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LeBron James’ 61-point game re-ignites MVP race with Kevin Durant

Mar 4, 2014, 12:02 AM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat Getty Images

LeBron James could barely muster the strength to lift his head.

He walked upcourt with his eyes to the ground, looked up to wave a dribbling Mario Chalmers ahead, and then dropped his eyes back to the court. The Miami Heat called timeout, and LeBron removed his facemask while dragging himself toward the bench.

Spent from the highest-scoring game of both his career and the Heat franchise – 61 points in a 124-107 win over of the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday – LeBron looked like he just need a seat, a towel and a rest.

But the celebration interfered.

He high-fived and hugged Chalmers. He shook hands with Ray Allen. He high-fived Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley. He hugged Chris Andersen. He high-fived Rashard Lewis, looked around and then high-fived Lewis again. He hit Dwyane Wade with a triple low-five, a double high-five and then a shoulder bump. He found Erik Spoelstra and hugged him. He waved to the crowd. He got a pat on the back from Chris Bosh.

As the game resumed, the deafening noise in Miami found purpose. “MVP! MVP! MVP!” the crowd chanted.

Suddenly, LeBron is back in the MVP game.

After spending half the season drifting in the celebration of his recent successes – back-to-back championships, MVPs and NBA Finals MVPs and four MVPs in the last five years – LeBron finally appears ready to challenge Kevin Durant for 2013-14 MVP.

Durant had become the consensus choice for the award, because he’s having a better season than LeBron. The MVP, after all, is an annual honor granted for play in a given year.

But pose the question a little differently. Who is the best player in the NBA? I bet most would have chosen LeBron, even before tonight’s career outing.

Carrying a larger load with Russell Westbrook out certainly bolstered Durant’s MVP case, but so did LeBron’s apathy. There was always a sense LeBron could reclaim his crown if he wanted to.

Monday, it sure seemed like he wanted to. He torched the Bobcats with purpose, making his first eight 3-point attempts and needing just 33 shots to score his 61 points.

This was the type of signature performance that can swing voters in a tight MVP race, but first, LeBron must make the MVP race tight. One fantastic night won’t wow enough voters, not when Durant captured the basketball world for a whole month with his 12-game streak of 30-point games.

Soon, the vivid memories of LeBron’s 61-point game will fade. He’ll need to bolster this performance with a strong close to the regular season the same way he strongly closed this game after exiting it.

Despite looking so exhausted before his celebration, LeBron never took a seat on the bench while his teammates finished the final couple minutes. Long postseason runs might have sapped LeBron of some energy earlier in the season, but they didn’t keep him down permanently.

On the floor in Miami after his historic game and in the MVP race, LeBron James is still standing.

  1. jbeagles23 - Mar 3, 2014 at 11:51 PM

    Lebron was in the race before tonight.

    • thatguy517 - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:31 AM

      His month of Feb was one of the best ever 31 pts, 8 reb, 7 ast on 57% shooting cmon Kurt

      • thatguy517 - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:34 AM

        My bad Kurt posted the link but didn’t write this but I guess should still be said to both of them

      • fanofthegame79 - Mar 4, 2014 at 10:08 AM

        And let’s not forget that the Heat have a better record than the Thunder at this point. Something that looked out of reach in January.

  2. antistratfordian - Mar 3, 2014 at 11:56 PM

    The race was reignited when LeBron smacked the Thunder down in OKC.

    • casualcommenter - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:42 AM

      Yeah, as much as I hate how head-to-head wins/losses by teams affect the MVP race between individuals, in terms of public perception, that win by the Heat definitely was huge for LeBron’s chances.

    • bougin89 - Mar 4, 2014 at 8:43 AM

      Literally speaking though, wasn’t Lebron the one that got smacked in that game?

      • antistratfordian - Mar 4, 2014 at 7:46 PM

        I’m sure Chalmers took a cheap shot at someone in that game. Ibaka wasn’t alone.

