LeBron James set a half-hearted screen on the left elbow before popping to the top of the key where Russell Westbrook found him with a pass.
James caught it and squared up without hesitation, effortlessly flipping the ball toward the hoop during the first quarter Sunday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.
As it passed through the rim and into the net, James became the second player in NBA history to score 38,000 career points. The player he’s chasing, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is the only other member of the club.
After the next timeout, when James’ milestone basket was shown on the Crypto.com Arena scoreboard, public address announcer Lawrence Tanter called it another great moment in Lakers history.
But these moments in James’ career have hardly been great as far as the team’s play is concerned. When he passed Michael Jordan in Los Angeles on the all-time scoring list, the Lakers lost. When he moved past Kobe Bryant, the team lost in Philadelphia, and when he became the second all-time leading scorer in Washington, that also came in a Lakers loss.
And by the time the horn sounded and Joel Embiid fired the ball up in the air, points 38,000 and 38,001 couldn’t truly be celebrated, another loss marring one of James’ milestone achievements.
Russell Westbrook’s potential winning drive didn’t connect, the Lakers losing another heartbreaker to Philadelphia, this time 113-112.
James was terrific, executing a 360-degree spinning layup in the second half in yet another reminder that he’s aging in a way few have in any sport.
He scored 35 to go with 10 assists and eight rebounds. And Westbrook had 20 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists — his fourth triple-double this season since moving to the bench, the most for an NBA reserve.
But for all the fight and excellence from the top of the Lakers’ roster, they left the court losers for the third straight time — Embiid’s silky midrange game in the fourth the ultimate difference.
A Troy Brown Jr. three-pointer and a Lakers stop gave them a chance to win, but coach Darvin Ham didn’t call timeout as Westbrook moved the ball up the left wing. With Embiid guarding him, Westbrook fumbled the ball before attacking the rim, ending the game sitting underneath the basket in frustration.
Embiid finished with 35 points and 11 rebounds and James Harden scored 24 to go with 13 assists.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.