3 milestones that explain LeBron James’ epic scoring spree

LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA All-Star Game

Breaking news: LeBron James is making history.

On the season premiere of “The Shop”, LeBron took offense at the lack of recognition he feels he receives as a pure scorer relative to the all-time greats. Wouldn’t you know it: He scored 56 points (tied for the third-highest single-game mark of his 19-year career) vs. the Golden State Warriors 24 hours after the episode dropped.

In his ensuing appearance at Crypto.com Arena — following a missed game on Monday and 23-point triple-double in Houston, both losses — he put up another 50-Burger, propelling the Los Angeles Lakers (29-37) to a 122-109 over the Washington Wizards. It was his 14th 50+ point outing of his career — tied for sixth-most in history.

With his mom, Gloria, as a courtside #witness, LeBron became the first player over the age of 35 to have two 50+ point games in a season. He shot 18-of-25 from the field, 6-of-9 from three-point range, and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, to go along with 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Not bad for a 37-year old on a bum knee.

As per usual, his brilliance was theatrical and majestic. He scored 16 points, including 12 straight, in the third quarter as the Lakers took control. He was deep in his ever-evolving bag: High-arching triples and fades over the likes of Kristaps Porzingis (7’3) and Kyle Kuzma (6’10). Physical layups in traffic. Off-the-dribble Js. Tricky bank shots. Rim-rattling slams.

“I was able to hit a hot streak at one point,” LeBron James said. “I just tried to stay in that zone as long as possible and hit a couple.”

His postgame analogy was apt:

“He’s really good at basketball, that LeBron James,” Frank Vogel mustered. “The league has never seen a player at this stage of his career do what he’s doing.”

Vogel acknowledged that the “large portion” of the remaining confidence he has in the 2021-22 Lakers “comes from knowing that he’s on our side.”

“I looked up and I was like, ‘Damn, he’s got 50!'” Talen Horton-Tucker said afterward. “When he had 47, I knew he was going to get 50, so that’s why I went to try and get him the 3. So, just seeing that is motivation.”

LeBron doesn’t have to keep this going. The Lakers seem to understand that their championship aspirations have become just that — purely aspirational. Some folks, including yours truly, have wondered why exactly he would continue slogging through a lost season on a knee that, by his own admission, will only heal with extended rest. The Lakers genuinely believe they can win any given game with a healthy LeBron (especially with Anthony Davis), but whether they believe they can string together a Cinderella two-month playoff run is a whole different question.

Yet, LeBron James maintains that has no intention to shut it down (which, of course, could be preemptive cover so a shut-down looks solely health-driven). Instead, he’s hunting buckets more aggressively than ever. Why? He might claim it’s for the fans, but there are three milestones that may be particularly fueling LeBron as his team enters mid-March destined for the Play-In game.


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3) Scoring title

LeBron is gunning to become the oldest player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring. After his 50-spot on Friday, LeBron (29.7 PPG) officially passed Philadelphia 76ers MVP candidate Joel Embiid for the league lead.

LeBron has led the NBA in scoring only once in his illustrious career — in 2007-08, the one season of his career in which he averaged over 30 PPG.

“When gameday is here, I’m here five hours before the game and prepping — prepping on myself individually, prepping on what I need to do to help this team be victorious, prepping on everything I can possibly do in my power to try to help this team be as great as we can be that night. So, that’s what goes into it,” LeBron said postgame.

2) Passing Karl Malone in Cleveland

LeBron James (36.793) is now 135 points behind The Mailman (36,928) for the No. 2 spot on the scoring list. There are few people on Earth who have a more refined flair for the dramatic than James, evidenced by his recent game-winner in the All-Star Game in Cleveland. That shot punctuated a weekend full of vocal displays of love for Ohio.

The Lakers face the Cavaliers on March 21. LeBron needs to average 22.5 PPG until then to pass Malone at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. Bet on this, if you can.

1) The all-time scoring record

LeBron James is now 1,594 points behind Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) on the all-time regular-season points list (he has surpassed Kareem when you include payoffs). If healthy, James will surpass Kareem in about 60 games, should he score at his career rate of 27.1 PPG.

(Interestingly, Kareem criticized LeBron in December for LeBron’s reluctance to promote the vaccine and the curious meme about COVID-19 symptoms he posted. LeBron said he has “no response“. They did take this photo together at All-Star Weekend.)

LeBron claiming the top spot may seem like a foregone conclusion. It probably is. But keep in mind, Malone looked on track to sail past Kareem before he got hurt in his final season, limiting him to 42 games for the 2003-04 Lakers. LeBron is only under contract through next season, his 20th. Three of his four campaigns in Los Angeles have been plagued by injuries.

James is playing like a man on a mission, even after stating that this Lakers team isn’t good enough to contend. At this point, he’s not playing for the team. He’s enjoying the moment, cherishing the love of the game, and basking in the individual glory. Frankly, he’s earned it.

Whether LeBron James wins any more rings is far from a certainty. It’s arguably a long shot. He won’t win a fifth MVP this season. However, solidifying his place as the sport’s most prolific scorer — on top of his passing accolades — may be his last, best chance to make a GOAT case.

Tags: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers