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Saturday, November 16, 2013
'Second-best' LeBron powers Heat victory

By Michael Wallace


MIAMI -- LeBron James was determined to respond.

His standing, after all, as the preeminent basketball player in the James household was slipping from his grasp.

James acknowledged as much when he arrived at AmericanAirlines Arena for the Miami Heat's game Friday night against the Dallas Mavericks. James said his oldest son, LeBron Jr., had finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists a night earlier in his youth league game.

LeBron Jr., 9, got into the car after the game declaring to his dad that he had just notched a triple-double.

“I had to explain what a triple-double was,” James said before the Heat's 110-104 victory against the Mavericks. “He's the star in the house. I'm just LeBron James.”

Turns out, the second-best player in the family was good enough to carry the Heat to another high-scoring win with his most prolific and efficient outburst of the season.

Having emerged from the back problems that slowed him during the initial weeks of the season, James scored a season-high 39 points on 14-of-18 shooting to keep the league's top-ranked offense rolling at a historic clip.

The Heat extended their franchise record by scoring at least 100 points in their ninth straight game to open a season. James has been on his own tear of late, having scored at least 33 points in three of the past five games and shooting better than 60 percent from the field in five of the last six.

“I am getting there, I'm feeling better,” James said of gradually overcoming the sore back and regaining the offensive rhythm that was missing at the start of the season.

James also took the moment to mark the overall improvement and expansion of his game, pointing out Friday night how far he's come since his first season in Miami. The Mavericks still serve as a sobering reminder of how James went into an offensive shell, lacked aggression and allowed Dallas to psychologically take him out of his game during a 4-2 series loss in the 2011 Finals.

On Thursday, James talked extensively about how the Heat are a totally different team now than the group that fell apart in squandering a 2-1 series lead three years ago. Fact is, James also is a completely different player at this stage.

“You know from the day that I got here to now, where my post-up game to midrange game has gone,” James said Friday. “I am just trying to get better and evolve my game where I feel comfortable on every spot on the floor.”

James had his full repertoire working Friday. There were the four driving layups in the first quarter. He worked the fadeaway and step-back jumpers midway through the game. And by the fourth quarter, he mixed it all up. At one point, James answered a one-legged leaning jumper from Dirk Nowitzki at one end with one of his own at the other.

“It was a show of respect,” James said of Nowitzki, who led Dallas with 28 points. “I watched Dirk. Dirk is one of my favorite guys. I love the way he approaches the game, the way he plays is amazing. I took that from him. But I don't do it as well as him. He's been doing it way longer.”

At one point in the second half, when James scored 21 of his 39 points and missed only once in 19 minutes, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle reached for a stats sheet during a timeout, ran his finger across James' line at the top of the page and shook his head as he retreated to the bench.

On nights like Friday, there just isn't much you can do to slow the Heat. Now when James has it going offensively, and Dwyane Wade is supplementing with 17 points, eight assists and a career-high tying eight steals for the Heat.

“It's tough to contain LeBron James,” Carlisle said, flatly. “He was hitting some high-difficulty shots. He is probably the only guy in the game that can hit those shots, but you have to make him do it. Otherwise, other guys are lining up wide-open 3-pointers.”

The Heat gave up 104 points and allowed Dallas to shoot 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3-point range. But they strung together enough defensive stops, in part with 19 steals -- one shy of the franchise record. Miami also had 24 points off 24 Dallas turnovers.

There wasn't much for Erik Spoelstra to nitpick about either with his team's or its best player's performance. But a difficult-to-satisfy coach always finds something.

“Obviously the efficiency is tremendous,” Spoelstra said of James, whose 61-percent field goal shooting ranks eighth in the league. “But he'll probably roll his eyes at me when I look at this box score and the first number I see is the six turnovers. That's him taking the initiative to be aggressive.”

James, who won the league's scoring title in 2008 at 30 points per game with Cleveland, said he could easily be even more aggressive looking for his shots if he chose to play that way. He suggested he could score “60, 70 points” in a game if he shot the ball 37 times in a game. His answer was in response to a question that referred to the number of shots Toronto forward Rudy Gay attempted earlier this week during an overtime loss against Houston.

“He's been aggressive the last couple of games,” Wade said of James, who could make it three straight 30-point games on Saturday night in Charlotte.

“You can see a pep in his step a little bit. He is really feeling comfortable right now. I know he wants to continue that way.”

James has no other choice.

After all, there are bragging rights to maintain at home.

Youngest son, Bryce, 6, has a game Saturday, too.

“It's a very competitive family we have going on with me and my two boys,” James said. “I held up my end of the bargain. We'll see what my youngest son does tomorrow.”