HOUSTON — The last player to score at least 61 points on back to back nights in the NBA did it more than half a century ago.
The only player. Wilt Chamberlain.
Back on Feb. 27-28, 1962, Wilt dropped 65 on the beaks of the St. Louis Hawks and then hit the Chicago Zephyrs with 61.
One of the few people on the planet who could understand just how difficult a feat that was, leaned back onto the chair in front of his locker about an hour before game time Tuesday night and yawned.
“I’m extremely tired right now,” said LeBron James. “I’m very tired … I’ll try to find energy somewhere.”
It was a fruitless search.
The night after he made 22 of 33 shots — including a white-hot 8-for-10 from behind the 3-point line — and treated the game as if it were his own personal yo-yo on a string, James managed to shoot just 1-for-7 in the second half and didn’t score at all in the fourth quarter of Miami’s 106-103 loss to the Rockets.
It was the bite of the long, excruciating, debilitating schedule that caught up to the Heat after eight consecutive wins and it took the biggest chomp out of LeBron.
Twenty four hours earlier he had roamed and ruled the court like a masked superhero who seemed able to do just about anything but fly. Here was the price one pays — even so supremely talented a one — when the spotlight is turned off and the muscles feel the burn and the strain.
Outside the visiting locker room about an hour before tipoff, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra shrugged off the after-effects of scoring 61 points on James.
“He’s in his absolute youth and prime in his career,” Spoelstra said. “At this stage of his career he could probably play 40 minutes a night every single night.”
Of course, Spoelstra just coached and watched and occasionally bent down to pick his jaw up off the floor.
It was James who spent all of that energy being brilliant and transcendent, even if he did make it look so easy.
So when James was asked how he spent his roughly 20 hours of down time between games, he didn’t have to think long.
“We had a meeting and I slept,” he said. “I got in last night and slept. We had a meeting this morning and I slept again.”
After the kind of dominating, amazing month he just completed in February, you figure that James probably needs to hibernate like a bear until the start of the playoffs in April if the Heat are going to make a run at a three-peat.
But that’s not the way the hungry NBA schedule works. It keeps coming at you with jaws wide open.
“I’ll find energy,” James said again. “There’s no excuse. If I’m in the lineup, I’ll find it.”
Indeed, he pushed and he prodded himself through the first half, mostly looking like a guy trying to slog through mud.
James scored his first bucket on a driving layup and then was given credit for a bucket when Chandler Parsons was called for goaltending on a finger roll.
A minute later when Mario Chalmers tipped away a Dwight Howard pass to start a fast break, Dwyane Wade had the ball in the middle of the court, took one look at a bedraggled-looking James laboring to his right and simply took the ball all the way to the hoop himself.
He was LeBron that all the Heat jerseys in the Houston crowd came to see on back-to-back dunks and, even after a listless third quarter, he cavalierly tossed in a 28-foot turnaround bank shot over Parsons that seemed to beat the horn. But checking video replays, the referees ruled the shot late and no good.
One night everything you toss up in the direction of the basket finds the bottom of the net and the next you can’t catch a bring with a fling and a prayer. Even if you do finish 9-for-18 with 22 points and six assists.
For the Rockets, it was one of those measuring-stick games, the kind a young club needs to reinforce that it is on the right path.
For the Heat, it was simply the next stop on the world tour where everybody expects you to play all of your greatest hits and never sound a wrong note.
For James, it was the burden that comes from being the master in his prime and always having to live up to none other than yourself.
“I fought through it in the first half,” he said. “Second half it just wasn’t there for me. I got out of rhythm.”
Jumpers clanked off the rim. Drives came up just short. He went 0-for-3 in the fourth quarter and didn’t score a point.
When the Heat had one last chance to tie the game in the final 13 seconds, he couldn’t make a play and wound up heaving a desperate 3-point try over the long arms of Dwight Howard.
“I felt like I had a good look,” James said, “just a little low.”
Like his energy level. It’s hard to shoot through a yawn.
Of everyone in the Toyota Center, only one guy could imagine what it would take to do what he did the night before all over again. That’s where his career is these days, using only history as a reference point.
“No,” James said. “That’s extreme. You’ve got to be physically in shape, of course, and just have complete dominance on everybody that’s out there. Wilt was so much more dominant than everybody else that it’s not surprising … It’s not surprising at all.”
Except maybe what Wilt did two nights after he went back to back for that 65 and 61.
He scored 100.