LOS ANGELES -- The greatness of LeBron James is that on a nightly basis he makes the nearly impossible seem easy.
On Monday in Houston, James did more than that. He made shots only a few players in the world have the ability to even attempt.
On the second night of a difficult back-to-back, in the middle of a six-game road trip, James made five three-pointers on seven attempts in a furious second half. He had 16 points in each of the final two quarters and finished with 38 points in the Heat’s 113-110 victory at Toyota Center.
“LeBron was hitting unbelievable shots,” Rockets interim coach Kelvin Sampson said.
Somehow, “unbelievable” almost seemed like an understatement.
James’ heavily contested three-pointers swished through the nets one after another and denied the young and talented Rockets their biggest victory of the season’s first month. James scored 32 of the Heat’s 57 points in the second half.
The league’s reigning MVP and winner of the award in three of the past four seasons, James is arguably having an even better start to this season than he did in 2011. He has recorded a double-double in seven of the Heat’s first eight games and is averaging 23.9 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.1 assists.
Overshadowed amid those gaudy numbers are James’ statistics from three-point range. After going 5 of 8 from three-point range Monday, James is an impressive 13 of 25 from three-point range for the season. For perspective, consider this: James is shooting .520 from behind the arc and .649 from the free-throw line.
Despite the impressive percentage, James laughs when asked if he considers himself a shooter.
“That means nothing,” James said. “That don’t mean I’m going to start casting. I’m just shooting it at a high clip right now. I’m not going to live out there. It was just one of those nights when I felt good.”
Houston’s plucky group led the Heat by seven points with 4:13 left in the game, but a driving dunk by Chris Bosh and a three-pointer from the corner by Ray Allen cut Houston’s lead to 104-103. Allen is shooting .543 from three-point range this season and leads the Heat in fourth-quarter scoring (35 points).
Rockets reserve Marcus Morris answered Allen’s three-pointer with one of his own, but James then drilled an off-balance, fade-away three-pointer in Morris’ face to keep the game close.
“Marcus played great ‘D’ on him in the second half,” Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said. “He was just hitting tough, tough shots.”
Rockets forward Chandler Parsons matched James’ three-pointer, but the Rockets’ defense eventually succumbed to James’ magical night. He made a pair of free throws and then a driving layup past Lin and Houston forward Patrick Patterson to give the Heat its final lead.
“He’s special, man,” Dwyane Wade said. “As a teammate, you’re in the middle of a game but you, like, shake your head. There are not many guys in this game who can do that. Houston had one before with Tracy McGrady. He was able to do stuff like that, change games like that. He’s just special, and I’m glad he’s on our side.”
For Wade, watching James’ effortless shot-making ability never gets old or less impressive. James practices his difficult shots for hours during the offseason and sometimes after practices during the season. The secret to James’ stroke is his upper-body strength, says teammate Rashard Lewis. James can shoot a jump shot from half court with the same form and technique as one of his three-pointers.
“He’s just very talented and strong,” said Lewis, who is shooting .500 (10 of 20) from three-point range this season. “His upper body is so strong, and he can just shoot those type of shots. It’s like a jump shot for him shooting it from half court. A lot of people have to throw it up there, but it’s a regular jump shot for him.”