1. LeBron James Returns To A Familiar Region
HOUSTON -- When it was all over, LeBron James rocked back in his chair Monday night in the visitors' locker room -- feet soaked in ice, knees wrapped in bandages -- trying to place another historic performances in proper perspective.
"It's the zone," James said as he described the state of dominance he emerged from moments earlier. "You know how it is when certain players get in a zone? You wish you could get into it more. But when you're in it, you know how you feel. You know everything you put up ... is going to be pretty good. I just tried to stay in it as long as possible."
He got into that zone just in time.
And he stayed in it just long enough.
It was a state that transformed James from a sluggish, sleep-walking zombie in high-tops during the first half into an unstoppable basketball beast in the second en route to the Heat's 113-110 victory against the Houston Rockets.
After scoring just six points in the first half, James erupted for 32 in the second to bury the Rockets and bully his way into the franchise's record books. His 32 points in the second half tied teammate Dwyane Wade's 2009 mark for most points scored in any half by a Heat player.
James has now scored in double figures 427 consecutive games overall, but he also broke Wade's team record with his 149th straight in a Heat uniform. We've grown accustomed to these kinds of "zone" games from James.
There was the one June 7 in Boston, when he played 44 consecutive, relentless minutes to help the Heat stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Then came the one in Game 5 of the Finals, when James notched a triple-double against Oklahoma City in the clinching game to capture his first NBA championship.
There are many more.
But add Monday's moment to the lore.
James shot 14-of-26, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range, and added 10 rebounds and six assists to spark the Heat's rally from an eight-point deficit with six minutes left.
He made shots fading away, falling down and facing up. He saved the Heat from what would have been an embarrassing collapse after they built a 22-5 lead to open the game. He helped them overcome another frustrating defensive effort that saw a third opponent in six games this season reach its season high for made 3-pointers.
"He's special, man," Wade said. "As a teammate, you're in the middle of the game, but some of the stuff he does, you just shake your head. There are not many guys who play this game that can do that. It's a luxury having a guy like that. Ain't no defense for that. Ain't no coaching for that."
Houston's new marquee players recognize that James.
Jeremy Lin saw those same take-charge moments as a member of the Knicks last season when the Heat doused Linsanity before the All-Star Game in February, then dumped New York from first round of the playoffs.
Harden, who struggled against Miami in the Finals last season as a member of the Thunder, had 22 points Monday but missed 11 of his 17 shots, including a 3-pointer contested by James that could have forced overtime.
Said Lin: "In the second half, [LeBron] got a little bit more comfortable and he started to hit some ridiculous [shots]."
But that's sort of to be expected, Rockets forward Patrick Patterson said.
"Pretty much," Patterson deadpanned, "LeBron was LeBron out there."
As much as James did for the Heat offensively down the stretch, he was asked by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to complete that final defensive assignment on Harden. Actually, asked doesn't really do the request any justice.
It was simply expected. Unspoken and expected.
"We were coming out of the timeout trying to figure out the matchups," James said. "I was looking at Coach, [and] Coach was looking at me. He looked at me like, 'OK, you need to take [Harden].' I was glad I was able to get a good contest on the shot and help us come out with the win."
It was James' first 30-point game of the season, one in which he ditched his more routine role as a facilitator at the half and returned for the third quarter intent on being a finisher. James downplayed the idea that he made a significant halftime adjustment, but he did admit that Spoelstra called two consecutive plays designed for him to score at the start of the third quarter.
James would miss that first shot.
He then went 12-of-17 the rest of the way, with a pair of 16-point quarters in the third and the fourth.
It would be unfair to suggest James was a one-man show on a night when the Heat also got 24 points and 10 rebounds from Chris Bosh, 19 points and seven assists from Wade, and key, late contributions off the bench from Udonis Haslem and Ray Allen.
But the roles were clearly defined.
Everyone else followed.
James saw an opening to be more aggressive.
And he closed in the clutch.
After seeing James do this time and time again, Spoelstra can't comprehend how his catalyst's performances were ever the source of so much late-game scrutiny.
Typically, when Spoelstra addresses the media immediately after games, he's the one being asked all of the questions.
On Monday, he flipped the script with a query of his own.
"I mean, how did anybody ever question him -- looking back on it now -- in big moments?" Spoelstra asked, rhetorically. "This guy is the ultimate competitor. He gets absolutely amplified in these situations, and you can see him coming to life. He's done it over and over again. We don't take it for granted. He's the best player in the game, but he does it in the most important moments."
The Heat still have a few things to fix at this early stage of the season. But when things go wrong in games, they also have a pretty reliable fallback option in James.
Especially when he's in his zone.
Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Josh Smith. His 19 points didn't come very efficiently (9-for-22 shooting), but he scored early and late, grabbed 14 rebounds and drew a crucial charge on LaMarcus Aldridge at the end of the game that effectively ended any Blazers comeback hopes.
X factor: Turnovers. It was a sloppy affair on both sides (20 turnovers for the Blazers, 17 for the Hawks), but Portland's turnovers came at the worst possible times, whenever they were in striking distance of Atlanta.
That was ... inevitable: Damian Lillard had a truly bad game for the first time in his young NBA career. He finished with 12 points but shot just 5-for-18 from the field and had twice as many turnovers (4) as assists (2). A few nights like this are to be expected from any rookie, even one as steady as Lillard.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Markieff Morris filled the box score in his best all-around game of the season, compiling 13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals after an underwhelming start to his season.
That was ... scary: Kenneth Faried was undercut by Morris and took a nasty spill in the middle of the fourth, but he checked in 1:19 later and continued to play with reckless abandon upon his return.
