DALLAS -- He threw down one of the sickest dunks of the season for starters, although you could debate whether it was his best dunk this week.
King's dramatic rise and fall
He proceeded to keep his short-handed team in the game all the way to the finish, no matter how often it seemed he was playing 1-on-5.
LeBron James even wound up guarding the league's leading MVP candidate for half of the fourth quarter, as if he wasn't doing enough by then.
You could not overlook the fact that James somehow found time to stuff two missed free throws and two off-target, potentially overtime-forcing triples into the final 13.7 seconds of a 95-92 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
Yet you could not deny that, playing like this, James almost single-handedly derailed a juggernaut that freaks out its fans if it doesn't win in a walk. A club that has won 14 consecutive games, after earlier streaks of 12 and 13 straight, as well as 21 in a row at home.
"When he attacks like that," said Cavs coach Mike Brown, "I don't know who can stop him.
"His level of intensity and focus were off the charts."
They really were. In a season marked by accusations that he and his team have at times been coasting -- or worse -- James began the stretch run by frequently toasting the league's best team on national television.
It was always going to be tough not to be drawn to the one-man show, since I regularly see more of the steamrolling Mavs than the Cavs, but it's no exaggeration to say that Thursday was one of those nights that only LeBron could stop LeBron. Until his inability to cash in on some very friendly looks in that calamitous crunch time, James was shooting 17-for-25 from the floor.
You can't fawn over what he did without acknowledging that Dallas' focus and sharpness are bound to waver on occasion after all its recent dominance. You can't ignore, furthermore, that the Mavs could only deploy their top two perimeter defenders for 14 combined minutes, with Devean George sidelined and Greg Buckner ailing.
But don't forget that James lost a queasy, flu-ridden Larry Hughes in pregame warm-ups and still wouldn't let his overmatched gang fade away, not even in the face of a 14-point deficit with 6:21 to play.
After a 10-point flurry from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry's 3-pointer when Nowitzki was double-teamed made it 89-75, LeBron switched onto Dirk and helped hold him scoreless for the final 6:21. The Cavs kept scrambling, too, until they found themselves in a one-possession game, only succumbing after young No. 23 tumbled into the baseline seats on a late drive and then finally started missing.
First came the two errant free throws, adding to LeBron's longstanding woes at the line, only for Shannon Brown's offensive rebound to present James with another shot to crack the 40-point plateau for the first time this season. He actually wound up getting two cracks at a game-tying 3, thanks to another offensive volleyball tip by Anderson Varejao, but failed to connect on both to leave James stuck on 39 points.
Coach Brown was nonetheless moved to put the performance in James' top two for the season and I see no need to hedge that much. Clever as those commercials are -- I can't deny liking when Business takes over the pool -- this is the LeBron we all want to see.
This was LeBron shaking Josh Howard along the baseline, levitating long enough to beat DeSagana Diop's futile jump at the rim and finishing as hard as he ever has to get the ball back through the rim with a Dominique Wilkins-style finish, all from a range that would have forced almost anyone else to consider their layup options.
This was better, to me, than James posterizing the Hornets' Hilton Armstrong on Tuesday night. This might have been better than LeBron dribbling in from the 3-point line and rising up to throw one down on Tim Duncan's head in San Antonio. This was the best dunk I've ever seen in this building in person apart from Tracy McGrady flushing so viciously on Shawn Bradley in the 2005 playoffs that he landed on Bradley's back.
"This is the best I've felt [all season]," James said afterward. "After the All-Star break, you know it's time to pick up your game."
An answer like that made me think LeBron is A) acutely aware of the flak he's been getting for not playing with this kind of fire every night and B) that he sees nothing wrong with saving as much of himself as he can for those increasingly wide-open Eastern Conference playoffs.
Not that you should expect any apologies either way.
"For what?" James said. "I've never listened to my critics in my life and I never will."
Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images
LeBron James looks to make a move on Dirk Nowitzki.
I'm also told that Chris Webber's presence has invigorated Rasheed Wallace, and that Rasheed is willing to spend more time on the block because of it.
And neither Dallas nor Phoenix strikes any fear in the Pistons. Detroit is 2-1 against Dallas the past two seasons, and it doesn't believe Dirk Nowitzki can handle Rasheed on the block. They feel that Rasheed makes Dirk work so hard defensively that it slows him down a bit on the other end.
As for the Suns, the Pistons believe that with several days to prepare -- as well as plenty of time to make adjustments in a seven-game series -- they will prevail.
LeBron James is now 27-for-46 (58.7 percent) this season on late-game pressure free throws (defined by the Elias Bureau as attempts in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or in OT with neither team leading by more than four points). He is making 68.4 percent of his free throws in all other situations this season.
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That's 14 in a row for Dallas
Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images
LeBron James was often one step ahead of the Mavs, but ultimately the hosts held on, improving to 49-9.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Nuggets VP of Basketball Operations Mark Warkentien tells Chad Ford how Allen Iverson is blending in with the team and Carmelo Anthony:
Harry (NY): Can you explain the cap hold? Why is it $13 million for Darko Milicic? So if they do nothing with him and he signs for the qualifying offer then the cap hold still takes effect?
Chad Ford: No ... the minute he signs with the Magic you use the actual number he signed for. Or, if he signs with another team and the Magic don't match or if the team just waives him (very unlikely) then his cap hold comes off the book. So for example, if Darko signs with a starting salary of $6 million, his cap hold goes away and it's replaced by the $6 million. In that scenario, the Magic would have $11 million left to spend in free agency.
March 2, 1962
March 2, 1951
March 4, 1998
March 5, 1996
-- Peter D. Newmann