LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James scored 19 points off the bench in his return from a monthlong injury absence, but Zach LaVine scored 32 points to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 118-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
DeMar DeRozan added 17 points for the Bulls, who easily overcame James’ return with an impressive performance in their seventh win in nine games. LaVine hit 11 of his first 14 shots to lead an offensive effort that snapped the Lakers’ three-game winning streak despite the return of the NBA’s career scoring leader.
James sat out 13 games with right foot soreness, missing four weeks during the Lakers’ run at a playoff berth. The team provided few updates on his recovery, and his return came with little advance warning, the decision made only after a pregame workout.
And for only the second time in his 20-year, 1,958-game NBA career, James wasn’t a starter. He came in as a reserve midway through the first quarter, still doing his standard pregame chalk toss while receiving a standing ovation from Lakers fans.
Troy Brown Jr. and Malik Beasley scored 18 points apiece, but Anthony Davis managed just 15 points and nine rebounds as the Lakers (37-38) failed to get above .500 for the first time since Jan. 9, 2022.
The Lakers still were without D’Angelo Russell, who missed his second straight game with a right hip injury. Los Angeles went 8-5 in James’ absence, but his return will force an adjustment of the chemistry built by his teammates in his absence — and the Bulls took full advantage.
James got his first basket on a drive late in the first quarter, and he finished the first half with eight points. But Chicago largely controlled play, streaking to a 20-point lead in the second quarter. Los Angeles briefly got the lead down to single digits down the stretch, but got no closer.
The Bulls largely controlled Davis even after Nikola Vucevic was ejected in the second quarter with two quick technical fouls when he argued what appeared to be a good call against him.
Patrick Beverley had 10 points and five assists in his first game against the Lakers since they traded him last month. Beverley has been outspoken about his desire to hurt the Lakers’ playoff hopes during this home-and-home series between the teams, but Davis and the other Lakers smiled at his provocative talk.
When Beverley made a little hook shot with 1:12 left to boost Chicago’s lead back to double digits, Beverley slapped the floor and made the dismissive “too small” gesture sometimes used by NBA players to taunt their opponents, in this case James.
Bulls: DeRozan sat out Friday’s win in Portland with a strained quadriceps … Alex Caruso played against his former team through foot soreness. … Javonte Green missed his second straight game with residual soreness in his return from right knee surgery. … DeRozan will attempt to play in both back-to-back games in Los Angeles, coach Billy Donovan said.
Lakers: Russell has missed eight games with two injuries since joining the Lakers last month. He has played with James only twice. … Wenyen Gabriel scored two points on his 26th birthday.
Bulls: At Clippers on Monday.
Lakers: At Chicago on Wednesday.
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Greg Beacham, The Associated Press