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The Sports Report: Will LeBron James pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leading scorer?

LeBron James
LeBron James
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on LeBron James: Less than three weeks before turning 37, LeBron James became the oldest player to record a 30-point triple-double when he finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against the Orlando Magic on Dec. 12. He topped his own record 16 days later with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against the Houston Rockets in another milestone performance that put him past 36,000 points for his career. It was his fifth consecutive 30-point performance, a streak that included 39 points against the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day.

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Even with some gray in his beard, The King can still rule his court.

One of the few things left for James in his career is claiming the NBA’s all-time scoring record. Now on a six-game, 30-point scoring streak, James is 2,349 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who scored 38,387 points in 20 seasons.

James is in his 19th season with no signs of impending retirement, which makes the chase for Abdul-Jabbar’s record more a question of “when” rather than “if.” Yet few of the game’s elite have maintained the type of production James is searching for this late in their careers.

Among the top 10 scorers in league history, most experienced a late-career peak in scoring between their 15th and 17th seasons followed by a swift decline. Abdul-Jabbar dropped from 1,846 points in his 17th season to 1,366 in his 18th. Kobe Bryant, the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer, had a 2,133-point 17th season shortened by an Achilles injury that led to the Lakers legend limping through the final three seasons of his career.

James is going through a similar decline. In his 15th season, the Akron, Ohio, native led his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title while having the second-highest scoring season of his career. The following season, his first with the Lakers, his total points in the regular season dropped by 33.1%, from 2,251 to 1,505, the largest single-season drop in his career.

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LeBron James defying age in seemingly inevitable march to all-time scoring title

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CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: Center Ivica Zubac entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols Thursday, becoming the team’s fourth player currently sidelined because of the protocols.

Zubac had played every regular-season game since being traded to the Clippers in February 2019, a streak that ends at 205 games. He had started all 35 games this season, averaging a career-best 9.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 25 minutes per game, also a career best.

His absence leaves the Clippers with 10 available players before Friday’s game in Toronto, and 11 if point guard Reggie Jackson is available. He is listed as questionable while he ramps up his conditioning following his own stay in the health and safety protocols. Teams are required to play if they have at least eight available players. It is feasible for the Clippers to add another player on a hardship exception in time for Friday’s game in Toronto, even with Canada’s border-entry requirements.

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James Ennis III eager to capitalize on opportunity with hometown Clippers

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: Cam Akers made a remarkably fast return from an Achilles injury to the Rams practice field. But the running back’s timetable for playing in games slowed slightly Thursday.

Coach Sean McVay had said this week there was a possibility Akers could play against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

But when asked after practice if the ideal situation would be for Akers to return for the playoffs, McVay said “the target’s always potentially been,” the season finale against the San Francisco 49ers or the playoffs.

“That was always the timeline that we’ve had in place,” McVay said after the workout at SoFi Stadium. “He has definitely exceeded our expectations to even be available at this point. And so, I would say the Niners game, or the playoffs is what we’ve always kind of pinpointed as the potential spots.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: They lacked big, game-deciding plays Sunday at Houston.

The Chargers also lacked edge and energy, coach Brandon Staley said.

All of which points to something else that was missing in their 41-29 loss: safety Derwin James Jr.

A leader by his play, his example and his words, James might be as irreplaceable for this team as fellow Pro Bowler Justin Herbert.

“He just happens to be a defensive player,” Staley said. “You’re mostly used to it with quarterbacks. ... But he is a quarterback for us.”

James was in Houston and warmed up before the game. But he was available to play only in an emergency because of a hamstring injury.

James’ availability for this weekend, when the Chargers play Denver at SoFi Stadium, remains uncertain. He has been listed as a limited participant in practice the last two days.

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NFL Week 17 picks: Cowboys beat Cardinals; Chargers, Colts get much-needed wins

HOCKEY

Helene Elliott on hockey: There’s really no way to explain it.

A decade after an illegal check from behind during a Minnesota high school hockey game sent Jack Jablonski head-first into the boards, severing his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed, Jablonski still has the sensation he’s wearing his skates.

He knows he’s not actually wearing them. He knows he is sitting in a motorized wheelchair most of the time, using one pinkie knuckle to type and produce content for the Kings’ website — which he basically runs — or to operate the devices he uses to conduct incisive interviews for feature stories and for a new web series called “Tradin’ Jabs.”

But playing hockey was so much a part of who he was that his mind tells him his skates are laced onto his feet and ready to carry him away, allowing him to keep one small part of his old life while he pushes the boundaries of the new life that began when he fell to the ice in a terrible heap on Dec. 30, 2011.

“It’s so weird. That’s the last feeling my feet had. Whenever I really think about it, it still feels like that. They’re just locked in those boots and still have the blades on,” he said.

“But regardless of whether you can see your toes or not, that’s just the feeling that I last remember and it’s still with me to this day. Hopefully I’ll be able to feel that again in true form.”

