Game Day: Big night for LeBron, another L for Lakers

The bittersweet scenario of breaking the record on a mediocre team is looking both more bitter and more sweet than imagined

by ZeuCer
Lakers forward LeBron James, right, shoots as Clippers center Ivica Zubac, left, and forward Norman Powell defend during the second half on Tuesday night at Arena. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Editor’s note: This is the Wednesday, January 25, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning. It was a familiar story when the Clippers beat the Lakers last night, an especially hard story for LeBron James to face. Let’s look at where this is headed after a glance at other news.

The Clippers jumped out to a big lead thanks to hot three-point shooting and coasted to a 133-115 victory, their 10th in a row against the Lakers. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George had nine points in two minutes in the fourth quarter to stifle a Lakers rally. James had 46 points in the game and pulled within 178 of breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA career record of 38,387.

The Clippers rose one rung to fifth in the Western Conference. The Lakers sank one spot to 13th.

I’m reminded that before the NBA season began, the newsletter said it would be a shame if James breaks the league’s career scoring record while playing for a mediocre Lakers team.

“Circumstances like that,” I wrote, “could make the career scoring crown both the cap on an all-time-great career and a reminder of James’ and the Lakers’ decline.”

This isn’t “I told you so,” because that newsletter item got some details wrong.

LeBron’s decline has been delayed. In October, Lakers beat writer Kyle Goon calculated that LeBron would catch Kareem in his 44th game played; in fact, James has been scoring at a faster rate than predicted, and now is on track to need only 38 games.

Meanwhile, the Lakers’ decline has accelerated. Preseason lines in Las Vegas had the Lakers finishing above .500 and in the playoffs; right now they’re four games under and out of the playoff frame.

So the bittersweet scenario is looking both more bitter and more sweet than imagined.

Barring a quick Lakers turnaround, James will break pro basketball’s most meaningful individual record in early February while playing for a losing team.

That would make James different from Abdul-Jabbar, who set the record in the 1983-84 season while playing for a Lakers team that went to the NBA Finals, and different from any of the five men who held the record earlier, all of whom got it while playing for champions or championship contenders.

In the long run, the Lakers’ place in the standings at the moment won’t alter James’ place in history, but at the moment he breaks the record, it could affect how he and L.A. fans greet his achievement.

As columnist Mirjam Swanson writes in today’s Southern California News Group papers: It’s hard to feel too sorry for LeBron but, “it’s hard not to feel bad for a guy who is trying so hard and doing so much and taking L’s anyway.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham was asked last night what it was like to watch James give so much effort and not even make it a close game.

“It’s twofold,” Ham said. “I’m happy for him, and we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to give him some help in other areas.”

Some help could be on the way (but how many times are we going to think that?).

Anthony Davis could return from his foot injury and trade acquisition Rui Hachimura could make his Lakers debut in tonight’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. GM Rob Pelinka said more deals could be coming.

All of this could change with a big finish to the season, sending the Lakers into the playoffs – or at least the play-in round – with a feeling of optimism.

Otherwise, LeBron James’ season could be summed up by games like last night’s, when he has one of his best performances of the season and nothing to celebrate.


  • Lakers host the fading Spurs, victims of L.A.’s most lopsided win, a 31-point job in November (7:30 p.m., SPSN).
  • U.S. men’s soccer team faces Serbia in a friendly at BMO Stadium, née Banc of California Stadium (7 p.m., streaming on HBO Max).


Do the Lakers’ struggles as a team affect your feelings about LeBron James’ pursuit of the NBA career scoring record? Share your emotions by email ( or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).


Clippers got to be careful here: You want to build a lead, but can’t let it get to 25.” – Kyle Goon (@KyleGoon) remembering how the Lakers rallied from 25 down against the Trail Blazers. The Clippers never led by more than 23 and won by 18.

1,000 WORDS

Outnumbered: The Lakers’ LeBron James tries to shoot over the Clippers’ Ivica Zubac and Norman Powell last night at Arena. Photo is by AP’s Mark J. Terrill.


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