      • bougin89 - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:42 AM

        I was joking, Lebron did lay down the smack in that game.

  3. penvik - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:07 AM

    Why are we making a big deal out of 61pts honestly. If he hogs the ball Lebron could do that on a nightly basis. Kobe had 81 for crying out loud. That’s the baseline for superstars at the moment. If Lebron wants to make waves he need to get into the 80s minimum or break Wilts record, that would be something, but 61pts is average and expected for someone like Lebron. If he’s the best ever he needs to score like it.

    • hoopskidcudi - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:48 AM

      Kobe took 13 more shots and had 8 more free-throws. Do you not think LeBron can score another 20 points if you gave him 13 more shots and 8 more ft attempts?

      • reesesteel23 - Mar 4, 2014 at 9:10 AM

        Judging from his percentages in the game, with 13 more shots and 8 free throws, he would have ended the game with something like 84 points….and that’s assuming all the extra baskets are 2pt shots….sprinkle in a couple more 3’s and he could have had 86 or 87.

    • pantsfreezone - Mar 4, 2014 at 3:13 AM

      This is a dumb comment and you should feel free never to share any thought that passes through what I assume is a deceased hamster acting as your brain ever again.

    • thesixersbench - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:43 AM

      Tremendous line of reasoning. What’s it like being the Pluto of the modern age? And how much is Burger King paying you now to operate the deep fryer?

    • doctordunkenstein - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:54 PM

      Definition of a Hater

  4. therooneyskilledwebster - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:21 AM

    See what happens when you lose the stupid black mask.

  5. indrathegod - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:21 AM

    They’re making it a big deal because it’s a franchise record and his career-high, you imbecile.

    Ugh.

  6. jbeagles23 - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:22 AM

    The fact you said average and expected from lebron shows you don’t watch a lot of basketball. You’d know lebron dominates games like Kobe never could, without scoring Its not who he is.

  7. coffeeblack95616 - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:27 AM

    And the fact you posted such a poorly written post shows you don’t read much or write well. That aside, your point is well taken: if scoring 61 points in a game is so easily dismissed, it simply supports the point that the man is an amazing talent.

  8. hoopskidcudi - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:46 AM

    LeBron’s 12 of 14 30 point games
    One 61 point game
    One game where he took Durant’s soul by scoring 8 consecutive baskets with KD guarding him (perimeter, post, mid-range)

    Durant hasn’t been the same since he lost his soul to LBJ in that one cold night in OKC…

    • robones - Mar 4, 2014 at 9:24 AM

      LBJ is Shang Tsung!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • fanofthegame79 - Mar 4, 2014 at 10:11 AM

        FINISH HIM!

    • doctordunkenstein - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:53 PM

      “YOUR SOUL IS MINE”

      -LeBron James

  9. irreduciblekoan - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:59 AM

    This article isn’t giving LeBron enough credit. He was already squarely in the MVP race before today’s game. While Durant had a superb January, LeBron had a HISTORIC February. In February he averaged over 30 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and shot 57%, the first time anyone has had those numbers during a month since Wilt in ’66. After that, he already made the MVP race close. Before tonight, he was already leading KD in most of the main statistics besides points, and the Heat had a better record than the Thunder.

    Tonight’s game doesn’t really change things that much.

    • putnam118 - Mar 4, 2014 at 7:43 AM

      you do realize that Jordan posted an average of 32.5 points, 8.0 rebs,8.0 asts, and 2.89 steals per game shooting 54% for the ’88-89 season right? I would hardly call one month of such numbers “HISTORIC”

  10. sportsfan18 - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:59 AM

    Many top regular stats and many top advanced stats for each this season:

    KD 31.6 pts a game
    LBJ 26.39 pts a game

    KD FG% .507%
    LBJ FG% .580%

    KD 3 pt % .396%
    LBJ 3 pt % .364%

    KD FT% .880%
    LBJ FT% .746%

    KD pts per 36 min’s of court time 29.6
    LBJ pts per 36 min’s of court time 26.0

    KD PER 30.4
    LBJ PER 29.6 (FYI, LBJ has lead the league the past 6 consecutive seasons)

    True shooting percentage KD .636%
    True shooting percentage LBJ .658%

    Neither one of them has run away and hid from the other. This is the first season (up to this point at least) where KD is legitimately in the running to actually win the MVP.