Jablonski, 26, is approaching the 10-year anniversary of his accident with deep appreciation for those who have helped him get this far and infinite hope he will regain enough function in his limbs to reduce his now-complete dependence on a caregiver. He doesn’t know when that will happen or what forms the gains will take but he is sure that ongoing research will open new horizons for him and others who live with devastating spinal cord injuries.

“I truly believe I will walk,” he said, “and I hope to skate one day.”

ROSE BOWL

Megan Garcia on the Rose Bowl: Since taking the reins at Utah in 2004, coach Kyle Whittingham has experienced a wide range of highs and lows during the Utes’ journey to their first Rose Bowl.

The Southern California native is familiar with the significance of the oldest bowl game in college football. With 11 bowl wins as a head coach and the second highest bowl winning percentage among active coaches, Whittingham will get his first taste of the Rose Bowl stage that local schools USC and UCLA aspire to reach each year.

Utah’s rise to the national spotlight has been marked by personal and professional loss. The obstacles of the last 12 months have transformed into motivation, with the No. 11 Utes (10-3) now focused on taking down No. 6 Ohio State (10-2) in the Rose Bowl to cap the season Saturday afternoon.

“We have to have patience,” said Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. “Utah is very well respected, and we’ve spent a number of years earning that respect. We’re still not a destination program, according to the rest of the country. We have to be able to develop.”

The Utes broke through the Pac-12 South with an 8-1 conference record and beat Oregon 38-10 in the Pac-12 championship game.

The impressive finish in the division wasn’t without heartache, as cornerback Aaron Lowe was killed in a shooting on Sept. 26, less than a year after teammate Ty Jordan died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound.

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Michigan and Georgia enter Orange Bowl semifinal showdown with something to prove

Cincinnati vows to make most of Cotton Bowl opportunity against Alabama

YEAR IN REVIEW

From Clayton Kershaw’s living room to Tokyo 7-Elevens, Times Sports’ favorite 2021 stories

The big lives they led: A look back at those the sports world lost in 2021

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1961 — Paul Hornung, on leave from the Army, scores 19 points to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 37-0 win over the New York Giants for their seventh NFL championship. Green Bay’s Bart Starr throws three touchdown passes in the first title game ever played in Green Bay.

1962 — The American Basketball League folds. The ABL played one full season, 1961-1962, and part of this season. The ABL is the first basketball league to have a three point shot for baskets scored far away from the goal. The league also had a 30-second shooting clock and a wider free-throw lane, 18 feet instead of the standard 12.

1973 — Third-ranked Notre Dame edges top-ranked Alabama 24-23 in the Sugar Bowl. Notre Dame’s Bob Thomas kicks a 19-yard field goal with 4:26 left to give the Irish a one-point lead. With two minutes left, the Irish clinch the victory when on third-and-8 from the their own 3, Tom Clements completes a 35-yard pass from his own end zone to Robin Weber, and Notre Dame runs out the clock.

1982 — Jockey Pat Day edges Angel Cordero Jr. by two races to capture leading rider honors. Day rides Dana’s Woof and Miltons Magic to victory during the evening program at Delta Downs for 399 wins for the year.

1988 — A blinding fog rolls in during the second quarter of the Chicago Bears’ 20-12 NFC semifinal victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field in Chicago. The fog obscures the game from most of the 65,534 fans present and a national television audience that could watch only ground-level shots.

1989 — Jockey Kent Desormeaux sets the world record for most number of wins in a single season. His 598th win is aboard 2-year-old East Royalty in the Inner Harbor Stakes at Laurel Racecourse.

2005 — Harness drivers Catello Manzi and Brian Spears each set single-season records. Manzi, 55, becomes the oldest harness driver to lead North America in victories (727), even without a win on the last day. Sears becomes the first driver to surpass $15 million ($15,085,991) in pursue earnings.

2013 — Johnny Manziel lives up to his nickname “Johnny Football,” leading 20 Texas A&M to another comeback win, 52-48 over No. 22 Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Aggies are down 38-17 at halftime but with Manziel at the helm they came back in the highest-scoring game in the bowl’s history. The 2012 Heisman trophy winner throws four touchdown passes, completes 30 of 38 passes for 382 yards and runs for 73 yards and a touchdown.

2016 — Top-ranked Alabama relies on a stifling defense and the bruising runs of Bo Scarbrough to wear down Washington for a 24-7 victory in the Peach Bowl semifinal game.

2016 — Deshaun Watson runs for two touchdowns and throws another and No. 3 Clemson crushes No. 2 Ohio State 31-0 on in the Fiesta Bowl to set up a rematch with Alabama for the College Football Playoff national championship.

2017 — The Cleveland Browns complete the second 0-16 season in NFL history with a 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

2017 — The Buffalo Bills snap the longest current non-playoff streak in North American pro sports with a 22-16 victory at Miami and Cincinnati’s victory at Baltimore. The Bills hadn’t made the postseason since 1999.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

The top 50 sports plays of the year. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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