CLEVELAND (AP) – LeBron James came up just short of 30,000 points.
Oklahoma City nearly got there, too.
Unable to stop Paul George, Russell Westbrook or Carmelo Anthony, the Cavaliers were embarrassed 148-124 on Saturday by the Thunder, who not only rolled to their fourth straight win but kept James shy of a historic milestone.
George scored 36 points, Westbrook had 23 and 20 assists and Anthony dropped a season-high 29 points as the Thunder tied the record for the most points given up by a Cleveland team in a regulation game. Philadelphia scored 148 on the Cavs back in 1972.
“I’ve never in my basketball life gave up 148 points, not even probably playing video games,” James said. “They got everything that they wanted. Inside, outside, they had it moving.”
A roller-coaster season in Cleveland is on a steady, accelerating descent. The Cavaliers have lost 10 of 14, and in the past 12 days, the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions have been blown out by 28, 34 and 24 points.
It’s gotten so bad, so quickly that coach Tyronn Lue’s job could be at stake.
“I would hope not, but I really don’t know,” James said when asked if Lue could be fired. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with our team. I have no idea what conversations have been going on. Me personally, I’ve been trying to stay as laser-sharp as I can to keep my guys ready to go out and play.
“Obviously, it hasn’t resulted in wins, but I got to stay as fresh mentally as much I can with the struggles. I can’t worry about job securities and trades and things of that nature. I just stay as focused as I can every night to go out and compete and try to help us win ballgames.”
James finished with 18 points and remains seven shy of becoming the seventh player in NBA history to reach the 30,000-point plateau. His next chance is Tuesday when the Cavs visit San Antonio.
James entered the fourth quarter within reach of 30,000. But after he missed two shots, James was replaced with 6:37 remaining and the Cavs trailing 128-101. The 33-year-old hoped to make history in front of his home fans and family, but it wasn’t to be.
James will eventually get to 30,000 and join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Michael Jordan (32,292), Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) and Dirk Nowitzki (30,808) on the select list.
The Thunder didn’t want to be props in a ceremony for James.
“I was hopeful it took two games for him to get that,” George said. “I’ve been part of a lot of those baskets he’s had. That’s an achievement or a milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”
Oklahoma City center Steven Adams scored 25 points on 12-of-13 shooting, and the Thunder’s starters combined for 121 points as the Cavs were unable to do anything defensively.
That’s been a major problem all season with the league’s oldest team.
“We gotta go back to the drawing board on that end,” said Isaiah Thomas, who finished with a season-high 24 points but was exposed on the defensive end. “As players, we gotta take pride in defense. We gotta take pride in getting stops as a group collectively.”
The Thunder had their way with Cleveland in the first half. They scored 76 – the most given up in any half by the Cavs this season – and took the air out of the Quicken Loans Arena crowd. Before the second half began, the arena’s in-game emcee told the fans, “The first half is over. Forget about it.”
That was impossible as the Thunder extended their lead to 24 when Anthony drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key, sapping whatever energy Clevelanders had left.
The Cavs made one last push with James making a layup to cut the lead to 12. But Oklahoma City didn’t let up and eventually pushed the lead to 31.
When he reaches 30,000 points, James will be the youngest player to do so, but it wasn’t by design.
“It’s never been a chase,” he said. “I don’t chase points. I don’t chase anything when it comes to scoring. When I get it, I get it and that’s how I’ve gotten to this point in my career. The disappointing thing is that we lost, so it doesn’t matter.”
Thunder: G Andre Roberson played his second game after missing eight with left patellar tendinitis. He had a forgettable six-second span, missing four straight free throws and committing a foul. … Coach Billy Donovan first watched James play as a high school sophomore, when he stood out more than others. “In seeing him at that age you see a lot of times young kids that are sophomores with his ability – maybe not all of his ability – but you see talented players,” Donovan said. “They never get better. A lot of times it’s difficult to get better because there’s such a microscope. The thing that’s amazing to me is he’s had a lot of attention on him and a very, very young age and he always got better.”
Cavaliers: C Kevin Love played only three minutes before leaving with an unspecified illness. … With the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaching, there is growing speculation that Cleveland will make a deal – or two – to improve the league’s oldest roster. Lue doesn’t necessarily believe change is essential. “I like the group that we have,” he said. “We just haven’t been healthy the whole year. I’m just focused on coaching the guys that we have.”
Thunder: Host Brooklyn on Tuesday.
Cavaliers: At San Antonio on Tuesday.
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