Despite desperately needing every game left on the schedule, the Lakers dropped another big game against Western Conference rival OKC, 133-130. A loss like this usually leads to a conversation on what is lacking from L.A., but this night wasn’t really about the result on the court. It was about LeBron James’ pursuit of the all-time scoring record.
Needing 36 points to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James got there late in the third with a classic 21-foot jump fadeaway from the elbow. Kareem and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver greeted the King at halfcourt with the basketball as LeBron gave a teary-eyed heartfelt speech upon breaking this unbreakable record.
Unfortunately, reaching a historic milestone in a loss has been an odd trend for LeBron since joining the Lakers.
When he passed Michael Jordan in scoring, the team lost by 16 to Denver. When he passed Kobe, they lost by 17 to the Sixers. When he became the all-time leading scorer, (including playoff points), L.A. lost to Draymond Green-less Warriors. He reached the 10,000 points, 10,000 assists and 10,000 rebounds mark in a 29-point defeat vs. the Phoenix Suns.
And when he passed Karl Malone? The Lakers blew a 16-point lead to Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma-less Wizards.
Like I said, this has been a tradition.
From the start, it was all about Lebron. The crowd was electric, cheering every time LeBron touched the ball, took a shot, or cut toward the basket. The excitement led to a couple of forced shots from LeBron, but he settled down and hit a corner three to thunderous applause. The first quarter ended with the Lakers down by two and LeBron with 8 points, needing 28 to get the record.
LeBron weaving through traffic! pic.twitter.com/71ottDzxzo— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) February 8, 2023
Despite the celebratory energy of the crowd on the court, the game was all OKC in the first half. The Thunder were giving the Lakers fits, shooting 63% from three; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was unguardable, dropping 30 points on the night and by the time we reached the halfway point, OKC already had 76 points and a comfortable 10-point lead.
Where was Anthony Davis tonight?
His numbers were subpar — 13 points and 8 rebounds — and his defensive awareness was nonexistent. In the second, he had an awful non-closeout which led to an OKC three and it seems as though every 50/50 ball he was involved in went the Thunders’ way. Perhaps it was just an off night in a game that was certainly filled with emotion; maybe he was just tired since he just recently came back, and last week, the Lakers played four games.
Whatever the reason(s), AD’s energy level left much to be desired tonight.
Late in the third, the moment everyone was anticipating finally occurred. LeBron hits a long jumper to surpass Kareem on the all-time list. There was an extended celebration and a ton of emotion from LeBron as he became the lone all-time scorer in NBA history.
Kenrich Williams just became a legendary bar trivia answer pic.twitter.com/r85QRUIHiG— SB Nation (@SBNation) February 8, 2023
76,775 career points between the three of these guys pic.twitter.com/Oas20CEdSm— SB Nation (@SBNation) February 8, 2023
Kenrich Williams was defending Dirk Nowitzki on 3/18/19 when he moved to 6th place on the NBA scoring list.— SB Nation (@SBNation) February 8, 2023
He was also guarding LeBron James tonight when LeBron moved into 1st place on the NBA scoring list. pic.twitter.com/I60SHkZaUt
But believe it or not, there was still a game to finish after the long ceremony. And, down by five entering the final quarter, the Lakers’ early woes came back to haunt them. Unable to slow down the OKC offense and with only LeBron and Russ going at all offensively, L.A. couldn’t close the gap — despite getting close a few times after James checked out and OKC lost a bit of focus defensively — and the Lakers are now a woeful 25-30 overall on the season.
Tonight’s milestone gives the Laker faithful a moment to remember from a season they’d likely prefer to soon forget. For the next 24 hours, there will be countless articles and plenty of adoration and admiration for The King. It will all be deserved for his career-long greatness.
After this moment passes, however, it’ll be back to his — and Lakers’ — sad current reality. A team five games under .500, struggling to gain any semblance of forward momentum, hours away from the NBA trade deadline, and days away from the All-Star break. If things are ever going to turn around in this season, they need to happen soon. A victory against Milwaukee on Thursday would be ideal, but that will be easier said than done as the Bucks hold a 37-17 record and have won eight in a row.
With a loss tonight, James’ milestone may be the only thing to celebrate during this two-game homestand.