LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James has been cleared to return to the Los Angeles Lakers after missing one game under the NBA's health and safety protocols.
The league said Thursday that James is not positive for COVID-19 despite a series of tests that produced conflicting results earlier this week. Additional testing cleared James to play when the Lakers host the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
James got an initial positive test from a sample collected Monday. The sample was retested twice, producing one positive and one negative result. James underwent additional testing Tuesday, but those tests returned one negative result and one clinically inconclusive result, according to the league.
James subsequently had two negative PCR tests conducted more than 24 hours apart, meeting the criteria necessary to return to play.
James said earlier in the season that he is vaccinated. A clear positive test likely would have kept James away for 10 days or more.
James has missed 12 of the Lakers' 23 games this season, with 10 due to injuries. He also missed one game while serving the first suspension of his 19-year NBA career for an altercation with Detroit's Isaiah Stewart.
James is the third-leading scorer in NBA history with 35,651 points. He is averaging 25.8 points, 6.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds in his 11 games this season.
The Lakers are 5-7 without James and 7-4 with him. They began Thursday in sixth place in the Western Conference despite their thoroughly overhauled roster around James and Anthony Davis, along with significant injury problems for several expected regulars.
At least 17 players have entered the NBA's health and safety protocols since the start of the season. Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Milwaukee's Khris Middleton are among the big names who have missed significant playing time while dealing with the coronavirus.
The Lakers' first meeting of the season Friday with their Staples Center rivals was moved off ESPN earlier in the week in the expected absence of both James and injured Kawhi Leonard, who hasn't played this season. Both Los Angeles teams have been hovering near the .500 mark after beginning the year with championship aspirations.
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