HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Black mask, clear mask … why not just mandate a blindfold? After he poured in a career-high 61 points on the Charlotte Bobcats Monday night, LeBron James said he feels like he’s throwing a golf ball in the ocean. Surely, he could do that with his eyes closed.
The points are coming fast and furious now. Thirty-seven on Feb. 11 at Phoenix and 36 the next night at Golden State, including the game-winning 3 to sprint into the All-Star break. Then 42 at Dallas followed by 33 and the bloody, busted nose at Oklahoma City that officially waved the green flag on the MVP chase.
Then came 31 against the Knicks, a light night of 20 against Orlando before the Bobcats visited South Beach one night after getting the Kevin Durant treatment (KD lit up Charlotte for a mere 28).
The points are piling up for LeBron, with Dwyane Wade on the floor or playing fashionista on the pine. In Miami on Monday against Charlotte, Wade sat. But he played in Dallas on Feb. 18, attempted just seven shots to clear the runway, and James went 16-for-23 for 42 points, his first 40-point game of the season. Durant has nine stashed in his back pocket.
Wade just shook his head and smiled.
“I think y’all forgot he can score 40,” Wade said in Dallas. “People like to forget he’s on this team. He could get 40 on a lot of nights if he wanted to.”
As surprising as it may be that it took him to game No. 51 to get his first 40, it may be equally surprising to learn that Monday’s 61 was James’ first time there. You just figured he’d done it before.
The points are one thing. The efficiency is something else entirely. James scored 61 points on 33 shots. He made 22, which gave him a 66.7 shooting percentage.
Shooting too much? Who in the world would tell him to stop? He was 8-for-8 from beyond the arc before he missed his last two. The Bobcats’ best defense was no defense at all, at the free-throw line, where James went just 9-for-12.
James is shooting 58.3 percent this season, an amazing clip superior to every forward and guard in the game. And it’s not even really close. He’s knocking down 38.4 percent of his 3-pointers. Over his last seven games, James has made 100 of his 157 shots, an absurd 63.7 percent, including 20-for-40 from beyond the arc.
Only one other player in the league today is capable of such lethal precision.
More than four years James’ junior, Durant last year joined only a handful of players throughout the league’s history to finish a season shooting 50 percent overall, 40 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the stripe. This season, while leading the league in scoring at 31.6 points a game — four points higher than James’ 27.5 — Durant is shooting 50.7 percent, 39.6 percent and 88.0 percent.
Each season both players keep narrowing the gap between shots attempted and made.
K.D.’s take on his evolving mindset on efficiency:
“Last year, the year before last I started looking at it, but this year I don’t care about it,” Durant said. “I’m going to shoot my shots no matter what. Last year I was thinking about it in the back of mind, but now I don’t care; letting it fly, man. If I’m open, shoot it; if I’m not, pass it. It’s simple, just be aggressive. I’m not worried about my shooting percentage, just play the game.”
James seems to be following a similar script. Throughout his 61, nothing he did looked forced, nor did his teammates force-feed him. Durant’s huge scoring games have been equally organic. Think about this: Durant, averaging a career-best 5.6 assists a game, scored 42 points on opening night with one assist. In his next eight 40-point games he’s had four assists, five twice, six, seven twice, nine and 10. James dropped five dimes Monday and six when he put 42 on the Mavs. He’s averaging a team-high 6.4 assists a game.
Flash back just a month ago and remember the grief that Carmelo Anthony caught when he pasted the Bobcats for a Madison Square Garden-record 62 points — with zero assists.
What James did Monday night, what he did in OKC two weeks ago is what I meant when I wrote that night that the MVP race is on. Durant performed magic in the dead of winter as we marveled, and as James and the Heat waded through the weeds. Now, spring beckons and the King is gunning.
Often, it’s what we witness last that leaves the greatest impression.