James was picked first and Anthony third in the 2003 NBA draft, and it’s been James who’s had the more successful career thus far - he was the Rookie of the Year, led his team to the NBA finals last season and is currently the league’s leading scorer, averaging 30.1 points.
But when their teams have gone head-to-head, Anthony’s Nuggets have dominated - they’ve won seven of nine meetings against James’ Cavaliers, including four straight.
Individually, neither has been spectacular in their eight meetings. James has averaged 21.6 points while Anthony has scored 19.6 per game.
In Denver’s 111-100 win over Washington on Friday, however, Anthony was magnificent. He scored 49 points on 19-of-25 shooting to surpass his previous career high of 45 set on Dec. 27, 2005 against Philadelphia.
“I haven’t been in that zone in a long, long time,” Anthony said. “When I’m like that, I feel that anything I throw up is going to go in.”
Anthony’s performance was the third-highest scoring game in the league this season. Teammate Allen Iverson had a 50-point game against the Los Angeles Lakers in December and James put up 51 in Memphis last month.
“I think (Friday) might be the easiest game I ever played in my career,” said Iverson, who had six of his 11 assists on Anthony’s baskets. “I was out there watching.”
It was Anthony’s fourth straight strong performance after missing five games due to an ankle injury. He’s averaging 32.8 points and 9.3 rebounds since coming back.
Iverson has also been playing well lately, averaging 10.8 assists to go along with 26.6 points in his last five contests.
He’s been rather successful against the Cavaliers in his career, scoring at least 50 points twice and 40 three times.
Cleveland has won three of four and is 14-4 since the start of the new year. James has been remarkable as usual, averaging 32.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.1 assists.
He didn’t have one of his best statistical efforts in the Cavaliers’ latest win, 100-95 at Atlanta on Friday, but he still carried his team to victory despite Daniel Gibson, Drew Gooden, Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao all missing the game due to injuries.
“It was a big win,” said James, who had 26 points. “Having four of our top seven guys out, we needed everybody to step up.”
Ira Newble, in the starting lineup for the eighth straight game since Pavlovic went down with a sprained foot, scored 18 points - the most he’s had since scoring 19 on April 17, 2005.
“It doesn’t always look the best,” James said of Newble, “but Ira is really effective.”
The win may have cost Cleveland another one of its top seven scorers. Larry Hughes, who had been struggling all season but had averaged 16.6 points in his last eight games, stubbed his toe with five minutes left and didn’t return.
Hughes scored a career-high 44 points against Denver on April 9, 2000, while playing for Golden State.
Varejao will be out until at least the All-Star break and Pavlovic is likely a month away from returning. The injuries to Hughes, Gooden (groin) and Gibson (hamstring) aren’t expected to be serious, but their status against Denver is unclear.