1. Big Night Shows The 'Magic' In LeBron
PORTLAND, Ore. -- LeBron James' Most Valuable Player campaign is going to be weighed down somewhat by past and politics, and there's no getting around it. His statistics are compelling enough, but his performance Thursday night against the Portland Trail Blazers was the sort of masterpiece that just cannot be ignored when judging his place.
The Miami Heat won their ninth straight by at least 12 points, and it was the seventh time in the stretch they did it on the road, this time dumping the Blazers 107-93 at the Rose Garden. James had 38 points on just 22 shots, making it five seasons in a row he's put up at least 30 in his visit to Portland.
The points, however, were the least impressive part. With Chris Bosh away for the first of two games following the death of his grandmother, the Heat deployed James in a way they'd only experimented with a little over the past season and a half.
James started at center defensively and power forward offensively, guarding Marcus Camby from the opening tip. As the game went along, he kept switching his defensive assignment as the Heat changed lineups around him. From Camby to Jamal Crawford to Wesley Matthews to Gerald Wallace to LaMarcus Aldridge to Raymond Felton to Nicolas Batum and even 7-foot-1 Joel Przybilla. James guarded them all and created problems for them, too.
When it was over, he had 11 rebounds, six assists, five steals, a block and no turnovers. Add in the points, and it was a statistical line that's never before been seen since records for such things started being tracked in 1977.
"I went to him at shootaround today and told him we need a Magic Johnson type of night," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
"He eases a lot of my anxiety and a lot of our team's anxiety. I don't know if there's another player in the league that can handle that mentally. Physically, I don't think there's many players that can play point guard through center. The tougher challenge is when you start playing guys at different positions on different sides of the court. He was able to settle into his game, and that settled us."
The Heat, who didn't show a hint of rust after a week off and not having Bosh for the first time all season, are undeniably playing remarkable ball at the moment. They got major contributions from elsewhere, including a 33-point, 10-assist effort from Dwyane Wade that probably was unfairly overshadowed. Udonis Haslem also had 11 points and 14 rebounds in picking up some Bosh slack.
But it was hard to get past the sort of game James put together. There's not an official tally on this, but if you count this as a game started at center, James now has started at every position in his career. Usually slotted at small forward, James was a point guard as a rookie, got voted into the All-Star Game as a shooting guard in his second season and made his first start at power forward back in 2008.
There are few players who can claim to be his peer on that list, with Johnson being one of the few.
"I just planned on guarding everybody, and I pretty much did that," said James, whose five steals came against five different Blazers players. "I just took the challenge."
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Durant. A quiet start ended with an enormous second half for Durant, who hit a back-breaking 3 and a one-legged fadeaway en route to 38 points in a vintage OKC comeback. He's the new closer. Forget what you heard about Kobe Bryant.
Defining moment: With just less than six minutes left in the game, OKC cut the lead to four. Either Orlando would respond or it wouldn't. The Magic didn't, but Durant did, scoring 14 of the Thunder's final 23 points.
X factor: Russell Westbrook. He came out scorching with 10 assists and 29 points, including 17 in the first half. His effort gave way to what would eventually be KD o'clock.
Recap | Box score
MVP: LeBron James had his fifth straight 30-point game at the Rose Garden, finishing with 38 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, five steals and a block. He also defended at all five positions during the game.
That was ... a first: With Chris Bosh away following a death in the family, Erik Spoelstra started James at center and assigned him to Marcus Camby. It was the first time in James' career he started at center, the only position he had never started at in his career.
X factor: Joel Przybilla got a standing ovation in his first game with the Blazers since being traded last year. Pressed into service before he was expecting it (as Kurt Thomas missed the game with injury), Przybilla played a surprising 19 minutes
Recap | Box score
MVP: Chris Paul again started a bit slow but came on strong in the second half, scoring down the stretch (22 points), finding the open man (nine assists) and guiding the Clippers' offense (two turnovers).
LVP: Isaiah Thomas was entrusted by Kings coach Keith Smart with the start and heavy minutes but responded with six turnovers and not much else. He did a poor job defensively as well.
X factor: Turnovers. With Paul and Mo Williams at the helm, the Clippers played under control on offense, ending the game with only nine turnovers to the careless Kings' 18.
Recap | Box score
MVP: The Suns had several strong performers, but none shone brighter than Steve Nash, who out-assisted the Wolves by his lonesome, 17-13. Nash also poured in 13 points and eight rebounds, narrowly missing a triple-double against his supposed successor, Ricky Rubio.
Defining moment: The Wolves seemed poised to control this contest with a five-point halftime lead, but a horrid second half, highlighted by a 27-9 run, changed things for the worse. One of the league's youngest teams was run ragged by 39-year-old Grant Hill, who scored 17 second-half points.
X factor: Showing tired legs during its third game in three nights, Minnesota shot a lowly 39 percent. But its shameful 3-point percentage (1-for-13, 7 percent) fueled Phoenix's 44 rebounds and 12 fast-break points. The Suns kept things simple and ran away with the contest.
3. Thursday's Best
Kevin Durant, Thunder: Durant's 38 points weren't as efficient as LeBron's, but they came with more forceful punctuation. Four days after winning All-Star Game MVP in Orlando, KD scored 18 in the fourth to erase a 14-point deficit in his return to town.
4. Tweet Of The Night
5. Quote Of The Night
"Kobe knew there was no ill intent on my part. We have a pretty good relationship; it is just one of those things. Maybe he put it to rest, maybe he didn't. [Sunday's] game is going to be competitive no matter what."
-- Dwyane Wade, following Kobe's lead after questions were raised regarding the intent of Wade's hard foul on Bryant in Sunday's All-Star Game, which left the Lakers guard with a broken nose and plenty of new aches. Read more »
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Bent Out Of Shape
8. Stat Check
The Thunder outscored the Magic 35-21 in the fourth quarter to post a 105-102 victory at Orlando, one night after staging a fourth-quarter rally to defeat the 76ers at Philadelphia. It was only the third time this season an NBA team won road games in which it trailed in the fourth quarter on consecutive days, and Oklahoma City has accounted for two of those mini sweeps. The Thunder rallied for late wins at Portland and Golden State last month (Feb. 6-7). The only other team to do that this season was Denver, with victories at Washington and New York in January.
9. Dunk Of The Night