
In addition to James’ return, Germany’s Dennis Schroder was back from a seven-game layoff due to Covid-19 protocols, scoring 14 points, while Lakers coach Frank Vogel confirmed that ‘Alex Caruso was in good shape again despite his absence on Saturday.
Any lingering doubts over James’ return to fitness were dispelled early on Saturday, with the Lakers star throwing a monstrous one-handed dunk from a Schroder alley as the Lakers came out on top early.
Six Lakers finished in double digits, with Schroder adding 14 points on his return.
James, meanwhile, was happy to see his return from the injury go without a problem, later saying that while his ankle was sore, it had improved a lot.
“A lot more mobility, a lot more movement, it was hot,” James said.
“A little bit of pain now that the game is over which is expected, but I didn’t have a setback today which is a hell of a good job for me and the medical team. “
James added that he had been hampered by the scheduling in the early afternoon of Saturday’s game, initially expecting an overnight game.
“It threw me for a loop,” James said. “I knew I had to start my engine early and I didn’t know how my ankle was going to react.
“But it responded very well and I’m excited about what tomorrow has in store for us. “
– Jazz was waiting –
In other early NBA games on Saturday, the Phoenix Suns delayed Utah’s crowning as a Western Conference seed after demolishing the San Antonio Spurs 140-103.
A loss to Phoenix would have secured first place in the West for the Jazz, who now have to wait until Sunday’s final round of regular season games to clinch the seed.
Devin Booker led Phoenix’s resounding victory with 27 points while Mikal Bridges added 18.
Elsewhere, the Brooklyn Nets warmed up for the playoffs with a 105-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
The game marked the first time Brooklyn big-three Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving have taken to the field together since February.
Irving led the Brooklyn scorers with 22 points while Durant finished with 12 and Harden 5.
“It’s a good thing that they’re together on the pitch,” Nets coach Steve Nash said of Durant, Harden and Irving.
“Just the chance to feel it, so it’s not that new when we start the playoffs next weekend. “
“It wasn’t a great game, we weren’t very sharp,” added Nash. “We weren’t shooting all cylinders but we came out with a victory.
“We have done the job and we will continue tomorrow. Hopefully we can have a good game and that sets us up for a good week of training. “
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