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Sunday, March 03, 2024

LeBron James Establishes the 40,000 Point Club, but Nuggets Rally Late to Beat Lakers, 124-114

LeBron James made history, but Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets got the 124-114 win over James' L.A. Lakers. Jokic dominated with a game-high 35 points on 16-25 field goal shooting plus 10 rebounds and seven assists. His +16 plus/minus number led both teams. Plus/minus numbers can be "noisy" and should be placed in context, but with Jokic there is a large data sample demonstrating that the Nuggets are an elite level team when he is on the court and a much weaker team when he is not on the court. Michael Porter Jr. contributed 25 points on 10-10 field goal shooting, and Jamal Murray added 24 points plus a team-high 11 assists. James led the Lakers with 26 points, and he became the first player in pro basketball history to score more than 40,000 regular season points. Rui Hachimura chipped in 23 points, and Anthony Davis scored 17 points while grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds--but no other Laker had more than four rebounds, and the Nuggets outrebounded the Lakers 47-31.

The Nuggets swept the Lakers 4-0 in the 2023 Western Conference Finals by dominating in the second half, and they used that same formula to win this game: the Lakers led 66-58 at halftime, but in the second half the Nuggets outscored the Lakers 66-48 and outshot the Lakers .636 to .476. The Lakers played well offensively overall--scoring 114 points while shooting .528 from the field, including .414 from three point range--but their defense is just not at a championship level. In other words, what I have been saying about the Lakers for several years is still true: they don't need "lasers" (elite three point shooters), Frank Vogel was not the problem, Russell Westbrook was not the problem, the "tremendous trio" that the Lakers received in the Westbrook trade was not the answer, and the Lakers will not be a legitimate championship contender until they consistently play elite defense.

The Lakers led 110-108 with 4:11 to go in the fourth quarter after James made a driving layup, but the Nuggets closed the game with a 16-4 run. James scored 13 fourth quarter points on 6-8 field goal shooting while playing all 12 minutes. Murray led the Nuggets with nine fourth quarter points, while Jokic scored six points on 3-3 field goal shooting in eight minutes. Jokic led both teams with a +12 plus/minus number in the fourth quarter. 

Since James joined the Lakers in 2018, he has been stacking up individual accomplishments, but the Lakers have not accomplished much collectively other than winning the 2020 "bubble" championship: the Lakers missed the playoffs in 2019 and 2022, lost in the first round in 2021, and--as noted above--were swept by the Nuggets in the 2023 Western Conference Finals. James' personal milestones during that period are notable:

On January 23, 2018, James became the youngest member of the 30,000 point club.

On February 7, 2023, James broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's regular season career scoring record of 38,387 points.

Last night, James became the first player to score 40,000 career regular season points. That is a staggering number: The 10,000 point club is a milestone accomplishment that relatively few pro basketball players reach, so James is now the equivalent of a very good NBA career ahead of the 30,000 point mark! For further context, it should be noted that when LeBron James entered the NBA in 2004, the 30,000 point club had just five members: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Julius Erving. The 20,000 point club had 32 members (including the five players listed above). Rules changes and style of play changes have made both clubs somewhat less exclusive--the 30,000 point club now has eight members, and the 20,000 point club now has 55 members--but it is amazing that James has doubled the scoring output of all but 54 players out of the thousands who have played pro basketball for the past 75-plus years. James' durability and consistency is remarkable, as is the fact that he is still playing at an All-NBA level as a 39 year old. One hesitates to call any record unbreakable, but even with the lax defense being played in the NBA today it is difficult to foresee a player averaging 2000 points per season for 20 seasons, which is what it would take to match James' current total--and James conceivably could pad that total by 2000 or more points!

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:39 AM



At Sunday, March 03, 2024 10:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laker fans upset that Denver didn’t burn a time out after the 40K bucket. Looks like they’d rather win than celebrate.

At Sunday, March 03, 2024 11:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since he joined he has done a bunch of things individually “except for the 2020 title”. Btw they did get to conf finals last year.

Idk, it’s hard to win with two guys shooting 26-35 on opposing team. Before you troll the defense, take a look at those makes and see what could have been done better.

