Lakers star LeBron James returned to action against the Bulls on Sunday after completing his recovery from a torn tendon in his right foot.
“He told me I shouldn’t get surgery,” James said after L.A.’s 118-108 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.
Two other doctors had recommended James go under the knife to repair his ailing foot, but the 20-year veteran opted for round-the-clock rehabilitation and training to return.
He made it back in exactly four weeks, missing 13 games, in time to participate in the Lakers’ final push to qualify for the playoffs.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the loss to Chicago dropped L.A. to No. 9 in the Western Conference standings, but only two games behind the No. 6 Golden State Warriors with seven games remaining.
The NBA’s all-time scoring leader is averaging a team-best 29.5 points along with 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists this season.
While James returned, D’Angelo Russell was ruled out for a second straight game due to a right hip injury. Russell and James have played in only two games together since the Lakers acquired Russell in a trade last month because of injury absences for both players.
James said he was inspired by his teammates while he put in 12-hour workdays between rehab and training to get back in action. Los Angeles went 8-5 while James was out despite adding five new rotation players around the trade deadline, finally developing some chemistry during their push.
“They go 8-5 and obviously had a chance to — the hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-eight seed,” James said. “It definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this. Well, I don’t even want to say (it) changed my mindset. It just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything. They played such great basketball. I was just ecstatic, from me being in a boot to me getting out of the boot, you guys saw me on the sideline, just so happy about what the guys are doing.”
The Lakers had one of their roughest performances in a month against the Bulls, falling behind by a huge early margin and never closing the gap.
James had played in a game as a reserve just once previously in his 20-year NBA career, doing it with Cleveland on Dec. 11, 2007.
The 38-year-old James is averaging 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists in his fifth season with the Lakers. He surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s top scorer on Feb. 7 but had played in just three games since that historic night.
James said he doesn’t know whether he’ll need surgery after the season, but he expects to have an MRI exam after he’s done playing for the summer. He said he would be at full strength for training camp in the fall even if he has the surgery.
The Lakers provided few updates on James’ condition during his absence, and James kept the details of his recovery firmly under wraps on social media. He also missed five games earlier this season with a strained left adductor, and he has had lengthy injury absences in every full season during his time with the Lakers.
But James is looking healthy at a key point for the Lakers, who could finally have their full roster available for the final games of the stretch run.
While James returned, D’Angelo Russell missed his second straight game because of a right hip injury. Russell and James have played in only two games together since the Lakers acquired Russell in a trade last month because of injuries for both players.
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