He also became just the fifth player in league history to score 50-plus points with three different franchises.
“[My] environment is a basketball and a hoop,” James said when asked how playing against his former team factored into his performance. “That’s my environment, that’s my comfort zone. But it’s always great to be here, come back here and see a lot of familiar faces. We had some not-so-good times, we had more great times. So it’s always a respect factor and a love for the people of Miami, especially the people who work here. We put in a lot of time.”
James wasted no time with his scoring barrage, pumping in 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting in the first quarter.
“I felt pretty good. I felt pretty good,” James said, playing on the second night of a back-to-back after mustering just 22 points on 8-for-19 shooting in a loss to the Magic on Saturday. “I think we were all kind of shell-shocked in Orlando from that cross-country flight, getting in late to Orlando and just having the time difference. … But we was able to get some good rest last night and feel pretty good about today’s game.”
James’ teams hadn’t felt too good after playing in Miami in the past. He came into Sunday’s game on a four-game losing streak as a visiting player, and his all-time record at AmericanAirlines Arena as an opponent is still just 5-13, according to research compiled by ESPN Stats & Information. Prior to Sunday, his last time winning in Miami as a member of the visiting team was Jan. 25, 2010.
Eleven of James’ 12 career 50-point games have come on the road. His 12th 50-point game moved him into sixth place on the list of most career 50-point games, breaking a tie with Allen Iverson. And he joined Jamal Crawford, Bernard King, Moses Malone and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to score 50 or more for three teams.
“I’ve played for three very, very historic franchises in the time that I played,” James said. “Obviously, in Miami we did some historical things. In Cleveland we was able to do some historical [things]. And obviously the Lakers [name] speaks for itself, what they’ve been able to do. And so, my teammates, my coaching staff, they just put that trust in me to go out and make plays, and I just try to be as efficient as possible when I’m on the floor and make things happen.”
James pointed to one teammate in particular, Lance Stephenson, after drilling his final shot of the game — a 32-foot 3-pointer with 16.5 seconds left over a double team by Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. and Rodney McGruder, to take him from 48 to 51 points and settle his final shooting line at 19-for-31 from the floor.
“Lance told me to finish the game off and, ‘I bet you won’t shoot a 3,'” James said. “He said, ‘Go for the 3. I bet you won’t go for the 3.’ So I went for the 3. So I was pointing right at Lance.”
James finished the game 6-for-8 from 3. He’s now 26-for-52 (50 percent) from 3 in eight games in November after shooting 12-for-44 (27.3 percent) from 3 in eight games in October.
“I spent 33 years of my life on the East Coast, so going to the West Coast, everything changes. Even though it is just three hours, everything has changed for me drastically,” James said, explaining how the move affected his game. “When you live on the east side of the country for so long, I think for me, it’s taken me a little while to get adjusted, with my game, moving, the family, everything. We are all figuring things out.”
James’ new teammates say they are figuring out just how special of a player they are suiting up with.
“It’s truly remarkable what he’s been able to do for as long as he’s been able to,” said Tyson Chandler on a night when James became just the third player in league history to record multiple 40-point games in his 16th season, joining Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “Seeing all the hype that was coming along with him, I’m like, ‘I don’t know if anybody could live up to that hype.’ Not only has he lived up to the hype, he’s surpassed the hype, which is, I mean, honestly, you can’t necessarily describe that. And there’s only one other guy in the planet that you can compare him with and that’s MJ (Michael Jordan). At this point, he’s arguably fighting for the greatest of all time.”
Kyle Kuzma echoed the amazement. “He can score with the best of them,” he said. “People always talk about his facilitating and pass-first mentality, but he can probably average 40 if he wanted to.” Added Lonzo Ball: “You’re just playing with greatness. That’s what it is.”
The 51 points tied him with Alex English and Vince Carter for the most points scored by a visitor in Miami during the regular season. Jordan, who has his No. 23 jersey retired by the Heat organization even though he never played for them, maxed out at 50 points as a visitor (although he did once score 56 in a playoff game in Miami).
“It was a special night,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton. “He was, from the jump ball, he was going, he was in attack mode, he was making shots. When players are as good as LeBron and they’re having a night, it just looks easy for them. It’s not easy, but they make it look easy because they’re that good.”
James’ reunion tour against his former teams will continue Wednesday in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.
“I don’t try to put too much into it,” James said. “I will go out there and see if we can keep this thing going. I think we are playing some really good ball right now. I will see some familiar faces like I did when I arrived here. I will think about some of the good, I will think about some of the bad, I will think about some of the great that I had with the franchise, obviously, and then once the tip ball gets going, it is time to go to work. It will be good to see some of my family that will come to the game, see some of my friends as well and get the thing going.”