SAN ANTONIO — Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James returned Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs following a five-game absence because of a left groin strain and teamed with Anthony Davis to take control in the fourth quarter.
“The fourth quarter has always been my favorite quarter,” James said after scoring eight of his 21 points in the final frame in the Lakers’ 105-94 win. “That’s winning time, that’s closing time and to be out there and being able to execute and make plays in the fourth quarter, it’s always a treat for me.”
James racked up a plus-minus of plus-14 in nine minutes in the fourth. He and Davis combined to score 19 in the fourth, while the Spurs scored just 19 points as a team on 29.2% shooting.
“His voice, leadership, his playmaking, scoring ability — I think it all came into effect tonight,” Davis said. “Especially down the stretch, pick-and-roll and calling plays and stuff. I think it was really good for us.”
James started for the Lakers alongside Davis, Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown Jr. and Dennis Schroder, who made his first start of the season at point guard. James added 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in 33 minutes as Los Angeles picked up its first road victory of the season.
He also had nine turnovers.
“My rhythm, my timing was a little off on a few of my passes,” James said. “I had six in the first half and cut it in half in the second half. But I’ll be a lot better, obviously, as the games go on I’ll get my rhythm back.”
Los Angeles went 3-2 without James, including a three-game winning streak, with Davis taking his game to another level with James sidelined. Davis averaged 33.2 points and 17.4 rebounds in those five games, including a season-high 38 points in a home victory over Detroit on Nov. 18.
“AD was the best player in the league over the last 4-5 games,” James said. “Just his numbers and productivity on both sides of the floor. It’s not just offensively but defensively he’s been super engaged, and tonight once again he was amazing.”
Davis led all scorers with 25 points Friday night, to go along with a game-high 15 rebounds. He was five points shy of his fifth straight 30/15 game.
Schroder said Davis’ and James’ defensive commitment is what allowed L.A. to separate — holding the Spurs to 60 points in the first, second and fourth quarters combined.
“Defensively, he was amazing,” Schroder said of James. “Switching, holding off players and not letting them get to the rim. … If we got him and AD committing on the defensive end like that, then we’re going to go a long way.”
In his 20th season, James is averaging 24.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists while playing 35.7 minutes per game.
He had been out since Nov. 9 when he suffered the groin injury late in the Lakers’ loss to the LA Clippers. James said he got in a “great” Thanksgiving Day workout at the University of Texas at San Antonio that gave him the clearance he could come back.
“It’s not the workout then, it’s actually how you feel the next day,” James said. “When I woke up this morning I felt pretty good. So I felt like I still wanted to come here and go through my routines and see if it held up and I felt pretty confident that I could go.”
Friday’s game marked the first of Patrick Beverley‘s three-game suspension for shoving Suns center Deandre Ayton to the floor in Los Angeles’ 115-105 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday, opening the door for Schroder’s nine points and five assists with the first unit.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to get a W every night,” Schroder said when asked about potentially earning the starting nod permanently. “We try to compete on the highest level. I try to do that. And whatever works. I think Pat is fine as well. Whatever works to get a win and to make it to the playoffs. I think that’s our goal. And I think everybody is on the same page.”
The Lakers and Spurs will meet again in San Antonio on Saturday night and James made it sound like he planned to play the second leg of the back-to-back.
“There’s a strong possibility that I play tomorrow,” James said. “I just sat out for two weeks. I’m good.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.