Los Angeles, CA.— LeBron James returned back to the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Lakers (27-25) for the first time since straining his groin Christmas day against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
When James sat out for 17 games due to the injury (longest of career), the Lakers went from fifth place in the Western Conference standings to ninth. They went 6-11 in his absence.
They defeated their cross town rival Los Angeles Clippers on their home floor in extras 123-120. It was a Clipper home game, but felt like a Lakers crowd. Which came as a surprise to no one.
They needed the extra five minutes despite being up 14 in the final quarter.
James played 40 minutes and was just one assist short of a triple-double. He finished tied with a game-high 24 points, 14 rebounds (game-high), and 9 assist. He was just 1-6 from 3-pt, but hit 5-7 from the free throw line.
After his first game back from injury he spoke about the team's win and how felt after playing 40+ minutes:
"Definitely ecstatic about being back out there with my guys," he said, "but being out five weeks, I'm feeling it right now. I wish I could click my shoes together right now and be home in my bed." After his longest streak of missed games due to injury he seems curious to how his body will react after his first live action in over a month.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how I feel tomorrow," James said. "That's going to be the telltale sign of all the rehabbing and the working and everything I've been putting in these last five weeks."
But he wasn't alone and got much needed help from others.
Lance Stephenson was big off the bench in his 30 minutes. He scored 20 points and hit 5-8 from deep tying a career-high. Brandon Ingram played well scoring 19 points and was 5-5 from the free throw line. Rajon Rondo in just his fourth game back was big with his 14 points and 13 rebounds double-double.
The Lakers the worst free throw shooting team shot 80% from the line, making 28 of 35.
The Lakers still currently on the outside of the playoff picture and one game out of the eighth spot.
The Los Angeles Clippers (28-24) losers of two straight came into this game motivated, knowing the team that predominantly gets much of the recognition showed up on their floor and was getting back their star in James who missed the first matchup.
They were looking to make a statement and came up short.
Leading scorer Tobias Harris who just foundout he didn't make the twelve man All-Star roster just a few hours before tipoff took on the challenge of defending James for most of the game. "The good thing is we kept fighting all night."
He finished with 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assist. He spoke about his thoughts on what he saw from James after he defended him, "he looked good."
Lou Williams scored a team-high 24 points on 10-18 from the field. Patrick Beverley hit 5-8 from deep chipping in with 17 points and 8 rebounds.
The Clippers a better free throw shooting team than the Lakers, were only 14-26 from the free throw line.
Both teams will begin it's Grammy road trip with both teams back in action Saturday. Lakers will face the Warriors, and the Clippers will travel to Detroit to face former Clipper Blake Griffin and the Pistons in a rematch.