At this point, LeBron James may never take his mask off.
Coming off the highest scoring performance of his career, James tries to lead the visiting Miami Heat to a ninth straight win and eighth in a row over the Houston Rockets as two of the NBA’s hottest teams square off Tuesday night.
James put on a show in Monday’s 124-107 win over Charlotte, posting a franchise-record 61 points while making 22 of 33 shots.
"The amazing part is the efficiency," teammate Shane Battier said. "Good Lord. Sixty-one on 33 shots, that’s Wilt Chamberlain-esque. That’s pretty amazing. Incredible performance."
The four-time MVP also set team records with most points in any quarter (25 in the third) and most in the second half (37). He finished 8 of 10 from 3-point range after making his first eight attempts.
"The man above has given me some unbelievable abilities to play the game of basketball. I just try to take advantage of it every night. I got the trust of my teammates and my coaching staff to go in there and let it go," he said.
"Every night I go on the floor I want to be the MVP, of this league, MVP of this team, MVP for me, myself and my family. I’ve set a high standard and I have to live by that."
James, who has been wearing a protective mask to shield a broken nose, has averaged 37.1 points on 63.7 percent shooting while playing in seven of Miami’s eight consecutive wins. The Heat (43-14) have outscored opponents by an average of 13.9 points during their run.
"If he’s going to shoot the ball like that from that range, there’s nobody that’s going to beat them," Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said.
The Rockets haven’t been able to slow down Miami, which is averaging 112.6 points over a seven-game winning streak in the series. James is averaging 33.8 in the last four meetings, and Dwyane Wade is at 31.3 in his last four.
The Rockets (40-19) have won 11 of 13 after beating Detroit 118-110 on Saturday. Terrence Jones led the way with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and James Harden scored 20 to go with 12 assists. The Rockets improved to 25-3 when Jones scores more than 10.
Houston took a 23-point lead into the break before letting up a bit in the second half.
"I thought we should have really put the foot on the gas," All-Star center Dwight Howard said. "We didn’t. We allowed them to get back into the game, and that is not what we need to do if we want to be a championship team."
The Rockets are 17-3 against Eastern Conference opponents, including 12-0 at home. The Heat are 17-4 versus the West, and 8-2 in the second half of back-to-back games.
"Great team, it’s going to be a good challenge for us," said Harden, whose team is on the verge of a season best-tying sixth straight home win. "Limit our turnovers and rebound the basketball – if we do those two things, we’ll be in good hands."
Harden had 36 points, a career-high 12 boards and seven assists in a 114-108 loss at Miami last Feb. 6. James and Wade scored a combined 63 in that game.
Wade sat out Monday to rest his knees, but he figures to play in this one. He is averaging 23.5 points while shooting 62.1 percent in his last four games.
Houston’s Chandler Parsons could also return after sitting out Saturday due to a sinus infection.
The Heat’s Erik Spoelstra was named East coach of the month for February, and Houston’s Kevin McHale won in the West.