LeBron James’ 61-point game re-ignites MVP race with Kevin Durant

52 Comments

LeBron James could barely muster the strength to lift his head.

He walked upcourt with his eyes to the ground, looked up to wave a dribbling Mario Chalmers ahead, and then dropped his eyes back to the court. The Miami Heat called timeout, and LeBron removed his facemask while dragging himself toward the bench.

Spent from the highest-scoring game of both his career and the Heat franchise – 61 points in a 124-107 win over of the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday – LeBron looked like he just need a seat, a towel and a rest.

But the celebration interfered.

He high-fived and hugged Chalmers. He shook hands with Ray Allen. He high-fived Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley. He hugged Chris Andersen. He high-fived Rashard Lewis, looked around and then high-fived Lewis again. He hit Dwyane Wade with a triple low-five, a double high-five and then a shoulder bump. He found Erik Spoelstra and hugged him. He waved to the crowd. He got a pat on the back from Chris Bosh.

As the game resumed, the deafening noise in Miami found purpose. “MVP! MVP! MVP!” the crowd chanted.

Suddenly, LeBron is back in the MVP game.

After spending half the season drifting in the celebration of his recent successes – back-to-back championships, MVPs and NBA Finals MVPs and four MVPs in the last five years – LeBron finally appears ready to challenge Kevin Durant for 2013-14 MVP.

Durant had become the consensus choice for the award, because he’s having a better season than LeBron. The MVP, after all, is an annual honor granted for play in a given year.

But pose the question a little differently. Who is the best player in the NBA? I bet most would have chosen LeBron, even before tonight’s career outing.

Carrying a larger load with Russell Westbrook out certainly bolstered Durant’s MVP case, but so did LeBron’s apathy. There was always a sense LeBron could reclaim his crown if he wanted to.

Monday, it sure seemed like he wanted to. He torched the Bobcats with purpose, making his first eight 3-point attempts and needing just 33 shots to score his 61 points.

This was the type of signature performance that can swing voters in a tight MVP race, but first, LeBron must make the MVP race tight. One fantastic night won’t wow enough voters, not when Durant captured the basketball world for a whole month with his 12-game streak of 30-point games.

Soon, the vivid memories of LeBron’s 61-point game will fade. He’ll need to bolster this performance with a strong close to the regular season the same way he strongly closed this game after exiting it.

Despite looking so exhausted before his celebration, LeBron never took a seat on the bench while his teammates finished the final couple minutes. Long postseason runs might have sapped LeBron of some energy earlier in the season, but they didn’t keep him down permanently.

On the floor in Miami after his historic game and in the MVP race, LeBron James is still standing.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

Leave a comment

Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Leave a comment

Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

Leave a comment

Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
2 Comments

James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.