NEW YORK — As the fanfare for LeBron James‘ quest for the NBA’s all-time scoring record reached a fever pitch on Tuesday — playing in the world’s most famous arena in the city where the longtime No. 1 scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was born — James made his mark with his passing.
James dished 11 assists in the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 129-123 overtime win over the New York Knicks, bringing his career total to 10,338 and leapfrogging Mark Jackson (10,334) and Steve Nash (10,335) to move up to No. 4 on the all-time assists list.
“It’s amazing because that’s just what I love to do and get my guys involved,” said James, who added 28 points and 10 rebounds for his first triple-double of the season, becoming the first player in league history to log a triple-double in his 20th season or beyond. “Anytime you link with some of the greats — Mark Jackson played here, was drafted here by the Knicks so it’s a super cool thing. And obviously we know when Nash was [in the league], I played against him for many, many years. His ability to pass the ball was very uncanny.”
And James’ ability to sustain at such a high level remained otherworldly, as the 38-year-old star is now 89 points away from passing Abdul-Jabbar’s record that has stood for nearly 39 years.
“He’s just a kid who’s grown before our eyes, the last 20 years at this level, has done nothing but play the right way and make the play that’s in front of him,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of James’ points and assists accumulation. “Regardless of how much he’s been criticized for a while for not taking the last shots and the over-passing — he’s just making the right plays. You saw that again tonight.”
L.A. snapped a four-game losing streak in overtime games this season, withstanding a late 6-0 run by the Knicks in the fourth quarter that tied the game before James and Anthony Davis combined to smother Julius Randle and not allow him to get off a shot at the end of regulation to force OT.
“Defensively, we’re just a different team when he’s back there and know he’s manning the paint,” Ham said of Davis, who posted 27 points, 9 rebounds and 2 steals playing in just his third game back after missing 20 straight games with a right foot injury.
It was a redemptive night for the Lakers considering the way their current five-game road trip started with an overtime loss in Boston.
Not only did they close out Tuesday’s game with better poise in the extra session, but Russell Westbrook, who was benched for the entire fourth quarter against the Celtics, was instrumental.
Westbrook had three assists and made the only shot he took in OT, finishing with 17 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals.
“I’m going to do it. I mean, it’s just a matter of time when I’m going to do it. It’s not heavy. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be in this league for at least a few more years.”
LeBron James on approaching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record
“You get a chance to kind of learn from your mistakes, at least me personally,” Westbrook said. “You get a chance to watch film and learn how you can execute down the stretch getting good shots, miss or make. And getting stops, which was big for us tonight.”
The Lakers will finish off the trip with games in Indiana on Thursday and New Orleans on Saturday. If James plays in both and maintains his 30.2 points per game average, he will pass Abdul-Jabbar at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder next Tuesday. The Lakers have another game in L.A. next Thursday against Milwaukee on Feb. 9, the day of the trade deadline, before going back on the road for a two-game trip.
“The team is very excited,” Davis said. “It’s probably going to be a surreal moment for all of us, but probably more so him. … Obviously whatever game it is, we want to be able to win the game.”
James was asked if the thought of the achievement — a hallowed record in not just basketball, but across all professional sports — was not “heavier” with it being so close.
“It’s not getting heavier,” he said. “I’m going to do it. I mean, it’s just a matter of time when I’m going to do it. It’s not heavy. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be in this league for at least a few more years.
“I’m going to do it. It’s not heavy at all.”