Updated: January 18, 2013, 4:32 AM ET

1. LeBron's Night Punctuates Dazzling Run

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- LeBron James was ready to go to a birthday party.

"Yo, D-Wade," James yelled across the locker room as his teammates packed up. "Where are we going for your birthday?"

"We're going to the plane to fly all night," Wade said. "Maybe they'll have some cake and music."

It's amazing James would even have any energy left after a mesmerizing stretch of play over four days this week in the West. It culminated Thursday night, when James played one of the more unique games of his career in the Miami Heat's 99-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

With all the Player of the Week and Player of the Month Awards that have become routine and so much judgment saved for the playoffs, it can be easy to lose sight of the everyday masterpieces James delivers. He's had three of them just since Monday night, which rescued the Heat from what had the makings of a dismal road trip.

LeBron James
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillA vintage LeBron performance.

James' fourth quarter Monday in Utah was a showcase of his versatility, playing point guard on offense and center on defense to take over both ends of the court to lead a dramatic comeback that fell just short. Unless you saw it, fighting bigger players in the post and whipping passes through invisible alleys, you probably couldn't appreciate it.

Wednesday at Golden State was a night of history, in which he nailed two meaningful milestones over a span of about 20 minutes and came up just short of a triple-double, even with sitting out the fourth quarter. He needed 18 points to get to 20,000, but the Heat, who had lost three of four, needed a win. So he had the best-scoring first half of the season, putting up 21, and ended the discussion and the losing streak by the half.

Against the Lakers, he had his best overall offensive game of the season and one of the most efficient of his career. In a statement on just where Dwight Howard's health is at this point, James relentlessly attacked the Lakers' interior and teamed up with Wade to put on a highlight show with fast breaks after forcing turnovers. He made seven layups and six dunks, overall shooting 15-of-16 in the paint as he scored a season-high 39 points.

"Oh, incredible performance; he does that consistently, though," said Kobe Bryant, one of the rare players like James who can assemble so many sublime performances that they're easy to dismiss as routine.

"He's just a phenomenal player. He's one of the best we've ever seen."

Bryant had a good fourth quarter himself, scoring 13 points as he tried to lead a comeback. Wade had 27 points on his 31st birthday in one of the most explosive nights of his season, featuring his own series of basket attacks against the Lakers' tall but slow front line. The Heat piled up 68 points in the paint, shooting 34-of-48 in there by virtually ignoring Howard's and Pau Gasol's challenges.

Both Bryant and Wade are future Hall of Famers and neither of them came close to James, just the latest reminder of where the three-time MVP is in his career. At this juncture in history, he has challengers but no any longer any true peer. This week was just the latest example for the file, even if it is in danger of being forgotten when James has another "good" week.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra didn't even focus on all the James mastery around the rim. He pointed at a play, with five minutes left and the game tied, that he called the best of the Heat's six-game road trip. James, who had been switched to defend Bryant, challenged a jumper that Bryant missed. Then he dove on the floor, scooped up the loose ball, got to his feet, raced to the other end, attracted a double-team (the Lakers couldn't fathom giving up another dunk by then) and then kicked the ball to Ray Allen for a 3-pointer.

"That epitomizes what LeBron James is all about," Spoelstra said. "That's the best player in the league throwing his body out there in harm's way to come up with a big rebound."

That play, even though it felt big at the time, will probably mostly be gone from the memory banks by the time the playoffs start. James does these things so often, the short-term memory can't keep up. Gone, too, will be those dunks and vicious layups the Lakers were helpless to stop, replaced by some other athletic feats as James storms toward a fourth MVP.

"I don't take it for granted," James said. "When I'm back on the floor, back in uniform, I've just got to do my part."


Dimes past: Dec. 30 | 31 | Jan. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4-5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16

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