LeBron James piling up milestones at historic pace

LeBron James has reached so many milestones in his NBA career it
might be easy to lose track.

He hasn’t.

Just a point shy of becoming the youngest player in league
history to score 20,000 points, James knew exactly where he stood
Wednesday night. He worked a switch off Draymond Green on the wing,
dribbled past David Lee and pulled up in the lane from 12 feet to
make an off-balance jumper with 2:45 remaining in the second
quarter.

Swish.

”The best part about it is I was in a rhythm, too, so it wasn’t
one of those forced shots,” James said. ”I was able to get the
switch on David Lee and get to the elbow and make a shot. It’s
pretty cool.”

On a road trip that has had more bad news than good, James
rewrote the headlines and the record books again.

The three-time NBA MVP also surpassed 5,000 assists on a
landmark night, leading the Miami Heat to a 92-75 victory over the
undermanned Golden State Warriors. He finished with 25 points, 10
assists and seven rebounds in just 30 minutes to grab his latest
slice of history.

In the locker room after the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and
team president Pat Riley took a moment give James the game ball and
recognize his latest record.

Players shouted and huddled in the center of the room. Then, as
Spoelstra said, ”Everybody took a shot at him – a punch, a jab, an
elbow, whatever they could get in before he started hitting
back.”

”That’s a big-time moment,” Spoelstra said. ”He’s a special
guy. He’s a special player. He’s a once-in-a-generational type of
player.”

James eclipsed both marks before halftime, helped Miami go ahead
by 34 points in the third quarter and allowed Spoelstra to rest his
starters – without debate this time – for the fourth. Dwyane Wade
added 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists and Mario Chalmers
scored 15 for the Heat, who had lost three of their last four away
from home.

James already had been the youngest player in NBA history to win
rookie of the year, record a triple-double, score 1,000 points,
score 10,000 points and win MVP honors at an All-Star game.

Add another to the list.

”It means everything,” James said. ”It means a lot. First of
all, like I continue to say, it means I’ve been able to be healthy.
To be out on the floor and do what I love to do, I love the game of
basketball and I try to give everything to the game. And hopefully
it continues to give back to me.”

David Lee had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Jarrett Jack scored
16 in place of Stephen Curry, who sprained his twice surgically
repaired right ankle during Golden State’s morning practice. The
team said X-rays were negative, and Warriors coach Mark Jackson
said he doesn’t expect Curry to be out long.

The Warriors, who upset the Heat 97-95 in Miami on Dec. 12, lost
consecutive games for only the third time this season. With center
Andrew Bogut already out indefinitely recovering from left ankle
surgery, Curry’s absence turned out to be too much to overcome
against the defending NBA champions.

”Disappointing, but we faced a team that remembered what took
place in South Beach and came with a mindset to make a point,
individually and collectively,” Jackson said. ”That’s what great
players do.”

James and Wade just overwhelmed the Warriors from the start.

Wade lobbed an alley-oop from half court that James finished
with two hands early in the first quarter. James hit Wade slicing
down the lane for a dunk moments later for his 5,000th career
assist, and James made a 3-pointer after falling hard on his right
elbow a play earlier to give the Heat a 23-14 lead.

James, who made 11 of 20 shots from the floor, needed 18 points
entering the game to become the 38th NBA player to reach the
milestone.

Previously, the youngest player to score 20,000 points was
Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who got there when he was 29 years, 122
days old. James was 28 years, 17 days on Wednesday.

”He probably would’ve had it sooner if he didn’t decide to come
down here to South Beach,” Wade said. ”It’s just a testament to
him as a player.”

Only Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain (29 years, 134 days) and Michael
Jordan (29 years, 326 days) reached the latest milestone before
turning 30.

James also is the 13th player with 20,000 points and 5,000
assists. The only active players to reach both marks are Bryant and
Boston’s Kevin Garnett.

With the long-awaited record out of the way, James and Wade
switched roles and opened the second half almost the same way they
began the first.

Wade tossed an alley-oop just inside half court to James while
two Warriors defenders watched the three-time NBA MVP soar for the
slam, part of a scintillating 26-6 surge filled with highlights to
open the third quarter and put the Heat ahead 78-44.

In a 104-97 loss at Utah on Monday, Spoelstra sat Wade and
played Chris Bosh for just 40 seconds in the fourth quarter in a
decision that had been critiqued and questioned for the past two
days by fans and national media. The Heat sliced a 19-point deficit
to two without both before falling short.

This time, the Big Three watched the final 12 minutes smiling
from the bench.

”Hopefully,” Spoelstra said, ”we can put to rest everything
that happened the other night.”

NOTES: In terms of games played, James is the seventh-fastest to
join the 20,000 club. Wednesday was his 726th regular-season game.
Chamberlain needed only 499 games to score 20,000 points. … The
Warriors are 13-3 against the Eastern Conference this season. The
two other losses came against Orlando. … Heat backup F Shane
Battier returned after missing two games with a hamstring injury.
He had two rebounds and finished 0 for 3 from 3-point range in 10
minutes.