MIAMI – The only person who had a legitimate shot at stopping Miami Heat forward LeBron James Monday night was his coach, Erik Spoelstra.
And when Spoelstra resisted his impulse to remove James from the game after he had scored 49 points in three quarters, the Charlotte Bobcats were at James’ mercy.
James finished with a franchise-record 61 points in 41 minutes of action as the Heat extended their winning streak to eight games, defeating the Bobcats 124-107 at American Airlines Arena.
“I just had it going,” said James, who broke the Heat scoring record of 56 points, which was set by forward Glen Rice 19 years ago. “When you get in a zone … I threw one in from 30 feet. Once you get going, it’s like shooting a golf ball into the ocean.”
James made 22-of-33 shots from the floor, including 8-of-10 on 3-pointers, and added seven rebounds and five assists.
He entered the night making 36.4 percent of his 3-pointers. His perimeter shooting Monday was just about the only thing that was even a little bit surprising, given James’ immense talents.
“If LeBron is going to shoot like that from that range,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said, “there’s nobody who is going to beat (the Heat).”
James entered the night third in the league in scoring at 26.9 per game, but that figure actually represents him being unselfish, his coach said.
“He could lead the league in scoring every year if he chose to be that aggressive and looking at the rim for his opportunities,” Spoelstra said. “We all know he is as much a facilitator as he is an attacker for himself.
“Tonight was a little uncharacteristic. Once he got it going and the rim looked like an ocean, he was looking at his options first, second and third. That was a special performance.
“And, yeah, I almost took him out at the end of the third to give him some rest. But he was in a great groove obviously.”
James, who also broke his previous career high of 56 points, set the new Heat record on a spin move to his left, banking the shot in with 5:30 left in the game.
He exited the game with 1:24 remaining, but not before he also tied his career high for made 3-pointers.
The Bobcats also gave up 62 points to New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, which is the only higher scoring game in the NBA this season.
James overshadowed Bobcats center Al Jefferson, who was outstanding with 38 points and 19 rebounds. Jefferson had 26 of those points in the first half.
“He played great,” Clifford said. “We did some good things.”
Jefferson said he felt his team played well, other than the James factor.
“LeBron is more dangerous when he is attacking the basket,” Jefferson said. “He made shots we wanted him to take. Even though he has improved his outside shot, I would have never thought he would take 10 3-pointers.”
The Heat won without shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who rested his aching knees.
Spoelstra said Wade suffered no setbacks, and the guard is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday when Miami travels to play the Houston Rockets.
The Heat (43-14) are 24-4 at home and trail the Indiana Pacers by two games in the battle for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Charlotte (27-33) lost its third straight game and fell into a virtual tie for seventh place in the East with the Atlanta Hawks.
Miami already completed a pair of 4-0 season sweeps against Southeast Division rivals Charlotte and Orlando. Elsewhere in the division, the Heat are 2-1 against Atlanta and 1-1 vs. Washington.
On Monday, the Bobcats were hot early, making seven of their first eight shots and building a nine-point lead. But the Heat rallied to finish the first quarter on top 29-26.
Miami extended its lead to 60-54 at halftime and 98-70 after three quarters.
James had 11 points in the first quarter, 13 in the second, 25 in the third and 12 in the fourth.
“The ‘Man Above’ has given me some unbelievable abilities to play this game of basketball,” James said. “I have the trust of my teammates and my coaches to allow me to do it, and I just try to let it go.”
NOTES: With Heat G Dwyane Wade (knee) missing a game for the 16th time this season, G Toney Douglas started in his place. It was Douglas’ ninth game with the Heat, his third start. … Bobcats G Gerald Henderson (calf) sat out a game for the first time this season. He is averaging 14.6 points, his third straight season scoring at least 14 per game. … G Gary Neal, whom the Bobcats acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 20 in a four-player trade, started in place of Henderson. It was Neal’s 28th career start and his first for the Bobcats. “He has a very high basketball IQ,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said of Neal. “I think he can be a good asset for our team.” … If the regular season ended Monday morning, the Heat and Bobcats would have played in the first round of the playoffs. … Up next, the Heat face a challenging three-game road trip: Houston, San Antonio and Chicago. … The Bobcats have a two-game homestand next, playing the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday
and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
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