History awaits on Tuesday night as LeBron James puts the all-time NBA scoring record in his sights when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After 20 seasons and 38,352 career points, James is just 36 points shy of breaking the career record set by former Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during his own 20-season career.
Abdul-Jabbar plans to be on hand for the moment after holding the scoring crown for nearly 39 years following his record-breaking skyhook during a game against the Utah Jazz on April 5, 1984.
With an average of 30 points per game this season, including an average of 27 over his last three games, there remains a chance that James fails to hit the target Tuesday. History of dogged determination, however, suggests the time is now.
Complicating the personal achievement is the Lakers’ bumpy ride as a team in a season in which James and fellow star Anthony Davis have missed time with injuries. Davis is back now after a foot injury, but the Lakers are just 3-3 since he returned.
The most recent defeat was Saturday’s head-scratching 131-126 road loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. James scored 27 points in the setback.
The Lakers are in 13th place in the Western Conference, although they are just one-and-a-half games out of the 10th and final playoff play-in spot. They are three-and-a-half games out of the sixth spot, which would avoid a play-in game.
“How many games do we have left?” James said before answering his own question. “Twenty-eight games left, (and) we’re still doing the same stuff over and over.”
The Lakers blew a 12-point lead against the Pelicans, committed costly turnovers and lacked a finishing kick. So while James’ scoring pursuit has been given the most attention, the Lakers have something more team-oriented they are trying to work on.
“The sense of urgency is at an all-time high,” said Davis, who did his part with 34 points and 14 rebounds Saturday against his former team. “It has to happen now. Guys know that.”
The Thunder enter Tuesday’s game after a 141-114 road loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday. After scoring 42 points in just three quarters of action in a victory at Houston on Saturday, the Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 20 against the Warriors.
After the Thunder shot 57.7 percent from the field in a win over Houston on Saturday while scoring a franchise-record 153 points, they watched the Warriors pull a carbon copy with 57.7 percent shooting.
Now comes a one-day turnaround to not only fix what went wrong on defense, but to enter the circus that will be James’ pursuit of the scoring record in a game that recently was moved to national television.
“Treat it like any other game,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I think no matter the game, no matter what channel it’s on, no matter who we play against, if we approach the game how we did (Saturday), we’ll be all right. We’ll give ourselves the best shot.”
The Thunder are 3-5 since matching a season-best four-game winning streak from Jan. 12-18.