Is the defense worse than historical? Is it really “rule changes and style of play changes” or are teams just better at scoring. 5-out offense, centers shooting 3’s at 30%+, better finishing, better ball handling at all positions, step back footwork to get space — this is why scoring is up. Players are better at getting buckets.

At Sunday, March 03, 2024 3:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

2nd anonymous, you might have some valid points, but I feel what David is saying is playing elite defense consistently, which the Lakers don't do. James/Davis are a great 1-2 punch, maybe a top 3 1-2 punch in the league still, but they're often hurt and aren't consistently putting forth great performances game to game.

David, I hesitate to say James is playing at an all-NBA level(top 15 in the league) given that his team is #10 out of 15 teams in the West currently and he's playing with another high-level AS player, though I'd put him at an AS level for sure. On the surface, it'd be hard to argue both Davis/James aren't certainly top 15 players in the league. But, then we have to ask ourselves why is their team only #10 out of 15 teams in their conference, and they're currently not to projected to even make the playoffs. Something doesn't add up. James is still playing great and remains super durable this late in his career is astounding. But, this season seems to be the story of his career often. His teams underperform consistently. Either in the regular season, or in the postseason, or both. Sure, he's been able to win 4 titles, which is amazing, though 2 of them in shortened seasons and another was a lucky bounce away from not happening. I have a hard time imagining players like Kobe or Jordan not having at least 7-8 titles if they followed the same career path James has and played with the players James has.

At Monday, March 04, 2024 12:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I mentioned the 2023 WCF appearance in my article--twice.

If the Lakers cannot do better than the defense they played, then they are not a championship contender, and it would be correct to ask why James and Davis are ranked as highly as they are ranked historically. A team's best players set the tone defensively in terms of attention to game plan detail, effort, and execution--and the Lakers have only excelled defensively sporadically since James joined the team. It is not coincidental that their best defensive stretch corresponds with their "bubble" title. The Lakers' defensive field goal percentage in the 2020 playoffs was .453 (third among the 16 playoff teams).

Second Anonymous:

James is averaging 25.3 ppg, 7.9 apg, and 7.0 rpg this season. Those numbers are in line with his career averages. His field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage exceed his career percentages, and his free throw percentage is just a tick below his career percentage. Statistically, James is having a "normal" season for him, and he has made the All-NBA Team every season of his career except for his rookie season.

That being said, you make a couple valid points:

1) James' teams often underperform despite his gaudy individual statistics.
2) It is reasonable to suggest that Jordan or Kobe would have won more championships than LeBron has if they had been provided the same career path.

I have often said that James is the most puzzling great player I have ever observed. His talent and work ethic are undeniable. He is incredibly durable. He has proven on multiple occasions that he is willing and able to produce in clutch moments--and yet something seems to be missing, as we see this season while watching a team with two of the NBA's 75 Greatest Players struggling to stay in the top 10 in the West. Kobe made the playoffs twice with Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown, and Smush Parker, so we can say that Kobe would not have struggled to make the playoffs with Anthony Davis. I know that some people will say that James should be cut some slack because of his age/longevity, but the reality is that precisely because James is still playing at a high level individually it is reasonable to question why that is not translating into team success.

At Monday, March 04, 2024 10:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard for me to distinguish who is better currently between Davis/James. They both are great, but they both are so lackluster sometimes. I'd lean towards Davis as they're both great, not elite, offensively, but Davis is elite defensively. However, Davis' mental state seems to be more suited for a #2 role unlike James who will take on full responsibilities of the #1 role. Regardless, they both deserve lots of blame for the Lakers' struggles these past few years.

I'm definitely not a James defender, but I'm not as concerned with this season or last season that much, though he still made the WCF. I'm looking at his entire career. Nobody else in NBA history has even come close to his productivity with the mileage he has. But yes, he's still playing at a high level. Not sure where, top 15-20 in NBA. Davis is in same area probably. So, the question we have which we've usually had for most of his career is why do his teams often underperform? And it's not like the cupboard is bare after Davis/James. Their cast is solid. They shouldn't be currently projected to not even make the playoffs as a #8 seed. We know James is very concerned with individual accolades. That doesn't help the team. He often plays in a detrimental way to his team's success regardless of what his individual stats are. His team this season and the last few seasons might not be winning titles, but they should be so much better than they have performed.

