LeBron James has officially hit the home stretch of his pursuit of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record for the most points in NBA history. As of Tuesday’s thrilling overtime victory at Madison Square Garden, James is now only 89 points away from making history. On his current average of 30.2 points per game, he would break the record on Feb. 7 against the Thunder.
Of course, we know that averages can be a bit misleading. There are several factors to consider here. Does James care if he breaks the record on the road, or would he prefer to do it at home? Does the opponent matter? And what about his own teammates?
Anthony Davis is back in the lineup now. Rui Hachimura needs shots after his acquisition via trade as well. So maybe James gets hot for a few more games. Maybe he’s cold. So instead of relying on an average, let’s take a game-by-game approach to predict how many points he’ll score against each opponent to break Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time record.
Thursday, Feb. 2 @ Pacers: 25 points
The Pacers held James to just 22 points in their first meeting this season, but the greater concern here, even if it makes a win more likely, is that the absence of Tyrese Haliburton creates conditions for a blowout. The Lakers aren’t going to push James into extra minutes if this game isn’t close. So on the fourth night of a lengthy road trip, James will put up numbers, but he’s not going to go crazy. — Projected points away from record postgame: 64
Saturday, Feb. 4 @ Pelicans: 24 points
When a healthy Anthony Davis plays against the Pelicans, he tends to dominate. He scored 87 points combined in two meetings against his old team in 2020. The trouble is, either the schedule or injuries have weakened him for most of his subsequent matchups. Now that Davis appears to be relatively healthy, he’s probably going to do the lion’s share of the scoring for the Lakers in this one. While James is currently on pace to break the record in this game, if he sits out the Nets matchup as we predict and tallies the previous numbers, he would be within striking distance on any night he steps on the floor following the five-game road trip. — Projected points away from record postgame: 40
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Tuesday, Feb. 7 vs. Thunder: 26 points
This is roughly when we should expect the gravity of the record to hit him and for him to start pressing a bit. Remember, Stephen Curry was taking over 14 3-pointers per game in the seven games leading up to his 3-point record-breaker last season, and he was hitting them at only a 34.7 percent clip. So expect a high-volume, low-efficiency game out of James in this one, especially since he’ll be spending it in the “Dorture Chamber.” Few defenders are better at forcing big wings into shooting jumpers than Luguentz Dort, so this will likely be a relatively quiet James game, but he’ll just be a few buckets away by this point. — Projected points away from record postgame: 14
Thursday, Feb. 9 vs. Bucks: 34 points
If you’re a conspiracy theorist, here’s something to take note of: The Feb. 7 game between the Lakers and Thunder is not slated for national television. The late window game for TNT is the Timberwolves against the Nuggets. But this game? It will be nationally televised as the second half of TNT’s back-to-back. Do with that information what you will. Regardless, the pace takes us to Milwaukee, a team James has tended to succeed against. It’s a home game for the Lakers, allowing the team plenty of room to honor him. It comes against a worthy opponent, and there will surely be postgame quotes about how Giannis Antetokounmpo — his opposing All-Star Game captain — might be next. It’s simply too easy a scene to set. Expect this game to be the record-breaker, and, word to the wise: If LeBron is as close to the record at tipoff as we think he is going to be, this isn’t the night to arrive fashionably late.
After nearly 39 years, the NBA has a new all-time scoring king, and his name is LeBron James.