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James becomes first NBA player with 40,000 points but Lakers lose

By AFP - Mar 03,2024 - Last updated at Mar 03,2024

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers scores his 40,000th career point during the first half against Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets at Crypto.com Arena on Sunday in Los Angeles, California (AFP photo)

LOS ANGELES — LeBron James became the first NBA player to reach 40,000 career regular-season points on Saturday, the 39-year-old superstar scoring nine against defending champion Denver to achieve the milestone.

But James called the historic effort “bittersweet” because it came in a losing cause as Nikola Jokic scored 35 points to rally the Nuggets late for a 124-114 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Being the first player to do something, it’s pretty cool in this league ‘cause you just know the history, you know the grace that has come through the league,” James said.

“But the main thing is always the main thing and that’s the win. And I hated that had to happen in a defeat especially versus a team that plays extremely well.

“We played some good basketball but wasn’t able to close it out, so bittersweet, but I enjoyed every moment though, while on the floor.”

James scored a team-high 26 points, 13 in the fourth quarter, but the Nuggets stretched their win streak to six games.

“I’m glad we’re playing good,” Jokic said. “We’re doing the things we want to do. We don’t have too many breakdowns. I just like how we’re playing the game right now.”

James, who just over a year ago overtook Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s all-time scoring mark, is a four-time NBA champion and four-time NBA Most Valuable Player as well as the league’s oldest active player, now in his 21st campaign.

“Just happy for him. It was a hell of an accomplishment,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Wish we could have got the win to cap it off. But my hat’s off to him. Amazing, amazing run that continues to this day.”

James scored his first basket on a fast break layup 6:20 into the opening quarter to give the Lakers an 18-12 edge, then added a 3-pointer from the left corner 63 seconds later for a 23-14 advantage.

He sank a layup 14 seconds into the second quarter to pull within two of the milestone, then missed a free throw and on the next Laker possession missed a 3-point shot.

James scored the historic basket with 10:39 remaining in the second quarter, banking in a driving layup from the left side of the basket to give the Lakers a 37-32 lead.

The crowd gave James a standing ovation during a timeout and the ball James used for the milestone hoop was removed from the game.

“Much respect and much loyalty to the Laker fan base for showing me that love during the timeout,” James said.

Asked if he thought another NBA player could crack 40,000, James replied, “I have no idea.”

“You have to play the game quite a while and have some good luck as far as injuries and things of that nature. You have to take care of your body. You have to be present on the floor and then you have to be productive as well.”

The Nuggets equalised at 89-89 entering the fourth quarter and seized command with a 9-0 run in the final minutes to lead 117-110, Denver hitting 15-of-22 from the floor in the final quarter.

“I just want to be better,” James said. “It’s always over the last few minutes of the game where they make plays, we don’t make plays that can be frustrating.”

Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. went 10-for-10 from the floor and scored 25 points while matching Jokic’s 10 rebounds.

“He was amazing,” Jokic said. “It’s always a good thing when you have a guy on your team that can shoot like that.”

The Lakers, 33-29, rank 10th in the Western Conference while the Nuggets are 42-19, third in the West but only a half-game behind leading Minnesota.

In other games, Mikal Bridges scored 38 points to lead host Brooklyn over Atlanta 114-102 while Jimmy Butler netted 37 points to power the Miami Heat over visiting Utah 126-120.

Anfernee Simons hit 30 points to lead Portland’s 107-100 overtime triumph at Memphis while Jalen Green’s 34 points led Houston over host Phoenix 118-109.

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