X factor: The Suns sought to defend Ty Lawson with Sebastian Telfair as much as possible, and perhaps Telfair wore down the Nuggets' point guard, who followed an 8-and-6 first half, with 4 and 2 in the second.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Alexey Shved only shot 3-of-12. But he went to the free throw line 11 times, finished with 5 assists and carved up the Mavericks perimeter defenders, making his way into the paint on almost every possession.
Defining moment: The 7,234th time a Timberwolves ball handler curled around a screen and found 10 feet of open space in front of him. The Mavericks did nothing to slow down penetration, and Shved, Luke Ridnour and Andrei Kirilenko repeatedly made them pay.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): Here's a chance to recognize the group effort of Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter -- 13-of-40 from the field and some atrocious defensive effort to boot.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Rajon Rondo took advantage of a shorthanded Bulls backcourt and came up just shy of a triple-double with 20 points, 9 rebounds and 10 assists, while adding five crucial steals on the defensive end.
X factor: The Celtics went into one of their patented offensive slumps in the fourth quarter, going scoreless for a 5:14 stretch as the Bulls closed a 13-point deficit with a 10-0 run. Jason Terry stopped the bleeding with a pair of jumpers, giving Boston the late-game offensive spark they signed him for this offseason.
That was ... surprising: With Kirk Hinrich sidelined with a hip injury, Tom Thibodeau chose to go with rookie Marquis Teague at point guard down the stretch over Nate Robinson. The 19-year-old had played just 10 minutes in his NBA career before Monday, and finished with 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists over 19 minutes against the C's.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Paul Millsap. He finished with 34 points and 9 rebounds, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range. What the box score fails to show though is that all three of Millsap's threes came in the three overtime periods.
X factor: In Kyle Lowry's absence, DeMar DeRozan delivered his best Kobe impression, scoring 37 points on 33 shots. Unfortunately for Raptors fans, by the third overtime DeRozan had stopped attacking and had started jacking up long twos and contested threes.
That was ... exhausting: With the Jazz down 104-101 near the end of regulation, Randy Foye passed it to Al Jefferson, who drilled his first 3 of the season to tie up the game and send it to overtime. Conversely, at the end of the second overtime, John Lucas III nailed his own 3 for the Raptors to send the game to a third overtime. In the third overtime, Millsap hit his third 3 to ice it.
Recap | Box score
That was ... a turnaround: It looked like a blowout early as Miami raced out of the gates to take a 22-5 lead midway through the first. The Rockets came roaring back, staying close until the end.
MVP: Who else but the league MVP? LeBron James had 38 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists in carrying the Heat to the victory.
Defining Moment: Jeremy Lin airballed a wide-open 3 that would have put the Rockets up 2 with under 10 seconds remaining. Twitter erupted.
3. Monday's Best
LeBron James, Heat: Scores 32 of his 38 points in the second half (tying Dwyane Wade's franchise mark for points in a half) in a 113-110 comeback win over the Rockets. James sank 5 of 8 3-point attempts, pulled in 10 rebounds and had six assists.
4. Monday's Worst
The winless Pistons: This looked like win No. 1, but Russell Westbrook and the Thunder overcame an 11-point deficit and denied Detroit, 92-90. So when will win No. 1 arrive? Lawrence Frank's charges headed to Philly for a Wednesday game, but might get their first Friday over the Magic.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"The decision is of course theirs to make. I am gratified by the groundswell of support from the Laker Fans who endorsed my return, and it is the principal reason why I considered the possibility."
-- Phil Jackson, offering a statement on being passed over as the new Lakers coach for Mike D'Antoni.
8. Good Show
9. Stat Check
The Jazz defeated the Raptors in triple-overtime on Monday 140133 for their third game of at least seven periods in their past 26 contests. On March 25, Utah lost at Atlanta in quadruple-overtime, and on April 16, Utah won at home against Dallas in three extra periods. The only other NBA team to play triple OT three times in a span of fewer than 85 games was the Minneapolis Lakers, who did so in a span of 16 games in the 195152 season: losses at Philadelphia and Syracuse and a win at Baltimore.
The biggest surprise of the night was Al Jefferson's 3-pointer, which sent the game to its first overtime. Jefferson entered the game 1-for-25 (4 percent) on his 3-point attempts, which had been the third-lowest percentage among active players with at least 20 attempts, ahead of only Dwight Howard (1-for-33, 3.0 percent) and Anderson Varejao (1-for-28, 3.6 percent).
10. Dunk Of The Night
Jennings Soars Steadily
MVP: Brandon Jennings had 33 points on 21 shots. That's great. More importantly, Jennings had one turnover. He was the reliable, steady hand, as the rest of the Bucks wilted against the Sixers pressure defense with a total of 23 turnovers.
Defining Moment: A Jennings drive late in the fourth quarter almost ended with him turning it over. He corrected himself in time for a gorgeous layup.
That was ... smooth like butter: It wasn't the best day for the Bucks interior defense, as Jrue Holiday had some truly beautiful layups on his way to a 10-for-18 shooting night. If he could just resist the temptation of the midrange, he'd be so efficient.
Westbrook Sinks Pistons
MVP: Russell Westbrook. Though he will take flak for attempting a game-high 25 shots, Westbrook (33 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals) was aggressive on a night most of his teammates lacked energy.
X Factor: Kevin Durant scored 11 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter -- and added four rebounds and four blocks in the period -- waking up just in time to save Oklahoma City from an embarrassing loss.
Defining moment: The Thunder blocked shots on the Pistons' first three possessions of the fourth quarter, and Oklahoma City opened the period with a 13-0 run to take the lead. The Thunder were cold most of the game, but when they buckled down, Detroit was mostly helpless.