CHICAGO: As LeBron James climbs the NBA’s career scoring list, the legends he’s passing become more and more meaningful.
That’s because some of those he leaps are those he idolized, players whose posters hung on his bedroom wall.
One of those heroes ranks behind James now. James scored 26 points and moved past Shaquille O’Neal into seventh place on the all-time list Thursday night in a 99-93 loss to the Chicago Bulls at United Center.
But the game meant more than another milestone for James, who also turned in 10 rebounds and eight assists.
The Cavaliers arrived in Chicago in disarray and did little to change that. They slipped to 6-10 in March and have lost five of their last seven.
In the past two days there has been talk of complacency, accountability and a lack of effort, about balancing the hustle required to win and leaving something in reserve for the playoffs, which open on April 15.
In the second half, the Cavs showed they have a way to go. They learned that talking about it is one thing and executing another.
Kevin Love was plagued by foul trouble, whistled for No. 4 just 13 seconds into the fourth quarter. He came back with 6:24 to play and fouled out just 16 seconds later.
The Bulls fought back from a nine-point halftime deficit to take a 10-point lead at 88-78 with 6:48 remaining.
It was more of what the Cavs always see when they face the Bulls.
With Dwyane Wade sidelined with a wrist fracture that will keep him out the rest of the regular season, the Bulls have lost 10 of their last 15. The came in ninth in the East, in a desperate fight for the last playoff spot.
But they’re always competitive against the Cavs, winning the last five meetings, going 4-0 this season and taking the series for the fifth time in the last six years.
The Cavs lost their percentage point lead over the Boston Celtics in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and fell to a half-game back, tied in the loss column.
In the first half, the Cavs’ passing looked sharper and their defense improved. They forced two 24-second calls in the first 10 minutes. In the first 24 minutes, they held the Bulls to 34 percent shooting from the field and forced 10 turnovers.
It still wasn’t perfect. They missed several layups, especially early in the game. In his seventh game back following arthroscopic knee surgery, Love was stifled by foul calls. He scored eight points, hit 3-of-10 from the field and pulled down 10 rebounds in 21 minutes.
Kyrie Irving, held to eight points in a loss at San Antonio on Monday, took a while to get going but chipped in 20 points, hitting 7-of-19 shots, and adding two rebounds and three assists.
The Bulls were led by Nikola Mirotic, who equaled his season high with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
The Cavs lost 15 turnovers, which the Bulls converted into 17 points.
The Cavs were without Richard Jefferson (left knee tendinitis) and Kyle Korver (sore left foot), who is also slated to sit out Friday’s home game against the Philadelphia 76ers, but Iman Shumpert returned after missing two games with a sore right knee.
James came out determined to attack the rim and the results were dazzling, none more than a leaping slam to start the second quarter that left his teammates celebrating for a couple of minutes afterward.
James got the 24th point he needed to pass O’Neal on the first of three free throws with 4:28 remaining. He missed the other two attempts as he went 3-of-7 from the line. He has 28,599 points.
O’Neal, a member of the Cavs in 2009-10, finished his career with 28,596 points.
“It’s surreal anytime I’m mentioned with the greats, guys that I watched growing up,” James said of O’Neal on Saturday in Charlotte. “Guys that I had stapled or taped on my wall as a kid. Guys that I admired when I was younger, and so it’s always surreal, and then actually being a teammate of his was another surreal moment. Just blessed and very humbled by the position I’m in today.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.