LeBron scoring 40,000 points will be moment for NBA to savor

LeBron James drives past a screen set by Lakers teammate Anthony Davis against Pistons forward Ausar Thompson during a game last month in Los Angeles. (Associated Press)
LeBron James drives past a screen set by Lakers teammate Anthony Davis against Pistons forward Ausar Thompson during a game last month in Los Angeles. (Associated Press)

Father Time is likely to take another loss today.

LeBron James is nine points away from becoming the first NBA player to reach 40,000. It’s obviously reasonable to think that he’ll get it today when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Denver Nuggets. James has scored at least nine points in each of his last 762 games that count, including playoffs.

He’s been held under nine points a total of nine times in 21 seasons. In other words, 40,000 is about to happen. And since 50,000 points probably won’t happen -- though one never knows with the 39-year-old James -- this will be another moment that is certainly worth savoring.

“No one has done it,” James said. “And for me to be in this position at this point and time in my career, I think it’s pretty cool. But is it one of the top things I’ve done in my career? No. Does it mean something? Of course. Why wouldn’t it?”

He never set out in pursuit of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record; it just happened. He never set out in pursuit of Vince Carter’s record of playing 22 seasons either; he’ll tie that mark next year, barring some sort of seismic change in his plans or thinking. It’s still about one thing, and that’s the ring.

The Lakers aren’t the favorites to win the title this season. But given how the oldest player in the NBA right now has performed this week, Laker Nation still has plenty of reasons to think one more run to a Larry O’Brien Trophy is possible.

What he did Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers was pure theater. He outscored the Clippers 19-16 by himself in the fourth quarter, making five 3-pointers and leading the Lakers to a wild 116-112 comeback win. And then Thursday night -- a back-to-back for a 39-year-old with a bad ankle -- he played 39 minutes, scored 31 points and had a huge chasedown block that became a game-saving play to help the Lakers get an overtime win against Washington.

“That’s why he takes good care of himself,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “The fruits of his labor are on full display with plays like that.”

The Wizards are bad, sure. But a win is a win, and the Lakers keep stacking them. They’re 9-3 in their last 12 games, are five games above .500 and now get a shot at Denver in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals mismatch.

That’s James’ focus entering today. Not getting 40,000 points.

“We just want to get better,” James said.

It’s cliché, but true. That said, he’s just doing a whole ton of unprecedented stuff.

He’s going to average about 25 points this season. There hasn’t been an “oldest player” in the NBA to average even 10 points since John Stockton scored 10.8 per game in 2002-03. James is probably going to finish with the highest scoring average of any oldest player ever; Abdul-Jabbar was the league’s oldest player when he averaged 23.4 points in 1985-86.

Here’s another oldie-but-goodie: James was an All-Star last month. Nobody had been an All-Star in a season where they were the league’s oldest player since 1991, when Robert Parish pulled it off.

“It’s just been an absolute honor to be able to grace the floor throughout my career and be out there with the greatest players in the world year in and year out,” James said in Indianapolis, when he was an All-Star for the 20th time in his 21 seasons.

The NBA couldn’t have timed this any better: Lakers vs. Nuggets, national TV, prime-time Saturday night, James nearing a milestone that nobody has ever hit and nobody will again anytime soon — if ever. The funny thing is, he’s already reached 40,000 points, depending on how one counts.

Let’s explain.

Officially, James has 39,991 points in regular-season games going into today. Unofficially, it could be argued that the real total is 40,015 points (which would have meant that he crossed the 40,000 mark Thursday). Or maybe even 40,067 points (which would have meant the milestone basket happened last Sunday in Phoenix).

He had 24 points Dec. 9 in the final of the In-Season Tournament, when the Lakers beat Indiana 123-109 for that event’s inaugural crown. But that game wasn’t a regular-season game, doesn’t count in the standings and doesn’t count in the stats either.

And he’s also scored 52 points in Play-In Tournament games, getting 22 in a win against Golden State in 2021 and 30 against Minnesota in a win last season. Those aren’t playoff games, nor are they regular-season games. They just don’t count, period.

So, he’s already done it. He’ll just do it for real today. Before long, it’ll be back to the playoff grind, already in progress, but the moment is one he will appreciate.

“To hit feats and have milestones throughout my career, they all mean something to me. Absolutely,” James said. “Obviously, there’s a pecking order of which ones are higher than others. But I would be lying to you if I said no, it doesn’t mean anything. It absolutely does.”

It won’t be the last big moment of his career. But nobody knows how many great ones are left for James. And that’s why this will be one to savor.

III

Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for the Associated Press. Write to him at [email protected].

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