LeBron James stands alone as the NBA's premier performer and in Miami's 101-95 victory over the Lakers on Wednesday, James electrified the Staples Center as only he can.
By his own lofty standards it was a light day's work for James, who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists, but what he lacked in numbers he made up for with sheer brilliance.
"There's entertainment value every time we go out there," the 28-year-old James told Reuters, of his approach to performing. "We're entertainers as well (as basketball players).
"It's great people enjoy that."
Wearing his special edition mint-shaded Christmas Nike shoes, James captivated the arena's attention from the moment he bounced onto the court and began delivering his bag of holiday gifts in the form of crowd-pleasing highlights.
In the opening quarter alone, James flexed his muscles with a one-handed alley-oop that he threw down with such momentum that his lunging body knocked Lakers defender Nick Young beyond the baseline.
The four-time MVP easily topped that in the second quarter where he trailed Dwyane Wade on a fastbreak, caught a pass off the backboard and slammed it with his left hand.
It was a mesmerising sequence that left the crowd gasping. Even NBA great Magic Johnson was taken with the play, tweeting: "The lob DWade threw to LeBron was one of the greatest plays I've ever seen!"
James himself expressed the desire to see the dunk again for a better understanding of what he had actually performed.
"I have to see it again to give a (good description)," he said. "It went off the glass and the only way I could catch it was with my left. I had to improvise."
James only took 14 shots for the game but most of them were memorable.
He has regularly displayed more discretion in shot-taking for the two-time defending champion Heat (22-6) this season, and entered Wednesday's game making just a shade below 60 percent of his attempts from the field - an astounding number for a perimeter player.
"He's been playing out of his mind," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who worked with James when he was an assistant coach with the U.S. Olympic team.
"He gets better every year. (Coaching him), sometimes it was like he was playing with a (toy) truck in the driveway. He's just above everyone else."
James' showmanship was the best-case scenario for a matchup that had long lost its sizzle since the league scheduled it.
The Lakers are an annual participant in the NBA's Christmas Day programme but their allure is based on their past and not their present.
Bryant is hobbled (left knee), as is veteran Steve Nash, and the current Los Angeles roster is one of middling overachievers.
The Lakers (13-16) showed a fighting spirit in taking an early lead against the Heat and pulled to within two points in the final quarter.
But James made a big three-point play, added a crucial assist, and finished his solo act on a winning note, and a thrilling one.
"It's not as fun (to play) when Kobe's not out there, let's be honest," James said. "(But) I was excited to play on Christmas again. We wanted a good game, I think the NBA wanted a good game, too."
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Rockets 111, Spurs 98
James Harden returned to the starting lineup to score 28 points and lead the Houston Rockets to a comfortable win over the San Antonio Spurs.
Harden, who missed the last two games with a sprained left ankle, was 11-of-16 shooting in 31 minutes with 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Dwight Howard added 15 points and 20 rebounds for this 20th double-double this season and the Rockets (19-11) never trailed in the game.
Guard Manu Ginobili led the Spurs (22-7) with 22 points.
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Thunder 123, Knicks 94
Russell Westbrook posted the eighth Christmas Day triple-double in NBA history with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists as the Oklahoma City Thunder blasted the New York Knicks.
Thunder forward Kevin Durant led all scorers with 29 points and Oklahoma City (23-5) has won 10 of its last 11 games and shares the best record in the league with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Indiana Pacers.
The Knicks (9-19) played without forward Carmelo Anthony, the NBA's leading scorer, who sprained an ankle in a win on Monday night over the Orlando Magic.
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Bulls 95, Nets 78
Jimmy Butler scored 11 of his 15 points in the third quarter and the Chicago Bulls pulled away for a victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
Chicago (11-16) out-scored the Nets 36-20 in the third quarter to seize control and suck the holiday energy out of the Brooklyn crowd.
Deron Williams led the Nets (9-19) with 18 points and forward Mirza Teletovic added 17 as the team lost their fourth straight and 19th in 28 games.
Some fans in the upper deck chanted "Fire Kidd", in reference to Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd, during the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
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- LeBron James
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