By TIM REYNOLDS, Associated Press
The milestones are piling up, and running out, for Atlanta’s Vince Carter.
His next game — which could come as early as Tuesday, when the Hawks visit the New York Knicks — will be the 1,504th in his career, which will tie John Stockton for fourth-most in NBA history. Barring injury, Carter will pass Dirk Nowitzki later this season for No. 3 on the career list.
Third place is the ceiling for Carter; assuming he doesn’t change his mind about retirement and play again next season, he can’t catch No. 2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560) or No. 1 Robert Parish (1,611). Nowitzki retired after 1,522 games.
It has not been the ideal start to the farewell season. The Hawks are 6-21. They need to beat the Knicks on Tuesday just to stay out of last place in the Eastern Conference.
But Carter’s last lap around the league has been worth celebrating.
“Many different teams, many different highlights, many different moments of his career, too many to count,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “But we’re going to cherish and appreciate what we have this year.”
There are more milestones to reach: Carter is also 60 points away from passing Alex English for 19th on the league’s career-scoring list. He has an outside chance of climbing a couple more rungs on that ladder as well.
The league hasn’t said yet if Carter will get the All-Star Game curtain call that Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade got last season in their farewells. But savvy fans know that when Atlanta comes to their town for the last time this season, it’ll almost certainly be the last time they can applaud Carter.
In Miami last week, fans paid tribute to him twice with long ovations. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the story of how back in his scouting days for Miami, one of his assignments was Toronto — when Carter played for the Raptors.
How long ago was that? “I don’t remember those two years of my life,” Spoelstra said.
Opposing players are taking notice of the moment as well, knowing they soon won’t be able to face off with Carter again.
“I love that guy,” Miami’s Jimmy Butler said. “I’m so glad that the fans showed him love as well. What he’s done for the game of basketball, his career, legendary, Hall-of-Famer, all that stuff. He’s a great human being.”
His place in history is secure. All that’s left to decide are the final numbers.
The G League is where the NBA tinkers with various ideas to see what works.
It bears wondering if the Mexico City move is a test balloon as well.
On the surface, the decision to have a G League team there — the Mexico City-based club Capitanes joins the league next season — seems logical for a lot of reasons. Growing the game around the world, including Latin America, is a very real priority for the NBA. Mexico City’s population is roughly the same as New York, and the city is a major player in the global economic markets.
But this isn’t about the G League.
This is about seeing if the NBA will work there.
There are no active plans to expand the NBA past its current 30 teams. But if this experiment works — and the league does acknowledge that Mexico City has been a discussion point in previous expansion conversations — expect growth to become a very hot topic.
The NBA has long had at least some level of interest in expanding past the U.S. and Canada, and tapping into a new marketplace will show if revenue streams in Mexico City exist to support putting an NBA team there one day. It might be of popular sentiment to bring a team back to Seattle or put one in Las Vegas, but that won’t do much for the bottom line when it comes to the national TV deals that have helped salaries soar in recent years.
The easiest way for the league to find new money may be to take the game to a totally new locale.
There are countless challenges in Mexico City — the altitude (NBA teams have brought hyperbaric chambers with them, something G League teams likely don’t have the budget for) and the water among them. But if this works, it makes sense to believe that the NBA will be there for real one day.
“I have no doubt, the league, at whatever time the tables turn to look at expansion, Mexico City will be on our list,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Shoutout to the NBA schedule-makers. They knew what they were doing this week.
And the annual Christmas schedule hype for the league gets an early start Thursday.
The Los Angeles Lakers visit the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, a showdown of the league’s best two teams so far, a matchup between reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and reinvigorated past MVP LeBron James.
The Bucks are 24-4 after their 18-game winning streak was snapped Monday by Dallas. The Lakers will be no worse than 24-4, depending on what happens Tuesday in Indiana. It’ll be the first time in NBA history that two teams with fewer than five losses apiece will play this deep into a season.
This is the fifth time that two teams have had records this good through 28 games. The last time it happened was 2008-09, when Boston started 26-2 and Cleveland — with James leading the way — opened 24-4.
The other instances came in 1993-94 (Seattle 25-3, Houston 24-4), 1972-73 (Celtics 25-3, Lakers 24-4) and 1971-72 (Lakers 25-3, Bucks 24-4).
A game to watch per day this week:
Tuesday, Orlando at Utah: The start of a brutal Jazz-Nuggets road back-to-back for the Magic.
Wednesday, Miami at Philadelphia: Heat got rolled in their first trip to Philadelphia this season.
Thursday, LA Lakers at Milwaukee: The teams don’t play again until March — and then in June?
Friday, New Orleans at Golden State: The two teams paying the biggest price for injuries this year.
Saturday, LA Clippers at San Antonio: Clippers star Kawhi Leonard returns to his former home.
Sunday, Dallas at Toronto: Luka Doncic has a sprained ankle, and Dallas’ upcoming stretch is brutal.
Monday, Houston at Sacramento: Rematch of a Dec. 9 game the Kings won at the buzzer in Houston.
LeBron James, by the count of basketball-reference.com, is up to 57,223 minutes so far in his career including playoffs.
That’s fifth all-time. He’s probably going to be third in a couple of days. And he isn’t slowing down.
By that site’s count, James is 60 minutes behind Nowitzki and 70 minutes behind Kobe Bryant. He’s about 3,500 minutes behind Abdul-Jabbar and roughly 5,500 behind all-time leader Karl Malone.
Nowitzki averaged 7.3 points in his final season, when he got to that minute total. Bryant averaged 17.6 points in his final season. James, meanwhile, hasn’t dropped off a bit — he’s averaging 26.1 points and 7.4 rebounds, both basically consistent with his career norms, and is averaging a far-and-away career-best 10.7 assists.
James is not interested in load management, either. He’s in Year 17, and still wants to play whatever he can.
“I don’t know how many games I’ve got left in my career,” James said. “I don’t know how many kids that may show up to a game and are there to come see me play. And if I sit out, then what? That’s my obligation. My obligation is to play, play for my teammates and if I’m healthy, then I’m going to play.”
Photo source:AP Photo/Lynne Sladky