At various times during his career, LeBron James has been compared to both Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
There are statistics, highlights and comments from esteemed observers that back it up. It makes for nice arguments and comparisons. But rarely is it pointed out that James can play, at times, like both Hall of Famers within the same game.
He had such a game Thursday night when the Cavs extended their winning streak to 10 games with another rout, this one 102-86 over the fading Miami Heat.
James always handled the ball a great deal. But over the last three weeks, with both Mo Williams and Delonte West out with injuries, he's played stretches of each game truly at point guard. Against the Heat, though, he really did a Magic impression when he started at point guard.
That was the first time it's happened since James was a rookie and the then dreadful Cavs were at the start of their rebuilding process and trying to fit their No. 1 overall pick in with wings Ricky Davis and Darius Miles.
"I haven't played this much point guard since my first or second year in the league when I had to really dominate the ball for us to be successful," James said. "So it isn't something I'm used to but it is something I can do."
This time James was pressed into duty because Daniel Gibson was at the hospital with his fiancée, R&B singer and reality show star Keyshia Cole (who says there isn't glamour in Cleveland). It turned out to be false labor, but at tip off Gibson, who has been filling in nicely at point guard, was still thinking he may become a father on this night.
So into the point guard spot went James, the Cavs' de-facto fourth-string point guard for this night.
He didn't play like a fourth-stringer, leading the Cavs offense by putting up eight assists by repeatedly setting up big men J.J. Hickson (12 points) and Shaquille O'Neal (13). He got the Cavs into sets when in transition, their so-called "early" offense that is vital for a team whose weakness is getting bogged down in the halfcourt.
He has been doing this effectively for awhile now, actually giving up some shots so the offense can run better. In the eight games Williams has been out -- West has been out seven of them -- James is averaging 10.1 assists, indeed Magic-type numbers.
"I make a sacrifice on my shot attempts for us to get easy baskets, for us to push the ball and get into our sets," James said. "Right now, I'm just trying to will us to some wins."
But that wasn't it. There was the Jordan aspect, too. It will never be totally fair to compare James to Jordan, they come from different eras, play differently and Jordan still has six titles on him. That often can cut the conversation short. But just like with Magic, James has some striking similarities and he's showed it in a big game against a major rival, Dwyane Wade.
While being an effective point guard, James regularly dipped into his more familiar Jordan-esque qualities. He scored 36 points on 9-of-16 shooting, doing it with brute force at times. Since Jan. 1, James is averaging 30.5 points a game, indeed Jordan-type numbers.
With O'Neal battling a headache for much of the first half, James had to take control and be aggressive. He bulled his way into the paint and challenged the Heat big men, drawing foul after foul. When it was over, he had made 17-of-21 free throws and beat Wade at his own game.
Then in the fourth quarter when the Heat were attempting to block his paths, James started hitting mid-range jumpers. He nailed four of them in the stretch run to turn the game into a blowout, reminding the Heat that he's shooting a career-best 51 percent this season for a reason.
"He gets better every year," said Wade, who had 24 points and nine assists as the Heat lost for the fifth time in six games, of his friend and rival.
"It seemed like he didn't miss a shot. He was very aggressive and very accurate. He's playing phenomenally, he's playing MVP basketball. That's what you expect out of him."
Doing it part Magic and part MJ, two MVPs themselves.
James can see it, not that he'll talk directly about it. He just knows that when he's playing point guard and the Cavs are using a super big lineup with Anthony Parker at 6-6, Jamario Moon or Jawad Williams both at 6-8 and big men Anderson Varejao and O'Neal the Cavs are as long as any team in the league. Or, as some of those Magic and Michael title teams.
"When I'm out there at the "1", that's an unbelievable lineup to have that type of size," James said. "It's kind of like when the Bulls had (Ron) Harper starting at the "1" with MJ or the Lakers had when Magic was out there with (Michael) Cooper and (James) Worthy. Any time you can have that kind of size advantage, it's good.