With significant ground to make up in the MVP race, LeBron James needed a statement.
He opted for a miracle instead.
"Phenomenal. Amazing. Stupendous. Immaculate," teammate Chris Bosh said of James' career-high and franchise-record 61-point outburst during the Miami Heat's 124-107 thrashing of the Charlotte Bobcats Monday night, via David J. Neal of the Miami Herald.
Bosh's words were pertinent, expressed in a way one might describe an otherworldly encounter that defies logic. Because that's exactly what the hoops world witnessed here—a masterpiece that left the planet's greatest artists drooling, a big bang that the scientifically slanted sports world could not explain.
A physical specimen that stands apart from his peers in a larger-than-life league, the clear-masked man showed that while he might bleed like the rest of us, he still possesses superhuman powers:
"Good Lord," Shane Battier said of King James' latest coronation, via Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (via NBA.com). "Sixty-one on 33 shots, that's Wilt Chamberlain-esque."
James proved once again why he's the face of efficiency.
He finished his night 22-of-33 from the field, giving him the highest field-goal percentage (66.7) in a 60-point game since Shaquille O'Neal had 61 on 68.6 percent shooting in 2000, per basketball-reference.com. James' 78.8 effective field-goal percentage is the third highest in the shot-clock era in a 60-point game, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain (82.9) and Karl Malone (80.8), per Elias Sports Bureau (h/t ESPN Stats and Information and Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel). James tied Kobe Bryant for the most triples in a 60-point outburst, per basketball-reference.com.
The numbers are shocking, until you consider the source.
The four-time MVP began his stretch sprint a while ago. Monday was his sixth 30-plus-point performance in his last seven games, a torrid run that's produced 37.1 points on .637/.500/.702 shooting, 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.4 steals and, most importantly, seven Heat victories.
Of course, James isn't the only one who's having a cape-fitting this season. In fact, the 29-year-old still finds himself sitting second on most NBA MVP Big Boards.
That top spot—for now at least—still belongs to Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant. The man who has been without a top-10 talent (Russell Westbrook) for half the season and still has his team holding the third-best winning percentage (.750) and third-highest net rating (plus-7.4 points per 100 possessions), per nba.com.
That gap is thinning, though, much like the air in the ethereal atmosphere these two players occupy.
|Tale of the Tape|
The stat sheet isn't likely to settle this debate. Durant has been riding a fiery streak of his own: 35.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.5 steals over his last eight games.
Even with that 61-point barrage under his belt, James still faces a considerable deficit in scoring. Of course, he also gets more than three fewer shots per game (17.4 to 20.5). That seven-plus-point percentage difference in field-goal shooting practically negates Durant's advantage in points.
James still has a sizable lead in assists, but he's seeing nearly two more assist opportunities (11.9 to 10.1) than Durant, per NBA.com's SportVU player tracking data. Durant also has a higher usage rate (32.7 to 30.8) and lower turnover percentage (12.7 to 14.3), per basketball-reference.com. Take the difference in roles into account, and it's almost a wash in this category.
The court of public opinion still gives James the defensive edge, and his combination of speed, strength and size makes it hard to disagree. The numbers, though, show Durant as having a better defensive season. He has a lower defensive rating (102 to 105), via basketball-reference.com, and lower player efficiency ratings allowed to opposing 3s (10.0 to 10.7) and 4s (11.8 to 14.8), per 82games.com.
This isn't to say Durant will sway any voters with his defense, but rather to point out that the category will no longer hold him back.
"He doesn't get enough credit because he's such a great offensive player," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Durant, via Sam Amick of USA Today, "but we don't have success if he's not defending."
The standings probably won't pick a clear-cut winner, either. If you find power rankings that place either Miami or Oklahoma City outside of the top four, it's time to start shopping for a new power-ranking provider.
Some voters prefer the best-player-on-best-team interpretation of value, but it's tough to differentiate the dominance that both of these teams possess.
Even the fallen-star narrative is starting to lose steam. Westbrook's 30 absences still weigh heavily in the voters' minds, but Dwyane Wade just sat out his 16th game of the season.
What will ultimately crown this champion? Judging by what we've seen so far, we're still waiting on that "Aha!" moment to surface—or hoping an obvious one will eventually come along.
"The 2013-14 season is showing us how silly it is to not look at the process of the entire regular season before rewarding someone with the distinction as the league's move valuable," CBS Sports' Zach Harper noted.
That couldn't be better news for the basketball world.
With the MVP race far from over, expect to see more statements made by the two greatest players on the planet. Expect to see some red marks after pinching yourself to make sure that what you're seeing is real.
Expect nothing less than a photo finish. And a video review to declare the winner.
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