HOUSTON – Isn’t this exactly what everyone feared? Godzilla breathing even more fire from his snout? Thor swinging a bigger hammer?
So here’s what it looks like when LeBron James is finally able to play without the 800-pound monkey on his back:
“How did anybody ever question him?” asked Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Looking back on it now in big moments, I mean, this guy is the ultimate competitor. He gets absolutely amplified in these situations and you can see them coming. He’s done it over and over.”
Now, it appears James is just having fun. After finally breaking through to claim that championship in his ninth NBA season, it would seem that what we’re getting now is LeBron unburdened.
At least, that’s what it looked like on a night when Dwyane Wade tweaked an ankle and when the yeoman work of Chris Bosh looked for the longest time like it might not be enough against the feisty young Rockets.
When you break down the individual parts, it was nothing that we haven’t seen from him on so many other occasions. But now with the validation that comes from getting the ring and seeing the banner raised up into the rafters, LeBron might be more comfortable inside his skin than at any time since he entered the league as “The Chosen One.”
“That would only be natural,” said teammate Shane Battier. “The more things you do and the more things you accomplish, the more you feel that you can do.”
Even for the ones who have now played with him for two years in Miami and even the ones who have their trophy cases filled with trinkets to acknowledge their accomplishments, there is still more to admire.
“He’s special,” said Wade. “As a teammate, you’re in the middle of a game, but some of the stuff he does, you’re just like shaking your head. There’s not many guys that have played this game that can do that.”
Hitting off-balance 3s as though he dropping a wad of paper into a trash can.
“All the time,” Wade said. “His body, the way it’s made, he’s strong. You’ve got to be very strong to shoot that shot. There ain’t no defenses for that. There ain’t no coaching for that. No one helped him. Glo James (his mother, Gloria) gave him that.
“Is he better? Every year they say that. You”ve got a guy that won three out of four MVPs that sometimes you take it for granted. Even if he doesn’t score 30, you look at the stat line and he has 20-10 and nine. He’s a stat-stuffer. But as you seen, when he has to turn it up he can. He had 32 points in the second half. There ain’t many guys can do that.”
He appears less tense right now, his personal wall of defenses not erected quite so high. Maybe it’s a product of a 6-2 start and the fact that the Lakers’ troubles a continent away have grabbed the white-hot spotlight of scrutiny.
Maybe it’s what happens when the best player in the game comes out and is already shooting a career-best of more than 47 percent from the field from behind the 3-point line. He’s scoring less on a nightly basis, but that doesn’t mean he can’t take it to an otherworldly level that only he inhabits when it has to happen.
“It’s the zone,” James said. “You hear about it. Certain players being into a zone. I wish I could get into it more, but when you’re in it you know how it feels and you know that everything that you put up and how you’re going is pretty good and you just try to stay in it as long as possible.”
His 32 points in the second half is a record for any Heat player in any half of any game. His string of 149 games scoring in double figures broke the old record held by Wade.
“Oh, he’s gonna do a lot of that,” Wade said. “There’s gonna be plenty of my records that will be gone. I’m telling you, this is just the start.”
Which is, of course, what the rest of the NBA feared.