With a Complete Effort, LeBron James Closes In on Scoring Record

Very soon now, LeBron James will have scored more points in the N.B.A. than any player ever.

He closed in further on the record on Tuesday night with a team-high 28 points as his Los Angeles Lakers beat the Knicks, 129-123, in overtime.

It was James’s first appearance at Madison Square Garden in three years after missing last season’s visit by the Lakers because of a suspension and the game the season before with an injury.

James has scored 38,299 points in regular season play, leaving him 89 points away from surpassing the record held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan round out the top five. The top active player behind James is Kevin Durant in 14th place, lagging by more than 11,000 points.

James is averaging 30.2 points a game this season. Should he score 30 at Indiana on Thursday and at New Orleans on Saturday, he would need 29 points on Feb. 7 at home against Oklahoma City to break the record. Failing that, the record would be very likely to fall in his next game on Feb. 9 at home against Milwaukee.

Of course, a player as great as James is seldom just a scorer, and he showed that on Tuesday night, by recording a triple double, with 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

In addition to his scoring exploits, James moved into fourth on the career assists list. Credit…Elsa/Getty Images

It was less noticed, but on Tuesday night James also moved into fourth place on the career assists list, behind only the crack passers John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Chris Paul.

“That’s what I love to do, get my guys involved, try to put the ball on time and on target with my guys throughout the course of my career,” James said after the game.

James also ranks 32nd in rebounds, ninth in steals and ninth in 3-pointers made. He has been selected to six all-defensive teams.

And even at age 38, he is clearly nowhere near done. He will surpass the points record soon. But might he go on to obliterate it?

Honestly, it is probably up to him. He would still be a valuable player for any team in the league and could be for several more years at least. He may decide to hang up his sneakers at or near the top of his game. But if he chooses to stick around for late career play a bit below his best, as Jordan did with Washington, for example, he could put the points record far out of sight.

Abdul-Jabbar played full time through age 41. His averages for his final four years were 23, 18, 15 and 10 points a game. A similar falloff for James from his average of 30 might have him averaging 25, 22 and 17 the next three years.

Because of some injuries over the last three seasons, James has appeared in roughly 70 percent of his team’s games. If that holds, he would average 57 games a season. Using those estimates, he would add more than 3,500 more points to his already formidable total and wind up with perhaps 42,000 points. “I’m going to be in this league at least a few more years,” he said on Tuesday.

And those estimates are fairly conservative. His scoring might not fall off as quickly as Abdul-Jabbar’s did. He may be able to play more than 57 games a season. And he may decide to play more than three more years. James could well wind up with a total that will take something superhuman to surpass.

Certainly he showed few concessions to age on Tuesday night, whether hitting a 3, driving the lane or making a layup with 20 seconds left in overtime to seal the win. He played a team-high 43 minutes, and ranks ninth this season in the league in minutes per game, hardly the sign of a player slowing down anytime soon.

James will be the first to say that winning games matters more than individual statistics. While he has won four titles, most recently in 2020, this season the Lakers are on the outside of the playoffs. While he will be lauded when he does break the record, his primary focus is on turning his team around.

Asked how much he thought about the scoring record during games he replied: “Not at all. I didn’t get to this point in my career by thinking about records or how many points I have.”

He added: “Maybe when I get super-duper close, maybe it will be at the back of my mind or the front of my mind. But I never put that type of pressure on myself. I just go and play.”

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