LOS ANGELES — LeBron James returned from a frustrating stint in the NBA’s health and safety protocols just in time for yet another frustrating loss for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Luke Kennard scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half and hit two clutch 3-pointers in the final minutes, sending the Los Angeles Clippers to a 119-115 victory over the Lakers on Friday night.
James had 23 points and 11 rebounds in his first game back since a positive COVID-19 test kept him out of the Lakers’ blowout win over Sacramento on Tuesday. He received a series of negative subsequent tests that allowed him to play against the Clippers for only the 12th time in the Lakers’ 24 games this season, but he couldn’t stop the Lakers’ fourth straight loss to their city rivals.
“Just confused, frustrated and angry,” James said. “I was sitting at the house and hadn’t been able to do anything. Today was the first time I’d been able to catch a basketball since Sunday. … I felt like I was getting into a really good rhythm offensively, defensively. It’s been very frustrating, not being able to get into a flow for myself. Hopefully it will lead to good things later.”
James said he had to find his own way home from Sacramento after the test, and his family had to go into isolation along with him until he got enough negative tests. James was asymptomatic throughout, which he found particularly frustrating even though he understands the logic behind the NBA’s protocols, which he believes have been good for the game.
“We’ve all been doing exactly what the protocol told us to do,” James said. “Unfortunately you get a false positive and get put right into isolation.”
Paul George scored 19 points for the Clippers, who never trailed and never pulled away in the teams’ first meeting of the season. They played a choppy, chippy game appropriate for two clubs hovering around .500 while dealing with major injury problems that have slowed the development of two rosters harboring NBA title ambitions.
“The Lakers, if you let them be themselves comfortably, it’s going to be a long, tough game,” George said. “We stuck to our game plan, but we just had to match up and compete. They’re going to be themselves, but our job is to make it as tough as possible.”
The Clippers were blown out by New Orleans and Sacramento at home earlier in the week, but they still snapped their three-game losing streak with clutch shooting from Kennard and Marcus Morris, who scored 21 points and hit six 3-pointers. Reggie Jackson added 16 points and eight assists.
The Clippers have beaten the Lakers four straight times — and haven’t trailed in three of those victories — since former Lakers guard Tyronn Lue became the Clippers’ head coach in October 2020.
“Overall I thought we did a good job on Bron and AD,” Lue said. “We know when they can score points and get going, they’re a tough team to beat. We just had to do a better job taking those other guys out.”
Anthony Davis had 27 points and 10 rebounds, while Malik Monk scored all of his 20 points in the second half for the Lakers, who dropped to 12-12.
Carmelo Anthony’s 3-pointer with 2:15 to play trimmed the Clippers’ lead to 110-109, but the Lakers then blew two chances to take their first lead on consecutive possessions, and Kennard hit his fourth 3-pointer with 1:12 left.
He added his fifth with 38 seconds remaining, pounding his chest and popping his jersey — and Morris nailed his sixth of the night to seal it with 7.6 seconds left.
“I thought we kind of controlled the game throughout the entire night, but they were able to put some runs together,” Kennard said. “I thought we kept our composure, stayed the course. I thought everybody responded from the other night, from the last few games. It’s just something we need to build off, keep trusting each other and what we want to do, and start to put together some wins.”