OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley took a moment in the locker room late Wednesday night to give LeBron 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.”
Just a small sampling of the hurt James has put on the rest of the NBA for the last decade.
James became the youngest player in league history to score 20,000 points and also surpassed 5,000 assists on a milestone night, leading the Heat to a 92-75 victory over the undermanned Golden State Warriors.
On a road trip that has had more bad news than good, James rewrote the headlines and the record books. He finished with 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in just 30 minutes to grab his latest slice of history.
”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.”
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 Wadeadded 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.
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 halfcourt 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, surpassed the scoring mark when he dribbled from the wing and pulled up in the lane to make an off-balance jumper with 2:45 remaining in the second quarter to give him 20,001 career points. He needed 18 points entering the game to become the 38th NBA player to reach the milestone.
James said he knew before the shot he was a point away from the milestone.
”The best part about it is I was in a rhythm, too, so it wasn’t one of those forced shots,” he said. ”I was able to get the switch on David Lee and get to the elbow and make a shot. It’s pretty cool.”
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.”
James already was the youngest player in league 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. 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.
”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.”
With the long-awaited record out of the way, James and Wade switched roles and opened the second half almost the same way the duo began the first.
Wade tossed an alley-oop just inside halfcourt 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 fell to 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.