LOS ANGELES - When LeBron James hit the driving layup that pushed him past Michael Jordan into fourth place on the NBA’s career scoring list, even the Denver Nuggets paused to appreciate their opponent’s big moment.
The Nuggets then made sure James’ celebration didn’t include a huge come-from-behind win for the Lakers.
Will Barton scored 23 points, Gary Harris added 19 and the Nuggets snapped their three-game losing streak with a 115-99 victory over Los Angeles on Wednesday night despite James’ latest move up the career scoring ranks.
James scored 31 points and surpassed Michael Jordan’s 32,292 career points on a driving layup during the second quarter.
“You’ve got to appreciate him,” Harris said of James. “We’re witnessing greatness. It’s an honor.”
With James playing alongside four youngsters who came in with a combined 200 games of NBA experience compared to LeBron’s 1,190, the Lakers nearly rallied from a 23-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Denver (43-21) blew all but two points of its huge early lead, but Harris and Nikola Jokic contributed key baskets down the stretch of the Nuggets’ first win of March.
“I liked how we played for most of the game, aside from the stretch where they just got out and ran and scored at will,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.
Jamal Murray scored 19 points and Jokic had 12 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Denver, which had lost four straight to Los Angeles on the road despite its growth into an elite NBA team during that time period.
After James barreled to the basket and hit a layup while being fouled for his milestone points, the Staples Center crowd gave a rousing ovation to the superstar who joined the Lakers last summer after 15 NBA seasons spent with Cleveland and Miami. While Los Angeles aired a tribute video during the ensuing timeout, James covered his face with a towel, apparently crying under it.
“A lot of stuff that I’ve done in my career, this ranks right up at the top (with) winning a championship,” James said. “For a kid from Akron, Ohio, that needed inspiration and needed some type of positive influence, M.J. was that guy for me.
“I watched him from afar, wanted to be like M.J., wanted to shoot fadeaways like M.J., wanted to stick my tongue out on dunks like M.J., wanted to wear my sneakers like M.J. I wanted kids to look up to me at some point like M.J., and it’s crazy, to be honest.”
The 34-year-old James began the night needing 13 points to pass one of his heroes. James now trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kobe Bryant (33,643).
Bulls 108, 76ers 107
In Chicago, Zach LaVine scored 39 points and hit the go-ahead layup in the closing seconds to lead the Bulls to a wild win over Philadelphia.
LaVine scored 13 in the fourth quarter as Chicago wiped out a 10-point deficit in a game that featured two endings.
The Bulls trailed 107-106 with 4.8 seconds remaining when LaVine inbounded to Lopez and got fouled as he cut past Mike Scott for the go-ahead layup with 1.6 seconds remaining.
LaVine missed the free throw, but Chicago came away with the win after one more twist. He broke up Ben Simmons’ inbounds pass to Jimmy Butler underneath the 76ers’ basket. Both teams left the court and fans started to file out of the arena. The problem was, the horn sounded before anyone touched the ball.
After a review, the referees put 0.5 seconds back on the clock. But with one more chance, Philadelphia came up short when the inbounds pass skipped off Butler’s hands.
Pistons 131, Timberwolves 114
In Detroit, Andre Drummond had 31 points and 15 rebounds and the surging Pistons beat Minnesota.
Luke Kennard added 21 points for Detroit (32-31). The Pistons have won 10 of 12, including six straight at home.
Suns 107, Knicks 96
In Phoenix, Devin Booker scored a season-high 41 points and the Suns rolled to their fourth victory in five games.
In Other Games
Heat 91, Hornets 84
Wizards 132, Mavericks 123
Spurs 111, Hawks 104
Nets 113, Cavaliers 107
Jazz 114, Pelicans 104
Celtics 111, Kings 109