LOS ANGELES — When LeBron James wasn’t making highlights on Wednesday, he was busy making history.
The Lakers defeated the Blazers 126-117 at the Staples Center on Wednesday, winning their fourth straight game to improve to 8-6. James turned in his most dominant performance of 2018-19, scoring a season-high 44 points, nearly tallying a triple-double and moving into the top-five of the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Here are three quick thoughts from James’s big night.
LeBron passes Wilt
Coming into Wednesday night, James needed 39 points to move past Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain to claim the No. 5 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. James was grooving all night, hitting multiple deep three-pointers and tossing in pretty fadeaways over Portland’s defenders. Importantly, the four-time MVP also cleaned up his recent struggles at the free-throw line, hitting 13 of his 15 free throws, including a fourth-quarter free-throw that pushed him past Chamberlain.
For comparison’s sake, Chamberlain averaged 30.1 PPG—second-highest all-time—over 1,045 games during his NBA career. James holds a career average of 27.2 PPG in 1,157 games.
James’s historic feat drew a standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd, and some of his teammates—including JaVale McGee—joined in the cheering from the huddle.
NBA all-time scoring leaders
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 38,387
2. Karl Malone: 36,928
3. Kobe Bryant: 33,643
4. Michael Jordan: 32,292
5. LEBRON JAMES: 31,425
6. Wilt Chamberlain: 31,419
At his current pace, James should move past Michael Jordan to claim the fourth spot before the All-Star break.
A two-way show
Although James has paced himself at times early in the season, he went deep into his bag of tricks against the Blazers, finishing with 44 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks.
All three of the blocks qualified as sensation: he stuffed a Damian Lillard dunk attempt in the first half, wiped out Nik Stauskas at the rim in the third quarter, and blocked Lillard again in the fourth. James finished off the block on Stauskas on the other end, sprinting out in transition to spin past Al-Farouq Aminu in the open court and finish a nifty lay-up that prompted a quick timeout from Blazers coach Terry Stotts.
James has missed more than his fair share of defensive rotations on the perimeter this season, but LA’s team defense is looking far more reliable during its four-game winning streak than it did to start the season.
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Lakers get hot from deep but lose Rajon Rondo to injury
James and Lillard—who finished with a team-high 31 points for Portland—both drew oohs and aahs as they traded deep pull-up threes off the dribble. Both stars had plenty of help from beyond the arc, as the Lakers tied a season-high with 15 threes and Portland hit 14 of its own. Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had three three-pointers apiece, and the Lakers will be tough to beat any time that happens, especially at home.
LA’s signature win over one of the West’s top teams was spoiled a bit, though, by news that point guard Rajon Rondo broke his right hand during the fourth quarter. The veteran floor general opened the season as the Lakers’ starter, but he moved to a reserve role following a three-game suspension for his role in a confrontation with Rockets guard Chris Paul.
Lakers coach Luke Walton said that Rondo is expected to miss multiple weeks with the injury, tough news given that LA is heading out on a three-game road trip that starts on Saturday. Ball will continue to start in Rondo’s absence, and Walton will likely turn to forward Brandon Ingram and back-up guard Josh Hart as ball-handlers when James and Ball are off the court.