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LeBron has one of his best career performances against Orlando

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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ORLANDO -- LeBron James has had a number of standout performances since entering the league back in 2003 as a high school phenom.

But this might have been his most impressive, given his efficiency within the flow of the offense.

He scored 51 points on 17-of-25 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds, and dished out eight assists in a 104-100 win over Orlando Thursday night.

The last player to reach those point, rebound, and assist totals was Michael Jordan back in 1989.

James scores 51 points while going 17-of-25 from the field. (Getty Images)  
James scores 51 points while going 17-of-25 from the field. (Getty Images)  
"He was very focused," teammate Dwyane Wade said. "You could see that from the jump. The guy came out and hit his first 11 shots and when he's going like that, there's nobody in the world that can guard him. We just kept riding him and he had an excellent game."

James was fueled by Orlando general manager Otis Smith criticism of James in the off-season and Dwight Howard didn't help matters by imitating James’ pre-game powder routine.

"Just playing this team got me going," James said. "We understand that this wasn't just any regular game. There was a lot of things said about us coming from this organization so we just wanted to come in here and play to our abilities and make a statement."

James made a statement. A big one.

While the rest of the league is clamoring over the season that Chicago Bulls All-Star guard Derrick Rose is having, and deservedly so, James is quietly building up his resume as a legitimate MVP contender as he's averaging over 26 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists for one of the league's best teams.

Earlier this season, James felt that neither he, nor Wade or Chris Bosh would be considered as MVP candidates given that their individual numbers would take a hit. But James, the two-time defending MVP, should still be considered a serious candidate especially if the Heat continue to rack up the wins.

Twice in the fourth quarter with James at the free-throw line, chants of "M-V-P" rang out from the crowd--typically a chant used for the home team’s star.

"When you see another team respect the talent, the greatness of certain players, understand that they are an MVP candidate, and they say that, that's one of the biggest accomplishments you can get," Wade said.

It didn't take long for James to get going as he made his first 11 shots to start the game setting a Heat franchise record as well as a personal best.

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"I just felt good, definitely was in the zone," James said. "I felt everything I put up was going to go in and my first 11 shots, it did."

The 50-point performance was James' ninth of his career, but his efficiency might have been his best. In addition to his 68 percent shooting night, he also hit 14 of 17 from the free-throw line and 3 of 5 from behind the 3-point line. Nearly all of his shot attempts came within the flow of the offense and given that it came against a formidable opponent, James' night was as impressive of a performance as you will see.

"LeBron got us off to a great start, he was very focused, and I'm sure the basket looked as big as an ocean to him, but he was also able to facilitate the offense from the 1 position, which made it unique,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You would think that scoring over 50 points we would be running every single play for him. It’s really an efficient basketball game for a very talented dude."

James' wide array of mid-range jump shots that went in, many of which coming against Hedo Turkoglu and then Quentin Richardson, was something that caught Magic coach Stan Van Gundy off-guard.

"LeBron obviously had an unbelievable night and he made all of his jump shots,” Van Gundy said. “His numbers say that he’s a pretty mediocre jump shooter and tonight he was a great jump shooter."

Howard was on the court for all 51 of James’ points.

"Other than hitting too many jump shots, we did fine (on guarding James),” Howard said. "We'd rather him shoot jump shots the whole game. If he make them, it’s good for him."

James scored a franchise-best 23 points in the first, didn't miss until less than five minutes before halftime and had 29 at the break. He chipped in 11 more in the third quarter giving him an even 40 before finishing with 51, the most by any player in the NBA this season.

"When you get it in a victory I think I've had one 50 point game and we didn’t win and it didn't feel too good so when you can do it in the flow of the offense, flow of the game, and put those numbers of up and also do it in a win, that’s all that matters," James said.

Wade was unsure of how many points James finished with until a reporter informed him in the locker room.

His response: "He's pretty good, he might have a future in this league."

That's a pretty safe assumption.

And given that the Heat are now 23-2 in their last 25 games with their three All-Stars playing, James have a future as an NBA champion come June.

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