The mask, clear or dark, doesn’t bother him, and maybe even makes him better. LeBron James set personal and franchise records with his 61 points in the 124-107 win by the Miami Heat over the Charlotte Bobcats, having the kind of night that makes everyone reconsider their MVP vote once more.
Al Jefferson scored 38 points, adding 19 rebounds on 18-of-24 from the field, had a rare night, that deserved more than a few headlines. But when James goes off for the second 60-point game we’ve seen this season and is in yet another stretch of “the best basketball of his career”, it’s hard to acknowledge something else.
He finished with 22-of-33 from the field, adding 7 rebounds and 5 assists as most of the team stood by and watched him set up another impressive milestone in a career that keeps getting better with every game that goes by.
The Miami Heat were playing without Dwyane Wade, getting another night of rest after a very good stretch for him. It meant Toney Douglas playing in the lineup and scoring 10 points. It meant Ray Allen adding 9 off the bench in 30 minutes and we got to see a bit more from Greg Oden (5 minutes, 4 points) and Michael Beasley (18 minutes, 4 points). Chris Bosh had 15 points and 7 rebounds while Mario Chalmers added 7 assists, getting more of the ball than usual.
But this game has one name written all over it, right from the start. He had 24 points at halftime, but then went off for 25 in the third quarter, matching the entire Bobcats team in those 12 minutes. He hit his first eight three-point attempts, most of them coming with a hand in his face and not as a result of great ball movement. This was atypical basketball from the Miami Heat and James, but as he mentioned after the game, when you feel like you’re throwing golf balls into the ocean and not a basketball into a hoop, you just keep on shooting.
James was 8-of-10 from beyond the arc, and the Heat finished with 16-of-28 throwing from deep. He even hit one from over 30 feet away from the basket, something Spoelstra joked about later, saying it was a planned play.
James is the first player with 60 points or more in a game while shooting 66.7% or better from the field since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. All of the other 60-point games with that kind of accuracy, with Karl Malone and Tom Chambers involved in that as well, happened without any 3-point shots being taken by the players.
There are other things to look at besides James pulling off a bit of history. Like the Heat improving to 10-6 when Wade isn’t playing (they’re 33-8 when he is healthy), theoretically making them the best team in the NBA when they have everyone healthy. The defense didn’t have the best of games, and Chris Bosh made everyone laugh with another made-for-TV moment on the bench.
But this game was about one player and one player only. It probably helped James a lot in his attempt to win his fifth MVP award, third in a row. Kevin Durant was in the lead until a month ago, but things change, and maybe with this game, James tilted the balance of excellence in his favor.