The NBA Playoffs are twelve days away, and nobody is salivating for postseason basketball more than LeBron James, who is eager for a shot at redemption after he and his banged up Cleveland Cavaliers fell to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in last year’s Finals.
Golden State’s pursuit of the 1996 Chicago Bulls’ record for most wins in a season (72) and the San Antonio Spurs’ brilliance has purloined some of the spotlight from James and his Cavs, who although hold on to the Eastern Conference’s first seed, have had an up-and-down season.
Cleveland unexpectedly axed head coach David Blatt back in January, and have seen uneven results under new sideline stalker Tyronn Lue. There have been games in which the Cavs resemble juggernauts that have a legitimate chance to capture the NBA crown, then others in which they’ve been listless. Cleveland’s defense has also seen regression under Lue, and the Cavs are hoping things can be rectified on that end of the floor before the playoffs commence.
But even with all this, it appears as if the remainder of the playoff teams in the East are hunting for the best possible route to position themselves for a Conference Finals showdown with the King and his cronies. Cleveland clinching their second straight Finals appearance and James clinching his sixth consecutive just seems to be a foregone conclusion, and it’s tough to envision any Eastern Conference foe tripping them up.
I do believe we should have some reverence for the Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks, but then I look at James’ recent numbers and remember why we’re penciling he and his Cavaliers in the big dance already.
In his last eight games, LeBron is averaging 28.3 points, 8.8 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game on 58% shooting from the field. To put those numbers in perspective, since March 19th James is third league-wide in scoring, which is better than the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Curry, and he’s sixth in assists.
During that same time span James is also fifth in field goal percentage amongst guys playing at least 30 minutes an outing, and he’s only trailing noted paint dwellers DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside, Ian Mahinmi and Marcin Gortat.
BBallBreakdown’s Josh Eberley also pointed out that James’ numbers have seen an uptick each month since January.
LeBron by month:
The King is coming out of hibernation?
— Josh Eberley (@JoshEberley) April 4, 2016
It’s asinine that averaging 23 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists per game is deemed as underachieving, but that’s how high James has set the bar throughout his career. If anyone else were to be averaging those numbers, they’d be bathed with praise, but with LeBron we demand more, and the amazing part is we almost always get it.
What’s even better is the fact that in Cleveland’s last five games their averaging 26.4 assists a night, which is fourth best in the Association. The fact that the Cavaliers are putting an emphasis on ball movement as the playoffs dawn near should bode well with the fans, because it indicates they’re trusting one another and hunting for the best shot possible.
Not many are giving Cleveland a shot to win the NBA title, but with James playing like this it’s certainly not unfathomable. Curry may have supplanted James as the best player in the world in many circles, but the argument that James still reigns supreme on the basketball battleground can be made, and he’s showing us that right now.
If the championship deprived city of Cleveland hopes to finally capture that elusive ring this season, it’s imperative James keeps this up. Sustaining this level of play over the next month and a half will be tough, but if anyone can accomplish that it’s LeBron.