CHARLOTTE — The stage was set just as Saturday was starting.
LeBron James didn't see Kevin Durant's dirty deeds live, not with the Heat flying from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to finish the dreaded road weekend back-to-back. But he got word before long, right after the Heat landed, about the Oklahoma City forward's soaring performance.
"As soon as I looked at my phone, a family member of mine was like, 'KD had 54 (points), you only had 21, you stink,'" James relayed prior to Miami's 104-96 overtime win against the Bobcats. "So... hilarious. Yup, yup, yup."
And yup, James acknowledged that such accomplishments by other superstars can be inspirational, that he "ain't beyond" trying to outdo them on some other court.
"I ain’t beyond that at all," James repeated. "I love it. I love to see KD do something like that. You know, gives me an incentive."
To score 54?
"No, I ain’t get that many shots around here," James said. "But I might be able to do a little something, probably get a couple dunks or something, I don’t know."
He did get those spectacular slams Saturday, a pair of reverses to start the fourth quarter ("I was able to turn the corner"), and give Miami a short-lived lead. But that wasn't what was most notable about his evening. Nor was it his 5-of-5 start mostly out of the post ("came out shooting the ball extremely well'), his 0-of-9 stretch ("just hit a cold streak"), his missed pullup at the regulation buzzer ("I got a great look; we either win right there, or we go to overtime"), or his two driving layups to ice the game in overtime ("guys made shots, so it opened the defense up, and then I was able to penetrate and get to the lane and make a few plays.").
It wasn't about the quality, as much as the quantity, the fact that James got a chance to shoot through his struggles, and stayed aggressive throughout. He did this without Dwyane Wade (resting) on the floor, for sure, but as he noted before the game, Wade's absence often turns him into more of a facilitator.
James did have six assists Saturday, and should have had more, had the likes of Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Udonis Haslem (who did turn in terrific defensive work on Al Jefferson) converted more of his passes.
Still, he found a way to mix in 25 shots while dropping a game-high 34 points.
That may not seem like much, since Durant has taken that many seven times this season, including six of the Thunder's last dozen contests, as he tries to compensate for Russell Westbrook's absence.
But it's more than James has taken in all but one game this season—Dec. 23 against Atlanta, when he took 28 as the Heat also won in overtime. Sometimes, he's even appeared to measure his shots to preserve his percentages, which made his recent comments to ESPN.com—about getting "jealous sometimes" when he looks at Durant's attempts—all the more odd.
After all, James often has the ball.
He always has the authority.
He can do this more often.
He probably ought to.
He seemed to agree after the game.
After all, when it was mentioned that it was his second-highest shot total of the season, he smiled.
Then he shimmied his shoulders.
He was able to shoot his way back into the game, as so many stars (such as Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Stephen Curry) do.
"Yeah, I was, I was," James said.
He said the game presented itself for him to stay aggressive.
"And, you know, it felt good," James said. "It definitely felt good. I'm icing my shoulder right now. I'm not used to that."
We're not used to seeing it so much anymore, now that he averages 16.1 attempts per game, down from a high of 23.1 in his third season in Cleveland and dropping his career average to 20.0. But, while his percentage might slip somewhat if he was a bit less selective, and while Erik Spoelstra doesn't want him chucking walk-up early-clock jumpers, Miami might be even more efficient overall if he hiked his volume just a bit.
So, even on a night that he missed nine straight in one stretch, he still finished at a respectable 52 percent, he still scored 34, and he still did plenty else as Miami won.
He didn't outdo Durant, not on this night.
But he sure didn't stink.