Updated: November 13, 2012, 3:32 AM ET

1. LeBron James Returns To A Familiar Region

By Michael Wallace

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."

LeBron James
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesLeBron James would not be overshadowed.

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.

James led.

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.

Dimes past: Oct. 30 | 31 | Nov. 1 | 2-3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9-10 | 11

Around The Association


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?