The star returned for the Lakers after missing the previous game with a non-COVID illness, but when LeBron James stepped onto the Crypto.com Arena court Friday night, he had to play without three of his trusty mates and had to incorporate a new face to help the cause.
James and the Lakers also had to endure the loss of key role players Austin Reaves (left hamstring), Lonnie Walker IV (left knee tendinitis) and Troy Brown (left quad strain). Reaves and Walker will be reevaluated in two weeks.
Those injuries led to the Lakers signing guard Sterling Brown to a 10-day contract and it meant James and the rest of the healthy Lakers had to push forward.
And not to be forgotten, Dennis Schroder injured his right ankle during Wednesday night’s game, but he still played against the Hawks.
Despite numerous injuries, the Lakers pulled out a 130-114 victory over the Hawks.
James, who had scored 47, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out nine assists in the Lakers’ win on his 38th birthday last week in Atlanta, led the charge with 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.
“It’s 21 different starting lineups in 39 games. That’s challenging in its own right,” James said. “But I commend the guys. I commend the coaching staff always trying to keep us ready and we just always try to stay ready.”
And he got plenty of help as the Lakers won their fourth straight, overcoming Trae Young’s 32 points.
Thomas Bryant had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Kendrick Nunn had a season-high 23 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, and Schroder had 21 points.
“It’s a long season and guys’ injuries are a big, real part of our story and our season and our sport,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before the game. “So, Austin is out. Obviously, Lonnie is out. Troy is out. … We signed Sterling to a 10-day, something I’m excited about to kind of help shore up things in their absence. But we’ll do like always do, we’ll figure it out.”
And the Lakers did, scoring 37 points against the Hawks in the first quarter, their highest-scoring first quarter of the season.
The Lakers opened a 70-49 lead at the half, their largest halftime lead of the season.
“I just think our sense of urgency, our competitiveness, togetherness, aggressiveness on both sides of the ball it’s remained consistent,” Ham said. “We’ve had it in flashes during the course of a 48-minute game. We’ve been maintaining it and being more consistent with it and it’s showing.”
Brown checked in with three minutes and 15 seconds left in the first half. His history with Ham from his time with the Milwaukee Bucks played a role in Brown getting his deal.
“I’m super excited. It’s a great opportunity,” Brown said. “It’s a good team, good group of guys. I’m gonna come in, just try to bring a lot of energy and do what I do: knock down the three-ball and try to guard. Make winning plays. That’s what the team is about. And I’m just gonna try to contribute as much as I can.”
Brown is just two seasons removed from shooting 42.3% from three-point range with Houston. He had been playing in the NBA G-League, with Toronto’s team.
“I mean, he’s as tough as nails. He’s highly competitive,” Ham said about Brown. “He’s a great defensive rebounder and he’s very athletic. He can shoot it. He can knock down threes and again he can guard multiple positions and he can handle it in pick-and-rolls. He can set screens and roll. So, he’s a versatile perimeter player.”
Notes: Reaves and Wenyen Gabriel were informed that the Lakers are guaranteeing their contracts for the rest of the season, according to people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. … The Lakers also worked out guard Tyler Dorsey on Thursday and were impressed by his shooting.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.