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LeBron James ranks No. 2 on NBA top scorer but Lakers lose

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A free throw in Boston. A jumper in Detroit. A Kobe Bryant-inspired dunk in Los Angeles. A Banked-in-Three pointer in Toronto.

Across 19 seasons, these individual moments have been opportunities to celebrate LeBron James and his mostly unmatched basketball skills.

They were just parts of the story – points were never the full way of judging him anyway. But over time, those points added up — the alley-oop in Portland, the up-and-under in San Antonio, the step-back in Charlotte, and the layup in Chicago.

On Saturday, it was a thunderous dunk, a driving layup, a handful of threes and finally a slicing layup that propelled James to 2nd on the all-time NBA leaderboard, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The historic basket came in the middle of the second quarter of the Lakers’ 127-119 loss to the Washington Wizards. Stanley Johnson found James on a paint-cut backdoor for a right-handed layup for his 36,930 career points.

James had drawn level with Karl Malone, the previous No. 2 scorer, thanks to a three-pointer in quick succession earlier in the quarter.

On the next dead ball after the go-ahead basket, the Wizards confirmed the performance on the scoreboard. As the crowd rose for an ovation, James finally acknowledged the moment, one hand in the air, as his former teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope congratulated him.

Caldwell-Pope was also on the court in 2019 when James passed Michael Jordan in Los Angeles for 4th place and in 2020 when he passed Bryant in Philadelphia for 3rd all-time.

James reached in his 1,363. Play second place in the ranking. Malone, who scored his Finals points as a member of the Lakers, had 36,928 points in 1,476 games.

Like so many of James’ milestones this season, it came without the Lakers claiming a win. He scored 38 points and Russell Westbrook added 22, but the Lakers’ defense failed them late.

James is now 1,440 points behind Abdul-Jabbar, equaling his all-time record of 38,387 points.

On Saturday, James made a game-time decision to play. He adjusted on the second night of a back-to-back after his persistent knee swelling was no longer a problem.

He started with a putback. Added points for a smooth reverse and a thunderous one-handed dunk. He got hot from the deep and hit back-to-back triples, forcing the Wizards to time out.

And while James was hot, the Lakers offense overall kept humming after an impressive overtime win in Toronto on Friday night. That’s why, despite the Lakers’ residency deep under .500, coach Frank Vogel believes his team has a better shot than most realize.

After winning on Friday for the first time since Jan. 25, a win on Saturday would give the Lakers their first winning streak, which they won for a fourth consecutive year from Dec. 31 to Jan. 7.

Since then, the Lakers are 9-22, a stretch that has pushed them to the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture.

“I don’t like the record at all. It’s no fun to be a part of losing so much. But I think the outside perception of our direction and what we have and what the chances are this year is different than what we feel inside. I believe that. I believe so,” said Vogel before the game on Saturday. “We feel like we’re going to have at least an opportunity in play-in to play a game or two to get us into a seven-game streak. At that point, hopefully we can play our best basketball and bring Anthony Davis back. And we feel like we can win those two games and put ourselves in a position to be in a seven game streak. Again, as we continue to grow and play our best basketball, we believe in what we can achieve this year.”

The Lakers led by as much as 16 points and withstood any pressure from the Wizards, who were without Kyle Kuzma, until a three-point play by Kristap Porzingis gave Washington its first 107-106 lead.

Porzingis continued to torment the Lakers’ smaller lineups that helped fuel James’ scoring this season. The big man scored 16 points, including a game-winning three, in the fourth quarter, prompting a helpless shrug from James.

It also spoiled an efficient evening for Westbrook against his former team, who honored him with a tribute video during the game’s first timeout. Westbrook needed just 15 shots to make his 22, which also included a pair of threes.

Even so, the Lakers will need Davis to lift a defense that has let them down and wiped out another chance for momentum. Davis again completed on-court target practice before the game, as he has been doing all week recovering from a foot injury.

The Lakers wrap up a four-game road trip Monday in Cleveland.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/lakers/story/2022-03-19/lebron-james-passes-karl-malone-la-lakers-washington-wizards-game LeBron James ranks No. 2 on NBA top scorer but Lakers lose

Andrew Schnitker

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