LeBron James’ attitude about his return to the Los Angeles Lakers for the stretch run was eventually clarified by the chaotic Western Conference playoff scenario.

“To heck with the play-in—we can actually be a top-six seed,” James said.

James returned from a 13-game layoff on Sunday, scoring a team-high 19 points in his first game since recuperating from a right foot tendon injury. Even if it wasn’t enough in the Lakers’ 118-108 home defeat to the Bulls, James’ teammates believe he will be ready for more when the Lakers visit Chicago on Wednesday night.

NBA preview: Bulls seek second consecutive Lakers sweep 2023 2

Anthony Davis, a forward with the Lakers, said, “I just know that coming off an injury, you’re thinking about it and testing it out.” “But, he appeared well on the court, played effectively, and had a block. … Wednesday, he will most likely be himself.”

Sunday’s loss ended a three-game winning run for the ninth-place Lakers (37-38) in the Western Conference. Before Tuesday’s games, only 1 1/2 games separated the sixth- and tenth-place teams in the league.

Chicago (36-39) is in a comparable position in the East, entering Tuesday as the No. 10 seed and possessing the final play-in place. With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Chicago Bulls maintain a three-game lead over the Washington Wizards for the last play-in spot.

Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, 124-112, prevented the Bulls from sweeping a three-game West Coast road trip. Chicago allowed the Clippers to shoot 59.3% from the field and 50% (20-for-40) from beyond the arc.

“We understood going into the game that we would be in circumstances where we would have to guard the rim, scramble, and rotate out,” Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said. “We’ve been quite strong at closeouts for the majority of the season, but we did a poor job on Monday night. Things became accessible. We were late in assisting and rotating. I did not find our communication during our rotations to be very effective.”

Sunday’s defensive effort against the Lakers was better.

Sunday, Lakers coach Darvin Johnson said, “We weren’t aggressive or rough enough.” “I thought (the Bulls’) defense on that side was excellent.”

The Bulls hope to sweep the season series against the Lakers for the second consecutive year.

To do this, they are aware that they must immediately put the Clippers game behind them.

Chicago’s top scorer DeMar DeRozan stated, “We brought absolutely no rhythm.” “They were warm and remained warm. We were a step slow. We gave ourselves no opportunity.”

The Bulls were without Alex Caruso (foot pain) and Javonte Green (knee soreness). Wednesday is a problematic day for both guys.

Zach LaVine (23 points), DeMar DeRozan (21 points), and Nikola Vucevic (20 points) led the Bulls in scoring against the Clippers.

“We got seven (games) left,” DeRozan remarked. “We must establish a rhythm.”