LeBron James Gets Payback, Crushes Magic With 51-Point Night
ORLANDO, Fla. -- When LeBron James was catching all that flak this summer for leaving Cleveland to form his Super Team in Miami, he reminded everyone that he was taking notes, and that paybacks would be in order.
He delivered another one of those checks Thursday night.
James, whose "Decision" led to Magic general manager Otis Smith questioning his competitiveness, erupted with a performance that was more than worthy of his stature as the two-time reigning Most Valuable Player, destroying the Magic 104-100 Thursday night.
It wasn't just the 51-point, 11-rebound, 8-assist performance that was so special -- James already had eight games of 50 points or more in his career -- it was the start that set the tone for the entire night.
Even by LeBron standards, it was downright dynamic.
James had 23 points in the first quarter when he hit all nine of his shots, giving Miami a lead it never lost, giving Miami a confidence that is growing by the game. He made his first 11 shots Thursday and left for intermission with 29 points.
"Anyone who questions my competitiveness must be looking at the game the wrong way,'' he said during a halftime interview with TNT.
Even when Orlando cut a 23-point fourth-quarter deficit to six points with 1:51 remaining, it was James who quickly calmed the storm with another 3-point basket. He had nine points in the final 1:30, making sure that even when the Heat faltered, he was there to save the day.
"He was focused. He was very focused tonight,'' said Heat co-star Dwyane Wade. "And when he's rolling like that, there's nobody in the world who can stop him.''
It may have been impossible to stop him Thursday, but it was easy to get him started. In the first two meetings between these two -- each team won once -- James was strangely quiet, looking like just another good player trying to fit into a system. He had 15 and 23 points.
This one was different, reminding him of what many in Orlando had said about his decision, ranging from management to coaches to players he was facing.
"Just playing this team, got me going,'' James said. "We understood this was not just any regular season game. A lot of things were said about us from this organization, so we wanted to play to our abilities. We were just extra in tune with the game plan. And me being one of the leaders, I wanted to make sure I brought my 'A' game.''
It was the highest scoring road game for a Heat player in franchise history, topping the 50 points that Wade had scored against Orlando a few years before. It also was the highest scoring game by anyone in the NBA this season. And not since so Michael Jordan in 1989 has anyone in the NBA had a game that included those kind of points, rebounds and assists all together.
"He was sensational, attacking, balancing, facilitating,'' said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "I'm sure the basket looked as big as an ocean to him tonight. It was really a very efficient game for him.''
James hit 17 of his 25 shots and 14 of his 17 free throws. Most of his scoring came within the context of the Heat's normal offense. There were not many clear-out isolation plays run specifically for him. And most of his points came on jump shots and free throws.
Even when he did something wrong, he made something good out of it. He was stripped of the ball by Quentin Richardson in the third period, but he immediately got the ball back and converted a 3-point play.
"I was in a zone and just felt like everything I put up was going to go in tonight,'' James said. "I have always found a way to get my guys involved in the game and not just try to force things because I feel I have it going. It's always in the flow of the offense.''
The Heat got a serious scare early in the second half when Wade was knocked out of the air with a hard foul by center Dwight Howard. Wade had gone baseline looking for a highlight-film dunk, but Howard blocked the shot and fouled him, sending him crashing to the floor and hitting his lower back.
Wade was in obvious pain, and he stayed on the floor for two minutes before being helped up. He stayed in the game to make his two free throws, but then left immediately for the locker room. He was diagnosed with a lower-back contusion, but no X-rays were taken, and he returned in the fourth quarter to play.
The performance by James, on national television, is likely to re-ignite the talk of him possibly winning a third consecutive Most Valuable Player Award, something that looked unlikely when he joined Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
Although he is averaging just 26.6 points (three points fewer than last season), he is beginning to look an MVP favorite again as the Heat continue their steady improvement this season.
James has upped his scoring average each month of the season, from 20.5 points in October to 24.6 in November to 25.2 in December. He averaged 30.6 in January, and scored 51 points in his only February game.
"LeBron, obviously, had an unbelievable night,'' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "And tonight, he was a great jump shooter.''