It starts Tuesday, with the Lakers looking to get back on track, the Miami Heat in command in the East and LeBron James in command of everyone.
People seem to be short on words these days in attempting to describe LeBron James.
"He's off the planet," Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade ventured to reporters Friday night after James' virtuosity led a blowout over the Los Angeles Clippers. "He's not even the best player on the planet. He's somewhere else right now -- the galaxy."
The key number wasn't LeBron's 30 points, but that he needed just 11 shots to get there, a masterful display of economy that has characterized his entire season. And really, this goes beyond statistics. James can match prolific box scores with anyone, but the sight of him has been relentlessly astounding this season, in both performance and demeanor.
It was Larry Bird who said the NBA has never seen a power forward quite like LeBron, and he's proving it every night, inside and out, matching blinding speed with raw power. If he sets his mind to simply blow past somebody, he cannot be stopped -- and yet, he's probably the most unselfish superstar in league history, a pass-first thinker of the highest order. If you put together an all-time team based strictly on passing skills, he'd be right there among the likes of Magic Johnson, Rick Barry, Bill Walton, Bird and Pete Maravich.
In tandem with this mind-blowing package comes an unbridled joy, a man freed from torment. James was criticized without mercy after his clumsy handling of "The Decision" to join Miami, and there was palpable on-court evidence that he didn't really deliver when it mattered.
Following the Heat's disappointing 2011 Finals, he told si.com in April, "I couldn't watch TV because every channel ... was talking about me and the Heat. On the Cooking Channel, it was like, 'So, we're going to make a turkey burger gourmet today, and LeBron James failed!' " That summer, James said he grew a beard so long, "I looked like Tom Hanks in 'Castaway.' "
Last year's championship unveiled the real man, complete with a pixieish sense of humor, and behold the residue: Some fan sank a half-court shot to win a $75,000 prize two weeks ago, and an ecstatic James raced onto the court to bear-hug him to the ground. When a ball flew into the stands Friday night, a fan obligingly passed the ball to LeBron -- who whimsically fired it right back, imploring the man to make a decent chest pass.
There is no smile quite like LeBron's in the league right now. It speaks to wondrous deeds, a mirthful spirit and a great deal more to come.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service)
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