One led to the other Saturday night as James scored 26 points to become the youngest player in NBA history to reach 2,000 in a career, leading Cleveland to a 96-74 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
“We worked as a team, the unselfishness was just great,” James said. “We got everyone into the game and came out with a victory.”
James, who turns 20 on Dec. 30, reached the milestone faster than the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who was 20 years, 183 days old when he scored his 2,000th point.
“It’s a great feeling,” James said. “I didn’t even know—it came so quick. I don’t notice things like that, I just notice I’m playing better.”
So are the Cavaliers, 9-1 after an 0-3 start. Cleveland didn’t get its ninth win last season until Dec. 23, for a 9-19 record.
Eddy Curry scored 20 points to lead Chicago, which has lost 10 of 11 and went 1-6 on a seven-game trip.
“We were tired, no doubt about it,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. “But that’s no excuse.”
Skiles said that as soon as James hit a couple of shots early in the game, he knew the Bulls were in for a long night.
“It was kind of a mismatch,” Skiles said. “He plays at his pace and there’s not much you can do about it. All the great players are like that.”
James hit a 16-foot fadeaway jumper with 1:03 remaining in the third quarter to reach 2,000. That was his final shot. He went to the bench after three quarters with the Cavaliers comfortably ahead 76-52.
“I sat the bench most of the summer,” said James in reference to his lack of playing time for the U.S. Olympic Team. “Now, I’m having much fun. We’re getting wins and playing so well we can pretty much compete with anybody.”
The reigning NBA rookie of the year hit six of his first seven shots and had 17 points in the first half. He finished 11-for-17 from the field, mostly on dunks and spin moves to the basket. The most sensational was a resounding slam off an alley-oop pass from McInnis that sparked the Cavaliers on an 18-7 run early in the third quarter.
“We’re having a lot of fun out there,” McInnis said. “We’re looking for each other, defending, playing in transition.”
James, who played 43 minutes Friday night in a 98-96 victory in Boston, finished with seven assists and seven rebounds in 32 minutes.
“He’s legit, he’s the real deal,” said Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, who scored only six points on 3-for-10 shooting.
Rookie Luol Deng added 12 points for Chicago, which was coming off its only win of the season Wednesday night in Utah. The Bulls never led and trailed by as many as 30 at 88-58.
James’ scoring average of 26.6 is second to Bryant’s league-leading average of 29.0 this season. … Actor Dan Akroyd took part in pregame introductions as the Cavaliers’ “sixth man.” … Chicago is 1-7 on the road; Cleveland is 6-1 at home. … The Bulls are 3-11 in their last 14 games at Gund Arena. … McInnis hit four and rookie Luke Jackson two of Cleveland’s season-high eight 3-pointers. … Ilgauskas passed Phil Hubbard and Jim Chones for fifth place on Cleveland’s all-time offensive rebounds list with 1,054.