After the last four regular seasons, the contingent of NBA media that votes on year-end awards has collectively decided that somebody other than LeBron James deserved to be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. By the time the postseason ended, though, many had shifted their thinking back to the notion that there isn’t a more singularly dominant individual force in the sport than the one who has ruled the Eastern Conference for the better part of the last decade.
A quarter of the way through the 2017-18 season, it looks like a similar story might be in the works. (Defensibly so: James Harden has been freaking unreal.) You’ll forgive LeBron for not getting too exercised about it. He’s seen this movie before, and he knows how it ends.
“I think people have just grown accustomed of what I do and it gets taken for granted at times what I do, because I do it so often and it’s been a constant thing for so long,” James told reporters at the Cavs’ Wednesday shootaround. “It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s what LeBron’s supposed to do.’ It looks easy, but it’s not.”
And then, as if out determined to illustrate his point, James went out and did that very looks-easy-but-it’s-not thing.
He brought his Cleveland Cavaliers back from a half-speed start to their home game against the lowly Sacramento Kings with precisely the kind of closing kick that we’ve all come to expect — and perhaps take for granted — from the four-time MVP, leading the Cavs to a 101-95 win that extended their winning streak to 13 games.
The Cavs stretched, yawned and sputtered their way through the first half on Wednesday, spotting the frisky Kings a 14-point lead a minute into the third quarter behind the May-December scoring combo of Buddy Hield and Zach Randolph. Even then, with Cleveland shifted into a lower gear, LeBron was cruising:
I think LeBron has been passive almost all game and has shown he's exhausted over the past 2 games. He's got 17/7/6 on 6-9 shooting. He is good at this game.
— John Krolik (@JohnKrolik) December 7, 2017
And then, with about five minutes to go in the third, he decided it was time to stop messing around. A pair of super deep 3s followed by a hammer dunk off an alley-oop feed from old buddy Dwyane Wade, and suddenly LeBron had ripped off eight points in 67 seconds to get Cleveland back within one.
To their credit, the Kings withstood an early fourth-quarter flurry from reserves Kyle Korver and Jeff Green to retake the lead and carry it into the final three minutes. A pair of Green free throws evened the score at 95 with 2:23 to go … and from there, LeBron took it home.
"I think people have just grown accustomed of what I do and it gets taken for granted at times what I do, because I do it so often and it’s been a constant thing for so long. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s what LeBron’s supposed to do.’ It looks easy, but it’s not." pic.twitter.com/IKjhOVaZxy
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) December 7, 2017
James worked a switch to shed feisty Sacramento swingman JaKarr Sampson, then worked Randolph off the bounce for a layup that put Cleveland up two. And then, after the Cavs forced a 24-second shot-clock violation on the ensuing Kings trip and Green redeemed an empty possession with an offensive rebound that allowed the Cavs to eat more clock, LeBron took an inbounds pass from the baseline at the right block, reverse-pivoted out to the right wing, shook Sampson with a quick juke to the right, took one dribble to his left, stepped back behind the arc, and drained a 3.
”Was going to run a different play and then Bron said, ‘I want Chicago,'” as in, “the play the Cavs ran to beat the Bulls a couple of years back,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue told reporters after the game. “So I said, ‘OK.’ We got it to him and he made a big shot.”
Thanks to the magic of the internet, the shot was quickly replicated in “NBA 2K18,” just so the noted 2K enthusiast could appreciate his dagger in its full lifelike-simulation glory:
James finished with 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and nine assists, which marks the 35th time in his career that he’s fallen one rebound or one dime shy of a triple-double. He added three steals and two blocks in 41 minutes of work in the win, Cleveland’s franchise-record-tying 13th straight, to improve to 18-7 on the season. After their frustrating start, the Cavs are now on a hellacious roll, and sit just 3 1/2 games back of the NBA-leading Boston Celtics in the race for the top spot in the East … which, no matter how good Kyrie Irving and company look, may well still belong to LeBron until LeBron decides it doesn’t.
— All Ball (@allballapp) December 7, 2017
That decision might not be coming anytime soon. In his 15th season, with more than 51,000 regular- and postseason minutes (and counting) on his odometer, James is producing one of his best runs yet. He’s averaging 28.2 points, 8.6 assists and eight rebounds per game, while shooting a blistering 58.7 percent from the field, 43 percent from 3-point land (on nearly five attempts per game) and 76.1 percent from the line (though he’s taking fewer free throw attempts than ever, which has not escaped his notice).
His team got smoked in the Finals. His sidekick decided to bounce to become a leading man elsewhere. KD said he passed him the torch as the game's best player. If you're wondering why LeBron is so much better, so close to his 33rd birthday, you don't have to search very hard
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) December 7, 2017
According to Basketball-Reference.com, only four players have ever averaged better than 28-8-8 for a full season: Oscar Robertson (five straight seasons from 1960 through 1965), Michael Jordan (1988-89), Russell Westbrook and James Harden (both last year). Only Jordan and Harden posted a True Shooting percentage (which takes into account 2-point, 3-point and free-throw accuracy) over .600. LeBron’s currently at .668 — almost identical to what Stephen Curry turned in during his unanimous MVP season two years back.
He’s also saving his best for last, leading all players in both total fourth-quarter scoring and scoring in “clutch” situations (when the score’s within five points in the final five minutes of the game). He’s murderous when he gets into the paint and cleaning up from outside; when he’s got it going like that, there’s still no way to stop him, 15 years deep at age 33.
LeBron James is shooting 82% finishing around the rim while posting an eFG% of 59% on jump shots within the Cavaliers' half court offense in the 4th quarter of games this season.
— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) December 7, 2017
And even with the Cavs on a rampage — one that, by the way, has seen them defend at a top-six level during the course of the winning streak — LeBron thinks he can still do more. Can still be more.
“I can play better,” James said during Wednesday’s shootaround. “I think right now I’m in a really good groove, but for me, every month I get better and better. That’s how I’ve been in my career. I get stronger and stronger as the months go on. I just want to continue that. I want to continue to get better and better every month.
“This is December; I’m at 80 [percent]. January, I’ll be at 85, I’ll be at 90 in February, I’ll be at 95 in March and then, when playoffs start, I’ll be at 100 all the way up, hopefully, until June. Hopefully, I can continue that.”
And hopefully, we won’t take for granted just how insane it is that this is 80 percent, and what LeBron just keeps on delivering, no matter how easy he makes it look.
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