LeBron James is back, and the Los Angeles Lakers' offense is firing better than it has all season, with another test waiting at home Monday night from the Indiana Pacers.
After missing five games because of a groin injury, James returned for a two-game road set against the San Antonio Spurs beginning Friday. The Lakers won both contests, including a 143-point offensive eruption on Saturday.
After a 2-10 start to the season, the Lakers have won five of six.
That the most recent victory came without Anthony Davis made it even more impressive.
James scored a season-best 39 points on Saturday -- making seven 3-pointers -- and added 11 rebounds.
There was the matter of the Lakers' defense allowing 138 points in the second victory over the Spurs. That type of effort could spell doom against the Pacers, who have won eight of their past 11 games, even with a 114-100 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
The Spurs delivered a season-high output in points against the Lakers while plummeting toward an eighth consecutive defeat.
Davis, who had been dealing with back tightness this season, was out because of a bruised left calf, although his absence was characterized as precautionary.
"It's just the smart and right thing to do," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said about sitting one of his stars. "We don't want to push him this early in the season. And when you're talking about different muscles and ligaments, it's something that can easily turn into a yearlong issue."
The Lakers received another scare during the game when Russell Westbrook came away with a bloody forehead after receiving an elbow from San Antonio's Zach Collins. Despite a significant amount of bleeding, Westbrook returned to the game. Collins was ejected.
"Yeah, it was fine," Westbrook said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Doctor looked at it and closed it up and I came back out."
The Pacers played a Sunday matinee against the Clippers and led by eight points less than nine minutes into the game, were tied just before halftime and watched it slip away from there. Indiana went down by double digits midway through the third quarter and never mustered a late run.
Jalen Smith had 23 points and nine rebounds for Indiana, while Tyrese Haliburton had 15 points and 11 assists. But 12 total third-quarter points were a season low as the team went 0 of 12 from 3-point range in the period. The Pacers entered with an average of 30.2 points in the third quarter this season.
The Pacers shot a season-worst 38.3 percent for the game, 21.4 percent (9 of 42) from 3-point range and never seemed to find Clippers big man Ivica Zubac on the court. Zubac delivered 31 points and a career-high 29 rebounds in 36 minutes.
"I think our shot selection was rough," Haliburton said. "Not getting stops didn't help. We want to play in transition as much as possible. We didn't get a ton of stops and didn't really rebound very well. That didn't allow us to play in transition."
--Field Level Media