LeBron James celebrated his 38th birthday by scoring a season-high 47 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and adding nine assists to spark the Los Angeles Lakers to a 130-121 victory in Atlanta on Friday.
It was his first 40-point effort of the season, the second achieved in a birthday contest and the 70th 40-point performance of his spectacular 20-season NBA career.
Even more amazing, teammates were congratulating him for saying before the game he would deliver a 40-point birthday beatdown against the Hawks.
“I called it,” James said. “I told them before the game. I had to make it happen. After starting 1-for-5 I didn’t know if it was going to happen.”
James, playing his third game in four nights, actually began shooting 1-for-6 but finished 18-of-27 from the floor, 4-of-6 from 3-point range, and 7-of-9 from the free throw line.
“I didn’t even know it was three in four nights. I just knew I had to get my mind and body ready to go,” James said. “Make sure my body stays fresh but my mind more importantly.”
James became only the fourth player in NBA history to score 45 points in a game at age 38 or older, joining Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamal Crawford.
The Hawks, powered by 29 points from Trae Young, led by as many as 15 points in the first half before James rallied the Lakers, scoring 16 points in the second and fourth quarters and 13 in the third.
The only birthday contest in which James scored more points was when he got 48 against Atlanta in 2009.
James, only one assist shy of the NBA’s first birthday triple double, is on pace to overtake Abdul-Jabbar and become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader in February.
The Lakers (15-21) were without star big man Anthony Davis, out with a foot injury.
Having his wife, mother and many other relatives and friends watching helped inspire James.
“It’s a treat,” James said. “To have them here and support me on the road, on my birthday, is very important to me because they are the rock of everything I do, my mom and my wife and my family.”
The night’s best 1-2 punch came at New Orleans, where the Pelicans got 42 points from C.J. McCollum and 36 by Zion Williamson to beat Philadelphia 127-116 for their fifth consecutive victory.
McCollum hit 13-of-20 from the floor, including a record 11 3-pointers on 16 shots from beyond the arc, while Williamson netted 13-of-19 shots from the floor.
Joel Embiid scored 37 in a losing cause with James Harden adding 20 points and 10 assists for the 76ers (20-14).
The Pelicans improved to 23-12 to keep a share of the Western Conference lead with Denver, which outlasted visiting Miami 124-119.
Serbian center Nikola Jokic had a triple double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to spark Denver, which had eight double-digit scorers. Tyler Herro led Miami with 26 points.
Jordan Poole scored 41 points, Klay Thompson added 31 and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors closed the game on a 16-2 run to beat visiting Portland 118-112.
The Warriors stretched their win streak without injured Stephen Curry to four games while Damian Lillard scored 34 points to pace Portland.
– Giannis, LaVine hit 43 –
Greek star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 43 points and grabbed 20 rebounds to lead the Milwaukee Bucks over visiting Minnesota 123-114.
The Bucks snapped a four-game losing streak while the Timberwolves saw their losing slide stretch to five games.
Zach LaVine scored 43 points on 15-of-20 shooting to spark Chicago’s 132-118 home victory over NBA doormat Detroit.
At Sacramento, Kevin Huerter scored 30 points, including a game-winning 3-pointer with nine seconds to play, to give the host Kings a 126-125 victory over Utah.
Gary Trent Jr. scored 35 points to lead Toronto over Phoenix 113-104, the Raptors snapping a five-game home losing streak.
Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis had game-highs of 30 points and 13 rebounds to lead Washington’s 119-100 triumph at Orlando.