INDIANAPOLIS — As much as LeBron James’ march toward the NBA’s all-time scoring mark might have captured people’s attention outside of the Los Angeles Lakers, James’ goal for this season was to get back into the playoffs whether he scored five points or 5,000 .
James’ 26 points in Thursday’s 112-111 win over the Indiana Pacers pulled him within 63 points of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record. However, the victory itself, which brought LA just one game out of the final play-in spot, seemed more significant.
“I think it’s an amazing feat,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of the scoring record. “When it happens, kudos to Bron for all his longevity and not just longevity, but longevity at the top of the list at an elite level. But our day-to-day, we hardly ever discuss it unless we’re asked about it . For us, it’s just, how can we get our team in the best position to make a run?”
James was instrumental in the Lakers’ fourth-quarter comeback against the Pacers. LA trailed 98-90 when he subbed in with 9:22 remaining in the final frame. He scored nine points down the stretch, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:35 remaining to give the Lakers their first lead of the game, and added two go-ahead free throws with 1:09 left.
Anthony Davis, who learned after the game that he was not selected as a Western Conference All-Star reserve, was also key in erasing what was once a 15-point deficit and helping the Lakers to improve to 3-1 in games he’s played since returning from a right foot injury last week.
Davis, who finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds, hit a turnaround, fadeaway shot from 11 feet out to put LA up 112-111 with 35.3 seconds left. Then, on Indiana’s next possession, he shut down Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton on his drive to the hoop, swatting his layup attempt with 16.5 seconds left.
Haliburton, who was named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve earlier Thursday, was having a brilliant game with 26 points and 12 assists before Davis stopped him.
“I’m here to win, to try to compete for championships, not to get into the All-Star Games,” Davis said. “My wife is ecstatic. She already texted me, ‘So, where are we going [during All-Star break]?'”
Ultimately, honors and accomplishments like All-Star nods and scoring feats are secondary when it comes to winning. However, they do generate passion and interest in the sport.
James said he never knew that Abdul-Jabbar scored 38,387 points — “I know it’s 38 something,” he said — but he knew the former Laker great was the record-holder.
As a fan of all sports, James said he can relate to why his points piling up throughout his 20-year career to get to this point is significant.
“I think it’s one of the greatest records in sports in general,” James said. “I think it’s up there with the homerun record in baseball. It’s one of those records that you just don’t ever see or think that would be broken. And then you end up seeing guys like, you had Hank Aaron that had it for so long, you see the guys, the likes of Sammy [Sosa] and Mark McGwire and those guys, start climbing it. And it was like, ‘Oh, man. This thing can really happen.’ And you start really watching it and paying attention to it and you see Sammy and Mark McGwire go up to bat and you’re like, ‘They got a chance to knock it out every single time.’ It was fun. For me, as a sports person, it was fun just watching those guys go up to bat and chase it.”
While James might have merged a couple of home run records together in his answer — Sosa and McGwire were on the heels of Roger Maris’ single-season home run record; Barry Bonds was the one with Aaron’s career mark in his aim — the point stood: Sports can make the unthinkable seem possible.
In that same spirit, James was asked if he had a 63-point game in him to finish off the record in New Orleans when the Lakers play the Pelicans this weekend to close out their five-game road trip.
“Yeah, I do,” James said with a smile. “I mean, I don’t know if it will happen on Saturday. But, yeah.”