MIAMI – Best player. Best game of his career.
LeBron James clearly isn’t ready to concede his MVP award to anyone yet.
Dazzling from inside and out, James put on the best scoring show of his NBA life Monday night, pouring in 61 points — a career high and franchise record — as the Miami Heat beat the Charlotte Bobcats 124-107. It was the eighth straight win for the two-time defending champions, who are starting to roll as the playoffs get near.
James made 22 of 33 shots from the field, including his first eight 3-point attempts.
“The man above has given me some unbelievable abilities to play the game of basketball,” James said. “I just try to take advantage of it every night. I got the trust of my teammates and my coaching staff to go in there and let it go.”
His career best had been 56 points, on March 20, 2005, for Cleveland against Toronto. Glen Rice scored 56 to set the Heat record on April 15, 1995, against Orlando.
James had 24 points at halftime, then added 25 in the third quarter. The record-breaker came with 5:46 left, when James spun through three defenders for a layup that fell as he tumbled to the court.
“There was an efficiency to what he was doing,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The rim looked like an ocean for him.”
Spoelstra walked into his postgame news conference with a confession: He nearly took James out after the third quarter.
Good thing he thought better of that plan.
“He was in a great groove, obviously,” Spoelstra said.
Al Jefferson had 38 points and 19 rebounds for the Bobcats, his huge night merely an afterthought.
This was all about LeBron.
“You take away his 61 points,” Jefferson said, “and we still had a fighting chance there at the end.”
Yes, even the Bobcats were marveling at James. He was hitting from everywhere, even a pull-up 3-pointer from about 9 meters — Spoelstra joked it was from 12 meters — late in the third quarter, as the crowd roared and the Heat bench jumped with joy.
“Yeah, that was a designed play,” Spoelstra deadpanned. “We’ve been working on that one for a while.”
That was the moment, James said, when he knew he was in the midst of a special night.
“I felt pretty good in the first half but halftime can always kind of derail things and slow things up,” James said. “But I was able to get things going once again in the third quarter and I knew it could be one of those nights.”
Not “one of those nights.”
Even for James, this was like no other.
Most points in a game. Most field goals in a game. Most points in any quarter in Heat history, with the 25 in the third. Most points in the second half, 37, by any Heat player ever.
Nets 96, Bulls 80
In New York, Jason Collins played the final minutes of a winning home debut with Brooklyn, who cooled off Chicago.
Finally playing at home more than a week after returning to the NBA as the league’s first openly gay player, Collins checked in with 2:41 remaining to a standing ovation from a sellout crowd of 17,732 that included former NBA commissioner David Stern. Collins committed a foul just 5 seconds later and missed his only shot as the Nets won their third straight.
Collins’ original 10-day contract will expire Tuesday and the Nets plan to sign him to a second deal on Wednesday.
Deron Williams scored 20 points and Joe Johnson had 19 for Brooklyn (29-29), which got back to .500 for the first time since it was 2-2 on Nov. 5.
Grizzlies 110, Wizards 104
In Washington, Tayshaun Prince scored a season-high 21 points and Memphis withstood a late rally to snap the Wizards’ winning streak at six.
T-Wolves 132, Nuggets 128
In Denver, Kevin Love scored 33 points and tied a season high with 19 rebounds for his NBA-best 50th double-double this season, and Minnesota beat the skidding Nuggets.
Bucks 114, Jazz 88
In Milwaukee, Ersan Ilyasova scored a season-high 31 points on 13-of-14 shooting, and the Bucks hit a blistering 57 percent from the field to beat Utah.
Pistons 96, Knicks 85
In Auburn Hills, Michigan, Andre Drummond had 17 points and a career-high 26 rebounds as Detroit surged past New York in a matchup of slumping teams.
Carmelo Anthony scored 10 of his 28 points in a first quarter in which the Knicks led by as much as 14.
Lakers 107, Blazers 106
In Portland, Kent Bazemore threw an alley-oop to Wesley Johnson for the go-ahead dunk with 6.9 seconds left to lift Los Angeles over the Trail Blazers.
Pau Gasol scored 22 points and the Lakers won their second straight.
Kings 96, Pelicans 89
In Sacramento, DeMarcus Cousins had 23 points and 12 boards, Isaiah Thomas scored 22 and the hosts beat New Orleans.