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After Kobe's 61, now it's LeBron's turn at MSG

Posted Feb 3 2009 10:36PM

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) -- The scoring record at Madison Square Garden lasted more than 24 years, even withstanding a famous challenge from Michael Jordan.

Now LeBron James can seize it from Kobe Bryant after just two days.

Of course, he'll need to score 62 points to do it.

"We set the bar up high for him. He'd have to play really well," New York coach Mike D'Antoni said Tuesday.

Still dazed from Bryant's 61-point performance, the Knicks brace for a visit Wednesday from James, who loves playing in the Big Apple just as much and authored his own 50-point masterpiece here last season.

The NBA's two best players, appearing two nights apart on basketball's biggest stage. Even James, perhaps the MVP front-runner at midseason, will have a tough time matching Bryant's act.

"Last night Kobe made a lot of tough shots," Knicks center David Lee said. "I'm sure LeBron will probably do the same thing and we're going to need to play our best ball."

James, though, promised he won't be gunning for Bryant's mark.

"Hey, man. I just go out and play my game," James said after leading Cleveland to a 101-83 win over Toronto on Tuesday. "I'm not a video game where you can just expect me to go out there and score 60 or 70. I play the game to win the game. I'm not into individual accolades. Kobe Bryant's performance was unbelievable. I watched every second of it. It's not about individuals in this league.

"I'm not trying to outdo Kobe or anybody on their team."

Bryant shattered Bernard King's record of 60 points at the present Madison Square Garden, set on Christmas 1984. Jordan had the top performance by a visiting player, scoring 55 points in 1995 shortly after ending his first retirement.

James also is on the list of 50-point scorers at the Garden, finishing with 50 in Cleveland's 119-105 victory over New York on March 5, 2008. Like Bryant, he was treated to raucous ovations and "MVP!" chants during that game -- along with a fan coming on the court to meet him when James exited for good in the final minute.

And just like Bryant, he always talks about his passion for "the world's most famous arena."

"Every time I come here, it's like a warm feeling just because you know the history," James said in November, before his first visit this season.

"It's not just basketball, everything that ever went on. Concerts, boxing, I mean everything that ever went on at Madison Square Garden. Being a basketball junkie like myself, how could you not love it being in this building?"

New Yorkers still cling to hope that James will someday make it his permanent home.

He could be the marquee free agent in a stellar class in 2010, and the Knicks have positioned themselves for a run at him by clearing salary cap space for that summer. The Knicks still hope to get far enough under the cap to offer maximum deals to two superstars, hoping they can convince a Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade to join James in New York.

"That's a long ways off, so that's not our focus," D'Antoni said. "Our focus is to win that game."

James had only 26 points in his November visit, but he sat out the fourth quarter of Cleveland's 119-101 romp. He's less likely than Bryant to have huge scoring nights because he tries to do so many other things -- he had 10 assists and eight rebounds in his 50-point game here -- but his size and strength could make him a more difficult matchup for the Knicks.

"LeBron can do the same things and he does it with a 6-9, 260-pound body," D'Antoni said. "He not only can get 61, he can hurt you doing it, and that's not good."

D'Antoni has said that if a player wants to be MVP, it helps to play well in New York. Bryant, last season's winner, did his part with the greatest scoring performance Madison Square Garden had seen.

Now it's James' turn, in a place he reveres.

"It's the one remaining building that still has the history," James said. "You think all the way back to Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Willis Reed and all those guys who came through that building, all the way to Patrick Ewing and the great teams they had. To be able to be on the same court that the greats have been on is an honor for me."

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