LeBron starting to get that MVP feeling again
With a shrug and a smile, LeBron James put the NBA on notice.
It happened Tuesday night, in his televised on-court interview after his latest colossal game: 41 points, a season-high-tying 13 rebounds, eight assists, three steals in a 117-112 victory for the Miami Heat over the Indiana Pacers.
James confirmed what his play of late has been revealing - that the acclimation process to his new surroundings might be over.
''I'm in my zone, in a comfort zone where I've been the last two years,'' James told Sun Sports as the arena emptied, the sweat still falling off his head. ''It took me a little while to get here, but I'm very comfortable with this team. I'm very comfortable with the sets, offensively and defensively.
''And I'm back to playing LeBron James basketball.''
For the past two years, when he was leading the Cleveland Cavaliers, that's meant MVP basketball.
It may mean the same again.
The NBA's two-time reigning MVP is the league's leading scorer since Jan. 1, averaging 30.6 points per game - even while teammate Dwyane Wade is scoring at a 26.6-point clip over that span, the third-best average since the calendar flipped to 2011.
James is on pace for a career-high in double-doubles. His 51 points in Orlando last week is the league's single-game high this season. He's averaging 29.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists in his last 20 games.
And to think, James said he doesn't even start the process of getting postseason-sharp until after the All-Star break.
''LeBron did,'' Pacers center Roy Hibbert marveled Tuesday night after James' big night, ''what LeBron does.''
That's why the Heat wanted him so badly last summer, of course.
He's the current Eastern Conference player of the week, which has become such a commonplace award for him - he's won 30 in his career - that it goes largely unnoticed. The ankle and shin injuries he dealt with in the first half of the season may have been more problematic than anyone knew, considering that his explosiveness - or lack thereof at times - was a running joke among teammates.
James had a season-high five dunks Tuesday night, including a spectacular one in the first quarter. Wade had a shot blocked by Indiana's Josh McRoberts, but James swooped in, grabbed the rebound and dunked it with such force that the ball glanced off the left side of Wade's face.
''I didn't have that pep in my step, so he was trying to send me a message as well, get myself going,'' Wade said.
James didn't need any help getting going against the Pacers. He shot 15 of 23 from the floor, connecting on at least a 60-percent clip for the third time in his last seven games.
''He's playing MVP basketball right now,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''I don't even think that's debatable.''
James said weeks ago that with him playing alongside Wade and Chris Bosh, their MVP chances would plummet. One, there didn't figure to be a way for any of them to collect enough gaudy statistics. Two, and the Heat know this, there's still no shortage of resentment around the league about their decisions to play together - and the manners in which those decisions were announced.
The second point, there's no getting around.
The first point, James and Wade are debunking that with ease.
''When you go into a summer and you have to make a decision on your future, you sit and think about what's important to you,'' Wade said. ''Of course a lot of players love individual publicity and the light to be on them, but you've got to think about what's more important.''
Miami came into Wednesday five games clear of Atlanta in the Southeast Division, 5 1/2 ahead of Orlando. With some separation in the division race, the Heat are eyeing Boston for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
After beating the Pacers, the Heat closed that gap to a half-game - and they'll be in Boston on Sunday. The Heat opened the season there in much-anticipated fashion way back in October, stumbling to an 88-80 defeat.
The Celtics have gotten better since.
So, too, have the Heat - and James says there's no comparison between how Miami was then and how the Heat are clicking now.
''It was definitely an adjustment period for all of us, including myself, just changing locations,'' James said. ''Basically, it was the first time in my life I've lived somewhere else besides Akron, Ohio. ... Now I'm comfortable, on and off the court, and it's resulted in me playing some good basketball - and us playing some great basketball together.''