LeBron becomes fastest to 15,000
If indeed LeBron James decides to leave Cleveland, fans in Chicago would certainly hail The King. They certainly let out enough cheers along with those oohs and aahs as he soared around the United Center on Friday night.
James became the youngest player to score 15,000 career points, breaking Kobe Bryant's mark by more than two years, and the Cavaliers pulled away to beat the Bulls 92-85 for their 12th win in 13 games.
Breaking that record, James said, was "very humbling" and the result of all the time he spends honing his game.
"I was born with a God-given gift," he said. "I take full advantage of it by being able to do what I do on the basketball court. Hopefully, I can continue to stay healthy, and hopefully, I'll continue to break records."
James scored 13 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, giving him 15,026 in his career, and had 11 rebounds. He scored seven in a row late in the game as Cleveland increased its lead to 10, sending the Bulls to their 10th straight loss.
James reached the milestone at 25 years, 79 days, and he did it in his 540th game. Bryant was 27 years, 136 days and playing his 657th game, according to STATS LLC, when he did it for the Los Angeles Lakers.
"There's not a milestone that I think he's going to attain that would shock me at all," coach Mike Brown said.
The question is: Whose uniform will he be wearing when he reaches them? James, who can opt out of his contract after the season, would be the top attraction in a star-studded free-agent class if he decides to leave, and the Bulls will have the salary-cap room to offer a maximum deal.
James praised the Chicago fans, saying, "To respect the way I play the game when they've seen the greatest basketball player of all time, with tonight it's real humbling."
Would James want to keep playing here?
"I'm here," he said. "They can see me until I catch the plane."
Mo Williams added 18 points for the Cavaliers, who continued to roll without the injured Shaquille O'Neal. They're 10-1 with their big man recovering from a thumb injury.
The Bulls hung close without the injured Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, but matched their longest losing streak since November 2001 despite strong efforts by rookies Taj Gibson (20 points, 13 rebounds) and James Johnson (16 points).
"It's really frustrating right now," veteran Kirk Hinrich said. "I don't know how else to explain it."
James, who reached the 15,000-point mark in the opening minutes, put away the Bulls in the closing minutes.
He checked back into the game with just over 7 minutes left and Chicago up 75-74 and immediately delivered a two-handed alley-oop dunk, hanging on the rim. He hit back-to-back jumpers before a 3-pointer by Anthony Parker gave Cleveland an 83-78 lead with about 4 minutes left, and James scored seven straight after a dunk by the Bulls' Taj Gibson to make it 90-80 with 50 seconds left.
At one point after he checked back in, James turned toward the Chicago bench and asked: "Do you want to shoot it? I'll shoot the ball."
The loss simply added to the misery for the Bulls.
Deng could miss two to three more weeks because of a strained right calf, putting his status for the rest of the season in question. Rose has now missed four straight because of a sprained left wrist he sustained in a collision with Orlando's Dwight Howard. He is a gametime decision for Saturday at Philadelphia, as is center Joakim Noah, who has missed the past 10 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
The injuries came at a bad time for the Bulls, who just wrapped up a stretch of nine straight against contenders, yet they hung in against the team with the league's best record.
James soared in for a hard right-handed dunk on a break about 4:40 into the game and hit two free throws about 40 seconds later, giving him 15,001 career points. Otherwise, he was rather quiet until the fourth.
"I was trying to make him a shooter, not let him drive whenever he wanted to," Johnson said.
NOTES: Cavs C Zydrunas Ilgauskas was back in the Cleveland area three days before he is eligible to re-sign with the Cavaliers. He declined to comment to The Associated Press on Friday following a workout at a suburban gym, but agent Herb Rudoy said in an e-mail that he'll talk to GM Danny Ferry next week.