HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Spurs needed some Antonio McDyess heroics at the buzzer. The Heat got a monster performance from LeBron James from buzzer to buzzer.
With the Eastern and Western Conference All-Star reserves announcement as an appetizer, we couldn’t have asked for a better menu last night.
The winners can take plenty away from their performances.
The Heat’s true MVP showed that he’s still the one man in the league capable of completely overwhelming an opponent in ways that few other players can. James lit up the Magic for a team-record 23 in the first quarter, had 29 points before halftime and probably could have scored even more. That budding Heat-Magic rivalry we were all hoping to see doesn’t exist right now.
Meanwhile, the Spurs continue to make fools of their critics (us included) for assuming that they won’t be able to match up in the frontcourt with other elite teams. McDyess and Tim Duncan have membership cards for the NBA’s Silver Foxes Club. But they’ve still got plenty of juice left in those old(er) arms and legs.
Before the game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich trumpeted the Lakers as the NBA’s best team, insisting that the two-time defending champs are still the best the Western Conference has to offer (despite his team’s league-best 41-8 record and two wins over the Lakers this season), per ESPNLosAngeles.com:
“I think they are the best team in the West,” Popovich said during his pregame remarks before the Lakers hosted the Spurs. “I think the struggles are overblown by you guys and gals. They are who they are. They’ve been doing this a long time. They just won two [championships] in a row again and there’s no doubt perhaps there’s going to be some nights when it’s just not all there emotionally. We run into that now, we’ve got the best record and we run into that and we haven’t won a championship in a long time so we don’t have that excuse and it happens to us.”
There was an assumption, foolishly, last summer that the best team in Florida this season would have a clear path to the NBA Finals. Both the Heat and Magic had designs on the top spot in the East (forgetting that the Celtics own it until further notice). And when the two teams met twice before Thanksgiving, the Florida State Championship Series was afforded all of the hype and hoopla you’d expect it to have, including verbal sparring between the two sides.
The way James and the Heat ran roughshod over the Magic last night, a vow of silence might be in store for Dwight Howard and his crew. James showed Magic GM Otis Smith exactly what kind of competitor he was by destroying the Magic from start to finish. It was one of his finest performances to date and surely his best in a Heat uniform.
A 51-point night, on 17-for-25 shooting, with 11 rebounds and eight assists is beyond outlandish. There’s not another player in basketball capable of doing the things James does when he’s locked in and focused the way he was last night.
The Magic’s rally was spirited and we’ll give them credit for fighting back from that 23-point deficit.
But what’s done is done.
The Magic started yapping in the summer. And James continues to do his best talking with his play.
“Just playing this team got me going,” James said. “We understand that this wasn’t just any regular game. There was a lot things said about us in the offseason that came from this organization. So, we just wanted to come in here and play to our abilities and make a statement.”