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James passes milestones as Heat crush Warriors

The SportsXchange

OAKLAND,Calif. -- If there's one thing LeBron James has learned in his NBA career, it's that sometimes the best things aren't scripted.

On a night that might have been called "The Milestones" if he'd been allowed turn a mid-January regular-season game in a place called Golden State into a made-for-TV extravaganza, James crashed through two historic NBA plateaus within 16 minutes of one another Wednesday night, leading the Miami Heat to a much-needed 92-75 victory over the Golden State Warriors.

James recorded his 5,000th career assist with 6:42 remaining in the first quarter, then became the youngest player in NBA history to surpass the 20,000-point mark later in the half, spearheading an early pull-away that allowed the Heat to snap a two-game losing streak.

"It means a lot," the 10th-year veteran gushed. "First of all, it means I've been able to be healthy and be out on the floor and be able to do what I love to do. I love the game of basketball and I try to give everything to the game, and hopefully it continues to give back to me."

The milestone hoop, which came with 2:45 remaining in the second period, allowed James to become just the 13th player in league history to record at least 20,000 points and 5,000 assists in his career. Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett are the only other active players to have doubled up on those milestones.

Amazingly, James notched both achievements on the same night.

"It speaks to his versatility," said teammate Shane Battier. "To him, it's not about the scoring. He could have recorded this (scoring) milestone a lot earlier if he wanted. It's apropos he recorded both on the same night."

At 28 years and 17 days of age, James was more than a full year younger than the previous youngest player -- Bryant (29 years, 122 days) -- to reach 20,000 points. Only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan join the active duo as having tallied 20,000 points before the age of 30.

James' historic hoop came in classic fashion. The Heat cleared out space on the perimeter to attack David Lee, and the quick-yet-powerful forward worked his way left to right to within 12 feet of the hoop before elevating, hanging in the air and making a basket.

"The best thing about it was it was in rhythm. It wasn't one of those a forced shot," said James, who admitted knowing before he made his move that the next hoop would produce the 20,000th point. "I was able to get a switch on David Lee and get to the elbow and make a shot. It was pretty cool."

James finished with 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for the Heat, which was coming off a 104-97 loss Monday at Utah that pushed them under .500 (8-9) on the road.

"We just came out from the opening tip with a sense of urgency," claimed James, whose team brought a losing road record (8-9) into the game. "We didn't wait around. We came out with a defensive mindset. We got stops early and our offense was able to take care of itself."

James had 21 points, six assists, four rebounds and a steal in the first half, which the Heat dominated at both ends of the floor en route to a 52-38 lead over a Warriors team playing without star point guard Stephen Curry.

Curry was the victim of what Warriors coach Mark Jackson labeled a "freak" accident during the team's morning shootaround, turning his troublesome right ankle while stepping on a teammate's foot as he chased down a loose ball.

X-rays were negative, giving the Warriors hope Curry will be ready to return for Friday's game at San Antonio. He missed 37 games last season as a result of spraining the same ankle on a number of occasions.

"One thing I told (the players) was that they made a heck of a case for Stephen Curry to be in the All-Star Game," Jackson said. "If we can go from a top-notch team to the team that played tonight just missing one guy, that says a lot about him."

The win allowed the Heat to avenge a 97-95 home loss to the Warriors on Dec. 12. The Warriors hit 46.3 percent of their shots and nine 3-pointers that night; they connected on just 36.3 percent overall and three 3-pointers in the rematch.

The Heat's playoff-type approach didn't surprise the Warriors' Jackson.

"Disappointing, but we faced a team that remembered what took place in South Beach and came with a mindset to make a point both individually and collectively," he said. "That's what great players do ... all-time great players."

The blowout was just what the doctor ordered for Miami, which has a quick turnaround Thursday night in Los Angeles against the Lakers.

Even with a rival on the immediate horizon, there was no coast in the Heat on this night. Its defense frustrated the Curry-less Warriors into 13 first-half turnovers, with Curry's replacement in the starting lineup, Jarrett Jack, coughing up the ball five times.

James' milestone assist came early on as the Heat was struggling for the only time all night. The 5,000th occurred on a highlight-reel lob to Dwayne Wade at the rim, just Miami's third basket in the first 5:18.

"We all witnessed history tonight," said Wade, who complemented James' effort with 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals. "I'm just happy to be a part of it."

If the Warriors had any hopes of extending the Heat, they ended in the first four minutes of the second half. Golden State went four-plus minutes without a point to start the third quarter, falling behind by 27 points following a 13-0 run.

The Miami lead was 34 by period's end.

Jack overcame the five turnovers to score a team-high 16 points for the Warriors, who have lost four of five since an emotional, 21-point home win over the Clippers gave the club a season-best 22-10 record.

"Every team goes through peaks and valleys," Jack said. "The best thing is we have a chance to go to San Antonio to correct it."

NOTES: The Heat outscored the Warriors 16-0 on points after turnovers and 15-0 on fast breaks during the decisive first half. ... The loss was Golden State's third in 16 games against Eastern Conference competition. ... The Warriors' 75 points were a season-low. ... The Warriors announced before the game that Brandon Rush, who tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in the home opener Nov. 2, underwent surgery on the ACL on Wednesday. The 10-week delay was the result of a decision to allow the MCL to repair itself without surgery before undergoing the major procedure on the ACL. The Warriors hope to have their standout sixth man available for the start of training camp in 8 1/2 months. ... Asked if he feared Curry's injury would linger after having watched him miss so many games last season, the Warriors' Jackson said, "I'm not a doctor, but I can't imagine it turning into something more (than a game or two)." ... Battier returned to the Heat lineup and played 10 minutes after having missed the first three games of the club's Western swing with a strained right hamstring.
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