January 20, in Boston. As things line up, that would be the perfect setting for Lakers forward LeBron James to reach a career milestone—33,644 career points, which would put him third on the NBA’s all-time list, passing Kobe Bryant.
If James keeps scoring at his current pace, 26.1 points per game, then he will catch Bryant in 36 games. If he does not miss any time, the Lakers’ 36th game from now will be at TD Garden as part of a five-game January trip through Houston and up to the East Coast. The game also figures to be the highlight of the NBA’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day slate.
Whenever James does finally pass Bryant, he will remain well behind No. 2 on the all-time scoring list, Karl Malone, who has 36,928 points to his credit. James might pass Malone eventually, but likely not until the 2021-22 season at the earliest.
He could potentially pass all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points the same year. That would be a longshot but considering the way James still is scoring—at age 34, no less—it’s possible.
As for catching Bryant, it would be fitting for James to reach that plateau in Boston, where both he and Bryant were among the most hated, and respected, opponents for the vociferous local crowd. Bryant faced the Celtics in two NBA Finals, in 2008 and 10, while James has a complicated history in the playoffs against the Celtics.
It was a playoff disaster against the Celtics in 2010 that precipitated James’ first departure from Cleveland in 2010. He went to Miami, and the Heat battled Boston twice on their way to the Finals in 2011 and 2012. The 2012 Eastern Conference finals series featured one of the greatest performances of James’ career, a 45-point, 15-rebounds effort in Game 6 in Boston.
James again needed a monster Game 6 (46 points) to beat Boston, this time in 2018’s East finals, with James back in Cleveland. The Cavs won in seven games.
Gary Payton, Isiah Thomas Also in James’ Sights
James is not only on the career scoring watch-list, however. He is leading the league with 11.1 assists, which means he should be moving up on the all-time assist chart before his 35th birthday, on December 30. James has 8,740 assists, 10th in NBA history.
He is 227 assists behind Gary Payton for ninth on the all-time assist list and if his passing keeps up at the current pace, he will leapfrog Payton on December 17 in Indiana. After that, next on the list for James will be former Pistons great Isiah Thomas, who has 9,061 assists to his credit.
In another bit of fitting coincidence, James would pass Thomas in Detroit on January 5, if he keeps up his 11.1 assist-per-game rate and does not miss any games.
Of course, James can be expected to take a game or two off because of “load management” and the Lakers do have a plan for that. But James might not need many games off until the second part of the season. And, besides, he said last month he has no issues with a heavy workload.
“I’m born to have workload,” James told reporters. “It is who I am, both on and off the floor. I’ve trained my body all through the summer to be able to take contact, fall on the ground and be able to get up.”
Indeed, despite playing in the fourth-most playoff games in league history (239), James has missed only 98 games in his 17-year career, 27 coming last year with his groin (and other) injuries. That durability is why he’s clawing his way up these all-time lists.