If the NBA MVP had its own night like the Heisman trophy Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade and Kevin Durant would probably be in New York sitting front row in their finest suits as finalists at the end of this season. Seeing as how Lebron James out-dueled all three of them in consecutive games, and consecutive wins for the Wine and Gold, with a short handed squad I'd hold off on preparing my speech if I were them. In those three games Lebron James averaged 37 pts, 7 rebs, and 8 assists and shot 46% from the field. Kobe, Dwayne and Durant averaged a combined 32, 7, and 4 shooting 41%. Truly incredible numbers from the King but we've seen him have stretches like this before, some even statistically better. The other stars numbers are very solid as well so in this case we have to look beyond just the game stats to see how much more of an impact LB had in getting his team three straight wins in these games.
First off, all three were nailbiters with the outcome very much in doubt up until the final horn, except vs LA, when we wrapped that one up with a whopping 20 seconds to spare. So of course in games such as these we have to look at the 4th quarter. Lebron shot a combined 50% in the 4th quarter and 13/14 at the line averaging just over 10 pts while his counterparts went a combined 6-20 averaging just over 5 pts (skewed even by a Durant garbage three down 4 with the horn blowing). Kobe nor Durant even registered an assist during winning time. Lebron had winning sequences in all three games. He blocked Pau and raced down the floor for the go ahead bucket vs LA. He grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed the ball to get Boobie a wide open 3 for the lead vs OKC. Only to follow that by rejecting Durant's last second attempt on the following possession. In Miami, we saw Dwayne Wade choke on 2 crucial free throws (ball don't lie,horrible call) while Lebron's lasting image of that game is ripping the behind the back pass from D Wade and racing down the court passed him to convert two game winning free throws that barely hit the net. Then he forced Wade into a tough jumper that hit back rim and sealed the Cavs 5th win in a row.
Photo Credit: Hector Gabino/ENH
What we saw from Lebron may or may not be the best basketball he's ever played. That seems to be the debate brewing here locally.
Whether it is or isn't we've seen without a doubt the best basketball being played by anyone in the association this season. The low point in the Cavs season was back to back losses in Memphis and Houston leaving the Cavs 4th in the East at 15-7. Since that point the Cavs have played 25 games going 21-4. In this span, 15 of those games were against teams over .500 or better, 14 games were on the road including two seperate West coast trips that were over a week long. With the schedule stacked against them the Cavs surged from 4th in the East to the best record in the entire NBA by a half game and have a 4.5 game lead in the East over Boston.
Over this stretch that vaulted the Cavs from a "was trading for Shaq a mistake?" team to a legit title contender, Lebron James has been amazing. He's averaged his typical 31 pts, 7.5 rebs, and 7.5 assists. All but 3 times he's lead the team in scoring. All but 4 times he's lead in assists and 9 times he's lead the team in rebounding. But more important than any of this is the fact that he's been leading. The team loves him. They know that he is one of them. They have inside jokes with him. They have handshakes with him. They know that for all the ink he gets he doesn't big time them. He doesn't rip them in the press. The guy is out there having fun at all times. He's been seen dancing off with ushers, flowing rhyme for rhyme with Eminem, and throwing towels at Mo while helping with the local broadcast. All the antics make for great fodder for Skip to pick apart, and some people may not like it but the team loves it and they follow it. It reaffirms that he is all about the team. If he weren't such a team guy do you think Shaq would've easily relaxed into such a limited role? Would Boobie be able to come in after barely playing for a month and average 13 a game without knowing he's earned Lebron's trust? Would JJ be having nights like last night without constant tutelage and attention from Lebron?
It should be interesting to see if Lebron can clean sweep the player of the month awards. It's definitely something he can achieve. His 2nd MVP is on the doorstep as well. The best thing is that he truly doesn't care. All he wants is that title. And guess what Cavs fans, that's as close as it's ever been. Even last year when we were tearing through the regular season we knew we got smoked by LA twice. We got smoked by Orlando. We struggled against the best teams. This year we're beating those teams and have a happy and rested Shaq whose gone from a mistake nationally to the "missing piece" from last year's team. Time will tell if the Cavs can keep this up but when you have 23 you have a chance. As Lebron goes we go and you know damn well his teammates will follow him because with him leading they'll never feel like followers.