LeBron James making greatness look easy
FEB 11, 2013 2:36p ET
MIAMI — Did Michelangelo get better after painting the Sistine Chapel? Did Beethoven improve after his Fifth Symphony?
So that begs the question I asked LeBron James: Has he gotten even better after the Year of LeBron?
“That’s for you guys to dictate or to write about or say if I’m having a better season than I had last year,’’ said James, the 2012 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
Since James is welcoming outside opinion, the answer is yes. While it wouldn’t end up being the case if his Miami Heat fail to repeat as NBA champions, so far James has been even better than he was when he won this third MVP award last season.
James lately has been playing the best ball of his 10-year career. Over the past five games, he’s shot 55 of 77 for 71.4 percent while averaging 31.0 points. That includes one insane stretch from the fourth quarter at Toronto on Feb. 3 until the third quarter Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers in which he made 42 of 52 shots.
Put it all together and James’ field-goal percentage has risen from 53.1 last season to an astounding 56.2, in line to be a career best. While his scoring has dipped a tad, from 27.1 to 27.0, his assist average is up from 6.2 to 6.9 and his rebounding from 7.9 to a career-high pace of 8.1. He’s raised his 3-point percentage from 36.2 to 42.1, also in line to be a career best.
James is playing so well that even Lakers star Kobe Bryant is in awe. All Bryant could do after his team’s 107-97 loss to the Heat was gush about James’ recent play.
“It’s sensational,’’ Bryant said. “He seems to have a lot of confidence in his jumper, which opens up the rest of his game… We all know about his passing ability and his ability to finish at the rim. I think he’s working on his game, and he’s added things to his game, which makes him even tougher.’’
Bryant said the 6-foot-8, 250-pound (at least that’s his listed weight) James has figured out “how to use his size.’’ He compared him to a certain 6-8 Lakers icon.
“With his size, he can look over the defense like Magic (Johnson) could,’’ Bryant said.
During James recent hot stretch, it’s been quite evident the two parts of his game that have improved so much: His post moves and 3-point shot.
When James shot 13-of-14 Feb. 4 against Charlotte, he bullied the Bobcats by taking every shot inside the paint. But in his next two games, against Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers, James stepped outside to shoot a combined 7-of-11 from beyond the arc.
“His game is getting better, and that’s scary,’’ said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.
James on Monday was a no-brainer choice for his fourth Eastern Conference Player of the Week selection of the season. That award actually takes into account just his last four games.
James on Sunday became the first Miami player in the 25-year history of the franchise to score 30 points in five straight games. He also joined Adrian Dantley (1979-80) and Moses Malone (1981-82) as the only players in NBA history to have scored 30 points in five straight games while also shooting 60 percent or better from the field.
But Dantley rarely shot 3-pointers, which can hamper field-goal percentage. Neither did Malone, who feasted upon layups and dunks.
James, with the exception of the Charlotte game, has stepped out regularly for jumpers during his streak. He’s 9 of 15 from 3-point range in the five games, which is 60.0 percent.
“I say this to Miami fans, don’t take it for granted,’’ said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “He’s making greatness look easy.’’
It’s become a challenge for Spoelstra each game to try to come up with new superlatives to describe James’ play. He said James lately has been playing in the same manner he did late in last year’s regular season and playoffs.
But can James sustain this level for an entire regular season? There’s plenty of indication he can.
While James’ last five games really have been in the spotlight, his consistency throughout the season has been astounding. Out of 48 games, he’s scored below 20 points just once. He’s shot below 50 percent just eight times.
Forget about all of those individual numbers, though. The only stat James claims he pays attention to is the Heat being 34-14, including having won all five games during his magnificent stretch.
“All I care about is us winning,’’ James said. “That’s the No. 1 thing is us winning… It’s not about everything else, the individual… It’s about the team. Whatever you guys write, you guys will figure it out as far as my individual game.’’
Unfortunately for James, he doesn’t have in 2013 another Olympics he can win. But all signs so far are he’s bound for an even better year.
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