    If the season ended today, either could win and while the others fans wouldn’t be happy, if they’re being honest they’d have to admit that either is deserving at this point.

    One thing to me that pushes it towards KD is that Westbrook was out so much this season.

    When he fist went down, there were many articles wondering if the Thunder could remain at the top of the West, many said no they couldn’t.

    I know D Wade has sat a lot of games this year to try and ensure he’s healthy for the playoffs but KD has had to pick up a lot of the slack while knowing Westbrook would be out indefinitely…

    • borderline1988 - Mar 4, 2014 at 9:49 AM

      I still think KD wins MVP at this point b/c of how he has led OKC through Westbrook’s injury.

      But Lebron is really picking up steam now. If he plays like he did in February for the rest of the season, I don’t see how voters deny him another MVP.

  11. mustangs2 - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:05 AM

    haha, the dramatization at the start of the article about how tired LeBron was is a bit much.

    • miamatt - Mar 4, 2014 at 8:19 AM

      True, but if you were watching that game, it was obvious James was gassed well before he reached 61.

  12. johnnyg1021 - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:07 AM

    Guys… KD can have a MVP this year its ok but he taking that championship. He’ll get a few more MVPs before it over. Enjoy Lebron before its all over and you miss it because you hate.

  13. shaggytoodle - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:23 AM

    If he wants to get closer to the great MJ, leave the Heat, and win a Championship, in Milwaukee.

    • asimonetti88 - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:54 AM

      I heard the Bucks offered up Zaza Pachulia and Ersan Ilyasova for LeBron, but Pat Riley felt bad for fleecing Milwaukee so he said no

      • bougin89 - Mar 4, 2014 at 8:34 AM

        Hammond knew he could get Lebron free this summer so he didn’t want to give up so much, that’s when the talks really stalled.

    • katra2logic - Mar 4, 2014 at 2:24 AM

      The great MJ had Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc and some other pretty decent players alongside for those championships. If anything, the Jordan teams had more overall talent than the HEAT do now. Apples, oranges and pears when trying to compare players from differing eras.

      Now the GREAT Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did go to Milwaukee and won the championship with a team that probably had less talent than the current Buck’s team :-)

      • shaggytoodle - Mar 4, 2014 at 8:35 AM

        I never said MJ didn’t have great players around him, I said if Lebron wants to get closer to MJ, because Jordan been put on a pedestal, and people will ALWAYS compare the two whether we like it or not. If Lebron went to the Bucks and won a title.

        That would be something Jordan NEVER did. I think that would go a long ways in closing the gap between the two.

        That’s also one of the many reasons Kareem is one of the best players in NBA history.

      • bougin89 - Mar 4, 2014 at 8:39 AM

        The Bulls did have more overall talent and had Phil Jackson. They were also more dominant.

        “Now the GREAT Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did go to Milwaukee and won the championship with a team that probably had less talent than the current Buck’s team ”

        Easy now, he had Oscar Robertson on that team too.

      • 1heatedtoombrayduh - Mar 4, 2014 at 9:17 AM

        I’m not totally sold that the 90s bulls had THAT much more talent than the heat do now…top to bottom the heats roster is pretty dang great..all the pieces fit well and anyone can start on our team and do well…not sure if you can say the same for the bulls…(i havent done the research, so all of this is strictly opinionated)

      • padraighansen - Mar 4, 2014 at 10:30 AM

        Yeah, sorry, but the Big O was one of the best players to ever play the game. That was a much better Bucks team than people realize, both in talent and in results. And back in those days, the Bucks were in the west, meaning they had to go through the Wilt / West / Baylor / Goodrich Lakers, which they did. If I remember correctly, that Bucks team lost only 2 games all post season.

