Bulls spoil LeBron's Lakers return

Agence France-Presse
Bulls spoil LeBron's Lakers return
Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket in between LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of their game at the Crypto.com Arena on March 26, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images / AFP

LOS ANGELES – The Chicago Bulls spoiled superstar LeBron James's return from a 13-game injury, beating the Lakers, 118-108, on Sunday (Monday, Manila time) to tighten their hold on the final Eastern Conference play-in berth.

Zach LaVine scored 32 points to lead the Bulls, but all eyes were on James at the Crypto.com Arena, where the 38-year-old forward came off the bench for just the second time in his 20-year NBA career, the only other occasion coming in December of 2007 when he was with Cleveland.

James, sidelined since February 26 with a tendon injury in his right foot, checked in to a standing ovation with the Lakers up 12-9 in the first quarter — going through his traditional hand-chalk toss near the scorer's table before hitting the floor.

James led the Lakers with 19 points in 27 and a half minutes on court. Troy Brown and Malik Beasley added 18 apiece while Anthony Davis scored 15.

DeMar DeRozan scored 17 points with 10 assists for the Bulls, who are in 10th place in the East, three games ahead of the Washington Wizards for the final play-in tournament spot and just a hair behind Toronto for ninth.

"My hat's off to the Chicago Bulls," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. "They're sort of fighting to get in position like we are, to secure a position. They came out with a sense of urgency tonight. We came out a little flat, turned the ball over early. We weren't aggressive enough, physical enough. We let one slip here at home."

The Lakers, who had gone 8-5 in James's absence, saw their three-game winning streak end.

They slipped from eighth to ninth in the Western Conference, half a game ahead of Oklahoma City and half a game behind New Orleans and Minnesota.

Elsewhere, the Dallas Mavericks' downward spiral continued with a 110-104 loss to the Hornets in Charlotte, where Mavs star Luka Doncic received his 16th technical foul of the season, which will trigger an automatic one-game suspension.

Doncic scored 40 points, but it wasn't enough to stave off a second loss in three days to the hapless Hornets — who are second-to-last in the Eastern Conference.

Gordon Hayward scored 22 points and P.J. Washington added 21 points with 12 rebounds for Charlotte, who have already been eliminated from post-season contention.

Dallas went into the day tied with Oklahoma City for the 10th-best record in the West, but were behind the Thunder in the race for the final play-in tournament berth because Oklahoma City hold the tiebreaker.

Doncic got off to a dismal start, going 0-for-6 from the field in the opening quarter.

Dallas trailed by 19 late in the first half when Doncic drilled four 3-pointers to key a Mavs run that cut the deficit to seven at halftime.

The Mavericks, who fell to eventual champions Golden State in the Western Conference finals last season, took their first lead of the game on a Doncic trey with 5:44 remaining.

Charlotte quickly regained the lead and Kyrie Irving's 3-pointer to again put the Mavs up by one proved little more than a blip as the Hornets again pulled away.

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