NBA: Lakers' James happy with fans' return, plays down row with spectators in win over Hawks

LeBron James had been involved in a row with a male spectator.
LeBron James had been involved in a row with a male spectator.PHOTO: REUTERS

(REUTERS) - Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James said he was happy fans are back at some NBA games amid the Covid-19 pandemic despite a bizarre altercation with supporters that led to four of them being ejected from Monday's (Feb 1) game at Atlanta Hawks.

The National Basketball Association superstar became involved in a row with a male spectator during the fourth quarter of their 107-99 win at the State Farm Arena - which is among a handful of venues allowing fans this season - before a woman began targeting the player.

The woman, who was escorted out by security personnel along with three others, posted an expletive-laden video on social media explaining the dispute started only after James had exchanged words with her husband.

"At the end of the day, I'm happy fans are back in the building. I miss that interaction ... we as players need that interaction. I don't feel like it was warranted to be kicked out," James told reporters.

"There was a back-and-forth between two grown men ... He said his piece, I said my piece. Then someone else jumped into it and said their piece.

"I didn't think they should have been kicked out. But they might have had a couple of drinks, maybe and they could have probably kept it going. It wouldn't have been about the game any more ... The referees did what they had to do."

While James played down the incident, Lakers coach Frank Vogel was less than pleased with the fiery exchange after videos emerged on social media showing the woman with her mask hanging off her chin during the row.

"It certainly exposed something with regard to having fans in the pandemic," he said. "You obviously can't have fans taking their masks down and shouting at our players with the virus out there during these times."

James has been a fierce critic of former president Donald Trump, and has spoken out against racial inequality after the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed last year after being seen lying face down in the street while a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.

James scored 21 points, including the final nine points of the game and made a crucial defensive play to help the visitors hold off Atlanta.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 25 points and Dennis Schroder scored 16 against his former team. The Lakers were 5-2 on the road trip and have won two straight.

The Hawks got 25 points and a season-high 16 assists from Trae Young, 22 points from John Collins and 16 points and 13 rebounds from Capela.

Meanwhile, Eric Gordon scored 25 points and led the Rockets' record three-point barrage as Houston rolled to a 136-106 win over the host Oklahoma City Thunder.

He hit five of the Rockets' franchise-best 28 treys, as Houston earned their sixth win in a row and moved above .500 for the first time this season.

DeMarcus Cousins also hit five three-pointers and scored 17 points.

Elsewhere, nine Memphis players scored in double figures as the Grizzlies romped past hosts San Antonio 133-102 for their seventh consecutive win.

Gorgui Dieng led Memphis with 19 points off the bench. Brandon Clarke scored 18, and Kyle Anderson and De'Anthony Melton hit 17 points apiece.

San Antonio's Keldon Johnson paced all scorers with 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.