    • packergator - Mar 4, 2014 at 9:12 AM

      Right, because MJ didn’t play with any talent in Chicago. Fool.

      • shaggytoodle - Mar 4, 2014 at 8:07 PM

        That is a task that Jordan never accomplished, and a good way, to make people realize that he could possibly as good or maybe better, than Jordan.

  14. detlefschrempfriedrice - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:37 AM

    Idk if I had a player that was 6’8″ 250lbs that had a 40 inch vert, can run a 4.6 40, go play 41 min, go 22/33 (8/10 from beyond, 9/12 from stripe), 7 boards and 5 dimes…yeah, I’d be ok with him hogging the ball, although having watched the game I wouldn’t say he “hogged the ball”….

  15. turkbox420 - Mar 4, 2014 at 2:14 AM

    Does the Rotoworld most searched players list ever get updated?
    1.D. Williams (15466)
    2.E. Gordon (9829)
    J. Calderon (9410)
    B. Lopez (7977)
    A. Bargnani (7558)
    N. Batum (7194)
    M. Camby (5263)
    T. Lawson (4891)
    A. Davis (4855)
    G. Dragic (4696)

    • pharohislife - Mar 4, 2014 at 3:14 AM

      Right, cause there’s no way people are still even thinking of guys like Brook Lopez, Bargnani, AND MARCUS CAMBY!!! That much. There’s no way.

  16. ravenswhat - Mar 4, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    Lebron has carried teams with FAR less talent than durant’s Thunder to the finals. That says it all.

  17. unxpexted1 - Mar 4, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    I think it’s simple. Who has the best record at the end of the year. If it’s OKC, KD wins it. If it’s Miami, LBJ. I hate that its like that, but how you think Steve Nash won those MVP’s over Dwade and Kobe.

    • fanofthegame79 - Mar 4, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      You are most correct on this!

  18. joeksnuffy - Mar 4, 2014 at 11:00 AM

    This is what bothers me about Lebron and the Heat. They are looking for the highlight reel. They are looking to do something that makes headlines rather than just playing the game to win. Miami was up by double digits for most of the game and went up 20 at the end of the third. yet Lebron didn’t sit down until 2 minutes left in the game. He played 41 minutes. He was trying to get 60 points, rather than it just happening in the flow or needing to happen to win the game. It’s just to bolster his already inflated ego.

  19. jbeagles23 - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    And Kobe wasn’t going for 80 against the raptors?

  20. penvik - Mar 4, 2014 at 6:21 PM

    NBA players have been over 60 pts, 62 times or close to that. Wilt has 32 of them, so yeah, Lebron, nothing special and you have 31 to go if you want to be mentioned in the same breath. Like I said earlier this is not a big deal

  21. penvik - Mar 4, 2014 at 6:21 PM

    NBA players have been over 60 pts, 62 times or close to that. Wilt has 32 of them, so yeah, Lebron, nothing special and you have 31 to go if you want to be mentioned in the same breath. Like I said earlier this is not a big deal

  22. dolphindubs - Mar 4, 2014 at 8:55 PM

    @penvik

    So the game Jordan and Bryant had were no big deals as well right?

    Get off these sites! Learn to love the game and appreciate what you get to see! Commenters like you are pathetic, not really a fan of sports. Just pathetic.

  23. 1heatedtoombrayduh - Mar 4, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    Yea, was already mad because i got home late and couldnt watch the game, then when i saw the score and how much time was left, i was like “WTH is lebron still doing in the game”? I just didnt want him to get hurt..but Gee whiz 61? i guess i can understand lol… as a coach sometimes you let your player stuff the stat sheet..whatever it takes to keep him motivated

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