PHOENIX — The noise has returned in a rush of late—the noise about him ceding his MVP throne, the noise about his potential offseason plans, the noise about him denying the carnival barkers an All-Star Slam Dunk Contest, the noise about his turnover trouble and long-range shooting slippage.
All the while, without notice, something's been happening for LeBron James.
Something that will matter more than anything to Miami's chances of winning a third straight championship. Something that was evident Tuesday, during his dominant performance in a 103-97 win against the Suns, in which he contributed 37 points, nine rebounds and five steals, more than making up for Dwyane Wade's migraine-induced absence.
"I'm feeling really good right now," James said.
It may not have been especially apparent that he ever felt otherwise, since he's missed only one of the Heat's 50 games and is still on pace for a superlative statistical season. But on a number of occasions this season, and as recently as Jan. 28, James has alluded to not feeling physically right.
Apparently, since that last mention, some healing happened.
"About a week and a half ago," James said. "My shoulder is feeling a lot better. Obviously, I'm not icing it after the game now, it's feeling a lot better, I've been doing some exercises on that. My knee is feeling a lot better. My groin is feeling a lot better now. Obviously, I'm going to continue to do the treatment, as you can see."
He looked down at his knees, both in ice, with stimulation attached.
"But I'm feeling pretty good," James said. "And hopefully, I can continue this after the All-Star break."
He still has a game to go, Wednesday against the Warriors in Oakland. But if he plays this way, Miami might enter the midseason spectacle with a little momentum.
James missed nine of 13 shots in Saturday's loss to Utah, and he missed his first two layups Tuesday. But this time he kept coming, continuing to answer Erik Spoelstra's Monday call for less settling. All four of his field goals in the first half came from inside three feet. Even after he opened the second half by stroking a three-pointer, that didn't alter his attacking agenda.
Then, in the third quarter, he got loose, turning the U.S. Airways Center into a launchpad. He took a slick pass from surprise starter Toney Douglas for a half-court slam, then stole a pass from Goran Dragic and unleashed the windmill.
"Just being able to anticipate plays, seeing the pass before it happens, be able to shoot the gap like that," James said. "My legs are starting to come back to me. And I'm able to get out on the break much faster right now. It helps when we are able to load our defense, and then I am able to be the recipient of guys putting pressure on the ball and making weak passes. And I was able to get a couple tonight."
After a brief rest in the fourth quarter, he missed his next three shots, including a forced 28-footer. But in the final 2:05, he took over. First, there was the 18-foot step back to put the Heat ahead by five. Then, two more steals, the second of which he turned into a high-speed jam with Dragic chasing.
"I'm an in-game dunker," James said with a smile and a lip smack.
When does he decide what to do?
"I don't know, man," James said. "I just jump and figure it out. Because I am running so fast down, I just kind of just jump and figure it out. And I've been able to finish more than I missed."
He finished the night by using his sight and his smarts.
First, he smoked a pinpoint cross-court pass to Chris Bosh for a three-pointer.
Finally, with 10.9 seconds left, he spotted a teammate in trouble.
"I saw something possibly bad happening, when Ray got stuck in the corner," James said. "So I didn't even look at the play no more."
Spoelstra, from the sideline, was trying to get an official's attention.
James beat him to it.
"I just started to yell at the ref and see if he would give me a timeout, and he gave it to me," James said.
"It was a very heady play," Spoelstra said. "A very heady play on his part."
On a night that a spirited win left James feeling fine, in mind and body.
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