Lakers Film Breakdown: LeBron James Returns In Style
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James went down with a foot injury on Feb. 26 against the Dallas Mavericks. Although he would finish the game, no one knew the extent of the injury or how much time he could miss. Once the status of James was known, however, the Lakers’ season was suddenly filled with doubt. More importantly, how would LeBron James look upon a potential return?

LeBron would eventually return on Sunday afternoon, precisely one month following the injury he suffered. James obviously had moments throughout the game versus the Chicago Bulls where he looked rusty. However, what the film showed is what we all knew. The Lakers missed LeBron James. Let’s dive into the film and see how LeBron positively impacted the Lakers even in a loss.

Offensive Impact

The Lakers’ coaching staff did a suitable job of scheming up good looks in one-on-one situations where LeBron could attack the rim. The Lakers ran their “Cross Punch STS” action three times throughout the game and scored on each occasion. The cross-screen along the baseline frees up James for the high post-up catch. Austin Reaves clears out faking the handoff, along with Anthony Davis and Malik Beasley initiating the Screen The Screener “STS” action with Davis screening for Beasley. This effectively clears out the paint help and allows LeBron to attack one-on-one and finish at the rim. 

The Lakers also ran this play in the third quarter, ending with a similar result. Alex Caruso does a better job defending James this time, but LeBron still makes a relatively easy layup.



Lakers go to their “Zipper” series, their favorite series for sideline out-of-bounds sets. They go with their “Zipper Curl” set and LeBron tightly curls off the Davis pindown and puts enough pressure on the rim to force Vucevic to foul him. James continues to impress with his incredible footwork.


The Lakers go to their Horns Stagger Flip play here to get James going downhill. This has been a staple in the Lakers’ playbook this season. LeBron has the option to reject the handoff and go backdoor for a dunk. Patrick Beverley knows the play is coming, so he guards the rim, but LeBron does a good job planting his right foot before hitting a tough, contested fadeaway jump shot.  


The impact of LeBron James on an opposing defense opens the floor up for the rest of his teammates. That’s one of the most impactful areas the Lakers missed him, along with his leadership and playmaking. The Lakers run their “Pistol/21” action, where Beasley sets the screen for LeBron on the empty side. With no help from that side of the floor, the Bulls are forced to put two players on James while driving. This leads to an open Beasley 3-pointer. Although Beasley missed it, this is a high-quality offensive play by the Lakers.  


Defensive Activity

Even at age 38, James is still a good defender when engaged. DeMar DeRozan is being guarded by Dennis Schroder on this possession (frustrating, I know). To stop a lane-line drive to the rim, LeBron steps up to prevent the drive at the elbow. Once DeRozan passes the ball to Patrick Williams, James critically does a great job of closing out, and it forces the turnover. 


The Bulls run a high pick & roll with Davis playing as the drop coverage big man trying to contain the drive. Dennis Schroder helps at the nail, which forces a pass-out and a “Stampede” cut by Zach LaVine. This forces Davis to step up, and LeBron “tags” the screener on the roll, forcing a pass out to the corner. Once again, James does a great job closing out on DeRozan, not allowing him to get a shot off and ending the possession on a Derrick Jones Jr. 3-point attempt.


LaVine enters a ball screen with Williams. On the LaVine drive, LeBron calls out the switch and begins to guard the Bulls star. LaVine is an incredibly hard player to guard in open space. Credit to Davis for stunting on the drive to clog up space. However, LeBron does a great job containing LaVine and ultimately deters the shot. 


Although LeBron didn’t stuff the stat sheet like he normally does, he did the little things that show why the Lakers missed him. His positive gravity as an offensive player and his pressure on an opposing defense allow his teammates to get open shots. Nobody on the current Lakers roster puts pressure on the rim, similar to LeBron James, and the Lakers desperately missed that. When you combine that with his leadership and playmaking ability, the Lakers’ offense just got much better. If LeBron can maintain this level of engagement defensively, the Lakers’ defense should continue to be elite. 

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