LeBron James’ early return shifts plans for Lakers, Clippers

LOS ANGELES — Ninety minutes before tip-off, a reporter asked Clippers coach Ty Lue: What kind of problems does LeBron James pose at center?

Lue was wearing a mask, but the corners of his mouth drew up in what could only be a sly grin as he responded: “LeBron at any position is a problem.”

Just 48 hours earlier, Lue and his staff had every reason to think James was going to miss Friday’s game. But when he was released from the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols on Thursday afternoon, things changed in a flash – not just for Lue, his former coach, but for the Lakers themselves.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he had been informed before Thursday afternoon that James’ comeback could be nigh, but he tried to proceed as if James could still miss the game. COVID test results, as James learned from his false positive on Tuesday, can be a tricky thing to put faith in. But as soon as the news came in, the Lakers shifted.

“He was back, so obviously we were all excited,” Vogel said. “And we started just adjusting where we were at from a game-plan standpoint to include him in it.”

Vogel said James was present at the team’s morning meeting, but he declined to divulge details in his pregame press conference of how James reacted to being back with the team. From an early first quarter fast-break dunk, it seemed safe to…

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