Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James walks to the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Thursday, March 30, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2017

LeBron James' ascent up the NBA's scoring list continued Thursday, as he passed Shaquille O'Neal for seventh all-time in the fourth quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers' 99-93 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

James, 32, hit the first of three free-throw attempts with 4:28 remaining in the fourth quarter to pass O'Neal. He entered the game 24 points away from eclipsing the center and finished with 26 points, giving him 28,599 for his career.

While O'Neal needed 1,207 games to reach his number, James passed him in his 1,055th contest.

James began the 2016-17 season 12th on the all-time scoring list. O'Neal joins Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon and Oscar Robertson among players who have been passed by the Cavaliers forward this season.

Dirk Nowitzki, who has 30,181 career points, is sixth on the all-time scoring list. Depending on when Dirk retires, James could pass him as soon as next season. Passing Wilt Chamberlain will likely happen toward the end of next season or the beginning of the 2018-19 campaign, provided James does not suffer an injury or see a drastic drop-off in scoring.

"For me, scoring has never been on my list of goals," James told reporters earlier in November after passing Olajuwon. "Facilitating, getting my guys involved, and rebounding, defending, getting blocked shots and things of that nature always ranked above that, and for me to be in the top 10 with so many great players that's played this game—I don't know how many, I don't even know the list of how many guys have played in this league since the inaugural year—but … it's just a blessing. It's an honor."

James' more pressing concern is the Cavaliers' rapidly deteriorating level of play. Thursday was Cleveland's third straight loss and fourth in its last five. The Cavs were blown out by 29 points by the San Antonio Spurs earlier this week and laid an egg against a Bulls team that's been in near-constant turmoil.