by Sean Ceglinsky / @seanceglinsky
Not sure how many more times LeBron James can be crowned as King James, but he certainly played the part for the Miami Heat during Thursday’s showdown against the Los Angeles Lakers. The effort was at Staples Center, no less, once thought to be the proverbial kingdom of Kobe Bryant. That wasn’t the case this time around, however.
James dominated from the opening tip until the final seconds ticked off the fourth quarter clock. He essentially stole the show in 42 minutes of action and finished with 39 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 3 steals in an impressive 99-90 victory. Long live King James, excuse the reference again.
“He’s just a phenomenal player. He’s one of the best we’ve ever seen,’’ Bryant said about James to some media members in the locker room.
James had some help along the way.
Not from Chris Bosh, mind you. He was nonexistent, at most times, and ended up with 7 points on 3-10 shooting from the field in 35 minutes.
Dwyane Wade did his part. On his 31st birthday, to boot. He had 27 points on 11-20 shooting, to go along with 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
“We were in attack mode,’’ James said.
He did just that, attack, in the first half. James had multiple breakaway dunks, a couple where his head was even, or above, the rim. Even a normally subdued pro-Lakers crowd was seemingly on the edge of their seats when James was in the open floor. He scored 12 points in the first quarter and had 18 by the halftime break, although the Heat trailed, 45-44.
James finished with six dunks against the Lakers, tops in any of his games with Miami and the most since he had seven against the Utah Jazz in 2009
“You have to marvel at what LeBron did tonight,’’ Mike D’Antoni said.
Dwight Howard agreed: “LeBron is going to get his points, we know.’’
If James was worried about the Lakers maintaining the momentum in the second half and making things interesting, it certainly did not show when he exited the locker room and made his way to the hardwood to warm-up for the final 24 minutes of play.
He was as carefree as they come in this one. Eerily similar to a king in his castle, dare I say? No more king connotations. That was the final time.
Immediately after Shaquille O’Neal finished up his halftime segment for TNT, courtside with the likes of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson, the Big Fella made a beeline over to James in the layup line. With the cameras momentarily off, the two dapped and briefly chopped it up. Both were all smiles before O’Neal headed back to the booth.
James was just getting started. Intermission or not, he cut his routine short to spread some love to Floyd Mayweather before the third quarter clock moved. The boxer was posted up in the front row, at the end of the Heat bench in fact. His seats, of course, were among the most expensive in the entire house. An individual from the Lakers public relations office confirmed that fact. Anyway, James noticed Money Mayweather and the two hugged it out.
With the pomp and circumstance out of the way, James turned his focus to the task at hand. His resolve didn’t bode well for the Lakers. Not at all. James scored 11 points in the third quarter to give the Heat a 73-65 lead to start the fourth quarter.
“Seemed like a normal LeBron game to me, he was tough tonight. He’s a terrific player,’’ Steve Nash said during post-game interviews.
Bryant did his best to keep things somewhat close on Thursday. A poor start did not help matters much. With 10 minutes left in the game, he was 3-18 from the floor. Four straight buckets followed and he finished with 22 points on 8-25 shooting.
James scored another 10 points in the fourth quarter, including the final five of the game. His dunk down the lane with five seconds left on the clock put an exclamation point on the victory.
By that time, most of the star-studded crowd had already dispersed. Mark Wahlberg was long gone. The same thing could be said about Queen Latifah and Ron Howard.
It didn’t take long for the remaining and mostly restless Lakers fans to also head for the exits. As quickly as possible, make no mistake. Everyone at Staples Center had apparently seen enough of King James.