James closes on NBA scoring record, Lakers fall to Pelicans

February 5, 2023 GMT
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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) pulls down a rebound against New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) pulls down a rebound against New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When LeBron James was pulling up his dribble to float an alley-oop pass to Anthony Davis, or diving into the stands in an attempt to regain the ball for the Lakers, he appeared far more concerned with immediate team goals than making NBA history.

Yet, after nearly 40 minutes on the court, James couldn’t stop Los Angeles from losing ground in the standings, even as he gained on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring mark.

James moved 36 points away from breaking the NBA career scoring record in the Lakers’ 131-126 loss to New Orleans on Saturday night that ended the Pelicans’ losing streak at 10 games.

“I just want to win,” James said. “You know, you play the game the right way and see what happens.”

James had 27 points to go with nine rebounds and six assists as he continued to close in on Abdul-Jabbar’s record total of 38,387 points.

“I’m tired as hell,” James said, but added, “I’ll be ready to go on Tuesday,” when the Lakers play next.

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Brandon Ingram had his best game since returning 10 days earlier from a nearly two-month injury absence, scoring 35 points for the Pelicans on an array of drives and jumpers, sometimes in heavy traffic as he was fouled.

CJ McCollum had 23 points, highlighted by a late 3 to help New Orleans close out the final 3:14 on a 9-5 run that kept the Lakers at bay.

“We just continued to attack across the board,” said Pelicans coach Willie Green, whose team won for just the fourth time in 19 games. “Every guy on our team that touched the floor came in and played with force and played with confidence. That is what is going to take for us to get over the hump.”

Davis had 34 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers. They led by 12 when James’ finger role made it 84-72 in the third quarter.

The Pelicans chipped away and closed the period with five quick points on McCollum’s transition floater and Jose Alvarado’s 3 after he caught a deflected inbound pass.

That sequence cut the Lakers’ advantage to 106-103, and New Orleans surged in front when Trey Murphy hit back-to-back 3s, the second from 27 feet, to make it 114-108.

The game remained tight thereafter, but the Pelicans didn’t allow Los Angeles to regain the lead.

Murphy finished with 21 points and Alvarado 18.

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Jonas Valanciunas had 18 points and 14 rebounds for New Orleans but left late in the third quarter with a right knee injury and did not return.

Russell Westbrook scored 15 points but did not play during the final 11 minutes.

“Whatever decision they make, that’s up to them,” Westbrook said, brushing off questions about the possibility of being shipped out of Los Angeles before the Feb. 9 trade deadline. “I’ve been all in since Day 1. I’m very supportive of my teammates. I compete every night.

“Whatever decision that they make, I’ll make sure I’m very professional like I always have been and always will be,” Westbrook added.

James said trade deadline rumors should not distract the Lakers from what they need to do to win games.

“It shouldn’t be an issue. The trade deadline happens every single year,” James said. “You go out and focus, no matter what happens. You’re still a professional.”

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And while James said he didn’t want to speak for the Lakers’ front office about possible trades, he didn’t quibble with the notion that Kyrie Irving, who has requested a trade and won a title with James in Cleveland, could help the Lakers.

“That’s a ‘duh’ question when talking about a player like that,” James said.

TIP-INS

Lakers: Went 2-3 during their five-game road trip that concluded in New Orleans and came in 12-16 on the road overall. ... Davis was playing in his third straight game and for the fifth time in six games since missing 20 games with a right foot injury. He reached 20 points for the 26th time in 30 games played this season and 30 points for the 11th time. ... Got 43 bench points including 13 from Troy Brown Jr. and 11 from Lonnie Walker.

Pelicans: Larry Nance Jr. had 10 points and nine rebounds. ... Have given up at least 70 first-half points in two straight. ... Shot 52% (52 of 100) for the game despite going 9 of 30 from deep, missing 11 straight 3s during the first half.

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WARM WELCOME

Fans cheered James during introductions and when he scored, particularly after his end-to-end transition dunk in the third quarter. In the fourth, when James dove into the stands chasing the ball, fans patted him on the back supportively as he lay across them and helped him up.

UP NEXT

Lakers: Host Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.

Pelicans: Host Sacramento on Sunday night.

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