Can anyone stop LeBron James? In short, no. They say defense wins championships, but great offense always trumps great D, and such is becoming the norm for King James, who has been playing at an incredible level.
“He’s a great player, the game is real easy for him,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, a defensive guru, after falling to the hands of LeBron and the Heat 86-67 last week. “I think he’s reading the game extremely well. A guy like that, you try to make him work for his points. That’s all you can do. You could defend him great and challenge his shot, he can [still] make it.”
Over the past three weeks, the Miami Heat – led by James – have kicked things up into another gear, ringing off nine straight wins. Entering the NBA All-Star break, much was made of his seven-game streak with 30-plus points on 60-plus percent shooting from the field. In the two games since, he’s shown not one sign of slowing down. His recent game against the Bulls – 26 point, 11-for-15 shooting, 12 rebounds, seven assists, has become his standard as of late.
James is shooting 66 percent in the month of February. If we were talking about Tyson Chandler, who scores predominantly off of dunks and put-backs, that’s one thing, but 43 percent of LeBron’s shot attempts are jumpers.
For years, critics dogged him for his shooting and lack of post game. But to his credit, he’s improved ever year (and is still getting better). Now all of those shortcomings have seemingly been corrected, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. He’s dishing it out in every style: isolations, pick-and-roll, transition, post-up, spot-up, mid-range, three-ball, you name it. NBA.com’s recently updated stats page, especially its shot charts, comes at a perfect time, providing great credence to just how phenomenal LeBron truly is.
As NBA analyst Steve Kerr pointed out during Miami’s recent game against Chicago, James has shot under 40 percent in a game just one time this season. He’s failed to score at least twenty points just once this season. His field goal and three-point percentages (56 percent and 41 percent, respectively, this season, both career-bests) have improved every year, and he never gets hurt. Next to Michael Jordan, LeBron is the most dominant and balanced perimeter player ever, if for no other reason than the fact that he’s huge.
His size (he snatches everything coming off the board) is what allows the Heat to spread the floor and play with such great versatility. “They have a lot of versatility to their team. They can go big or go small, they’re quick. You say they’re small, well LeBron is big. He’s tall, 260-270 [pounds], that’s big,” Thibodeau commented. Beyond James, the Heat are a top-five team offensively in rebounding, leading the league in field goal percentage, and third in three-point percentage.
After hanging with the pack for the first half of the season, the Heat have begun to handily separate themselves from the rest of the Easter Conference with their current win streak. They’re now five games ahead of everyone else in the conference with no signs of slowing down.
“Our level of execution right now in the fourth quarter right now is at an all-time high. That’s good to know, that’s good to have, because we know defensively we’re gonna [get stops],” said James after last week’s win over the Bulls. “We’re putting together some good basketball right now. The way we’re defending – we’re creating turnovers, winning the turnover game offensively, that’s what it’s about. We’re the best shooting team in the league, statistically, so if we don’t turn the ball over, we get good shots and we have a good chance to win. We’ve done a great job this month.”
“Right now I just think we’re getting into that mode,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade after last Thursday’s victory in Chicago. “We’re understanding what it takes. As a team that’s been there two years in a row to the Finals, we’re understanding what it takes to compete at a high level, especially this time of year, so the key is to stay healthy.”