James returns to form with 41 points vs. Sixers

April 4, 2012

It’s the same with LeBron James. When he
had failed to reach 30 points for nine straight games, his longest such
streak since early in his second season of 2004-05, it was a drought.

Well, James corrected that Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
With the Heat missing Dwyane Wade due to a sore left knee, James stepped
up to score a season-high 41 points in a 99-93 win over Philadelphia.

“I guess so,’’ James said when asked if he had been in a slump. “I
don’t know. It doesn’t really matter to me about scoring. I never base
my career on scoring and 30-point games or whatever the streak is.’’

James hadn’t reached 30 points since he had 35 on March 14 at Chicago.
In his previous nine games he averaged 21 points to drop his season
average to 26.5 and career mark to 27.6.

But James took over
when the Heat needed him Tuesday. He scored 23 points in the second
half, including 15 in the fourth quarter, as Miami stormed back from a
54-51 halftime deficit and pulled away with 2½ minutes left in the

The Heat clinched a playoff berth and won their 16th
straight home game, two shy of the team record. They also improved to
9-1 without Wade.

“It’s good,’’ Heat forward Chris Bosh said of
James getting his second 40-point game of the season. “(James’ scoring
ability) never leaves him. It was good just to see him aggressive and
put everything behind him and just play basketball. We all know that he
can score. He knows that he can score. And it’s been a while since I’ve
seen him have a 40-point game, and I think this is a great confidence

Since James’ previous game of 30 or more, he had
banged his head in a game and suffered injuries to his right elbow and
left finger. The nine-game slowdown, during which the Heat went 6-3,
included James shooting 48.1 percent to drop his season mark to 53.5.

During those three tough weeks, James also likely lost the grip he had
on a third MVP award. Most NBA insiders believe he has fallen behind
Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, but James can do something about
that Wednesday when the Thunder visit AmericanAirlines Arena.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said he’s “hopeful’’ Wade will return
Wednesday. Spoelstra learned about two hours before tip-off that Wade
wouldn’t be able to go due to lingering soreness after banging knees in
Sunday’s 91-72 loss at Boston.

“We’re not weighing opponents or
anything like that,’’ Spoelstra said, dismissing any speculation that
Wade, no longer a youngster at 30, was being rested for Wednesday’s
game. “But I think we’ll see some significant progress in the next 24
hours and then we’ll re-evaluate before the game.’’

Shane Battier got the start for Wade. But that wasn’t the only lineup change Spoelstra made.

Getting the call at center in place of Joel Anthony was recently
acquired Ronny Turiaf, who provides more offense — six points and six
rebounds in 23 minutes Tuesday. Anthony had started 50 of the first 51
games, missing one due to injury.

“This is not in cement,’’
Spoelstra said of the move, saying he liked how Turiaf played and that
he often has wanted Anthony in a situation where he provides “energy’’
off the bench.

After the Heat were battered in Beantown,
Spoelstra was looking for energy anywhere he could get it. In the end,
James picked a great time to have his highest-scoring game since March
18, 2011 at Atlanta.

“We needed it, quite frankly,’’ Spoelstra
said. “There is no question about it, with Dwyane out, we knew (James)
would have to shoulder a little bit more offensively and the ball was
going through him a little more often.’’

Point guard Mario
Chalmers figured prominently too: His 19 points were his best effort
since Feb. 21, and he knocked Philadelphia defensive specialist Andre
Iguodala out of the game late in the third quarter when Chalmers
inadvertently hit him in the left eye. Iguodala said after the hit he
was “seeing double,’’ but that he soon was much better.

It only
looked like there were two LeBrons swooping down the lane. James was all
over the place in the fourth quarter, shooting 4 of 7 from the field
and 7 of 9 from the line.

“At the end of the game, LeBron James
showed why he is one of the great players in the game, if not the
greatest,’’ 76ers coach Doug Collins said.

With praise like
that, now you know why there are far different standards for James than
for others. Nine straight games without scoring 30 points definitely was
a slump.