|He's a bad, bad man. (Getty Images)|
When the dramatic music plays over old-school highlights of the greatest players in this game.
When legends who faced legends speak in stunned tones trying to understand how good a player could be on the court against them.
When sport historians speak in hushed tones about the performances of the best they've ever seen.
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That's what we witnessed Thursday night.
Yes, it was a regular-season game in January, with nothing on the line. No playoff spot, no playoff series, no conference title or NBA championship. But it was one of those rare games that had all the combinations: 1.) Eight legitimately great players on the floor -- I'll let you figure out which ones; 2.) A genuine buzz in a normally sleepy Staples Center; 3.) A desperate Lakers team trying to prove it has recovered; 4.) A Heat team on a back-to-back West Coast road trip; 5.) Enough players playing well at both ends to create a good game.
And, in the fourth quarter, instead of disappointment and a normal ending, we got to see the best go at it. And the very best come out on top.
There's time to examine what it means for both teams, as the Heat proved that when they decide to, they simply turn it on and leave teams in the dust, and the Lakers showing they can play better and still never have control of a game vs. an elite opponent.
But, really, if you watched it, you know what this game was about. And if you didn't, let me tell you.
Thirty-nine points on 25 shots, seven rebounds, eight assists, three blocks, one steal.
+13 on the floor.
Defended Kobe Bryant, the second-best scorer in NBA history in the midst of maybe his best season, once he got hot in the fourth quarter.
And even all that doesn't really reflect how good LeBron James was. It doesn't show how he controlled the flow of the game, how he dictated the tone and how, whenever the Heat needed a play on either end, he made it. Ray Allen made some shots late. Dwyane Wade was his 2009 self for maybe the first time this season. Norris Cole was a spark. But this was James, over and over.
It was James in the beginning, unleashing these kinds of plays:
And it was James nailing a pull-up jumper over Metta World Peace late to push it to six and end it. It was James taking Kobe Bryant when he warmed up, it was James making passes, it was James snatching rebounds, it was James beating Bryant to a loose ball.
You hope that the best player of his generation will play so well as to leave you stunned, breathless, in awe. And even for people who watch night in and night out, James' performance stands out. It's not the 51-8-9 that he dropped in 2008, but it was just as impressive and maybe more complete. He didn't even get that many free throws. In fact, that was only the second time in James' career that he has put up 35+ points, 7+ rebounds, 8+ assists with four or fewer free throws.
He didn't even need the free throws.
LeBron's in his prime. This is his moment. And though it wasn't a classic battle with Kobe, unable to hit water if he fell out of a boat in the first three quarters, it was still a sign of where the two are. Kobe is fighting to stay relevant (and putting up a momumental fight in a tough season). James is the midst of the height of his control as the best player in the league.
This MVP season will be one of the best in maybe 25 years. Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul are all putting in tremendous seasons. But watching James burst through Pau Gasol, pick off Kobe Bryant, shut down Mambe and block Earl Clark in transition before burying the jumper over MWP, you couldn't help but feel you were watching something special.
James is something else right now, and Thursday night gave us a great chance to do what we should with his game right now.