At Monday, March 04, 2024 2:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I would not overcomplicate this. James is averaging 25 ppg-7 rpg-8 apg this season. That is All-NBA caliber production. If one takes the position that no player from a non-playoff team should be selected to the All-NBA Team, then James is a fringe candidate now (or a non-candidate if one does not count the Play-In Tournament teams). Otherwise, he is clearly having an All-NBA caliber season (assuming that he surpasses the 65 games played threshold, which he is on target to do).

Davis is averaging 25 ppg-12 rpg-2.4 bpg. That is All-NBA caliber production, so the same reasoning that I applied above to James also applies to him. Davis has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not have the requisite mentality or durability to be the number one player on a championship contender, but at his best he can be the second best player, as he was in 2020--and it should be obvious that the second best player can be the team's best player in a given game or even in a short stretch of games.

At Monday, March 04, 2024 2:14:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

Seeing as how James is seeking a multi-year contract, he could easily establish the 45,000 point club and I wouldn’t be shocked if there are at least 10,000 points between him and Kareem when he finally does retire. Athletes in every sport are playing a lot longer than in previous eras but James is taking it to a completely different level.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you aren’t overly familiar with professional surfing but I’m sure you have heard the name “Kelly Slater”at some point. He won his first world title in 1992 at the age of 20 and he went on to win 11 titles overall with the most recent one in 2011 at the age of 39. He is currently in his early fifties and is still competing on the championship tour. He is to professional surfing what Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan combined are to professional basketball. I just felt compelled to mention Kelly Slater on the topic of longevity.

At Monday, March 04, 2024 2:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that 45,000 points does not seem out of reach, with the caveat that once an athlete passes the 35-40 age range decline (or career-ending injury) can happen suddenly.

You are correct both that I am not very familiar with professional surfing and that I have heard of Kelly Slater. The comparison is interesting, but I don't have anything to add about it.

At Monday, March 04, 2024 4:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with your general assessment of James' career, and the way that his gaudy individual numbers often do not correlate with team success. I am just explaining the justification supporting my statement that James is playing at an All-NBA level this season; my statement does not preclude the possibility that a counterargument can be made suggesting (1) players on non-playoff teams should not be selected to the All-NBA Team or (2) the stark lack of correlation between the individual numbers posted by the James/Davis duo and the team's lack of success suggest that those individual numbers are not as valuable or meaningful as they may seem.

Since you have stated your skepticism that James is a top 15 player this season, who would you select to the All-NBA Team, or at least who would you select as the forwards? James is a forward, so to leave him off suggests that he is no better than the seventh best forward in the NBA this season, because six forwards will be selected to the All-NBA Team overall (assuming that there are no ties in the voting).

At Saturday, March 16, 2024 12:17:00 PM, Anonymous G8oraid said...

But the post only talks about them being swept to downplay getting to conf finals. As if losing 4-0 (3 of the games were super competitive) is the only thing that matters — not that they beat two other really good teams and one was prior year winner to get there.

Denver, I think is just a hard matchup for lakers. Esp when mpg goes 10-10 or something.

At Saturday, March 16, 2024 12:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that the Lakers do not match up well with the Nuggets. That is why the Nuggets swept the Lakers in the 2023 WCF. A sweep, contrary to what you seem to imply, is not a close series, even if some of the games were close: 4-0 equals domination, and means that the superior team consistently figured out how to get scores and get stops when it mattered most.

Somehow, Jokic consistently manages to outduel two players on the NBA's 75 Greatest Players List. That is interesting, particularly since so many media members insisted that Frank Vogel and Russell Westbrook were holding back the greatness of James and Davis. Vogel and Westbrook are gone, and the Lakers have not improved in any meaningful way.

It is also interesting--as I noted in the article--that since James joined the Lakers they have not advanced past the first round three times. Somehow, most of the media coverage that James receives fails to mention this or, to borrow a word, "downplays" this.


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