LeBron James returns and leads injury-riddled Lakers to fourth consecutive win

The star returned for the Lakers after missing the previous game with a non-COVID illness, but when LeBron James stepped onto the Arena court Friday night, he had to play without three more of his trusty mates and had to incorporate a new face to help the cause.

James and the Lakers had to endure the loss of key role player Austin Reaves, who missed the game against the Atlanta Hawks because of a left hamstring injury that will have him being reevaluated in about two weeks; wing player Lonnie Walker IV, who was diagnosed with left knee tendinitis and also will be reevaluated in about two weeks; and Troy Brown, who was out because of a left quad strain.

Those injuries led to the Lakers signing guard Sterling Brown to a 10-day contact and it meant James, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the healthy crew had to push forward despite being undermanned.

And not to be forgotten, Lakers guard Dennis Schroder had injured his right ankle during Wednesday night’s game, but he still played against the Hawks.

Despite the 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.

Lakers star LeBron James drives to the basket past Atlanta’s John Collins during the first half Friday.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

And he got plenty of help as the Lakers won their fourth straight and overcame Trae Young’s 32 points.

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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 on 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.

Brown checked in with three minutes and 15 seconds left in the first half.

His history with Ham from the two of them having spent two years together with the Milwaukee Bucks played a role in Brown getting his deal.

“Oh man, 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.

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“I mean, he’s a 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. Again, we’re excited to look at him over the next few days.”

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.

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