The Cleveland Cavaliers locked up the top seed in the East on Monday night, beating the Atlanta Hawks to secure home court advantage come the playoffs. LeBron James will rest in the team’s final game of the year, meaning his regular season is over.
It’s been a peculiar year for James, to say nothing of his social media oddities and spats with the organization’s coaches and executives. Statistically, he had a relative down year: 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game; his three-point shooting percentage (30.9%) was the second worst of his career.
In the last ten games, however, James has looked like the best player in the NBA, averaging 28.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.5 assists per game. More importantly, his shooting percentages have skyrocketed: 63% from the floor and 51.8% (14-27) from beyond the 3-point line.
“I’m in that mode right now,” James said after a 34-point effort against Atlanta on Monday, in which he shot 13-of-16 from the floor and 3-of-4 from deep. “Me personally, I’m where I want to be.”
James compared himself to a golfer tweaking his swing (via Cleveland.com):
“I changed a couple things from the perimeter as far as my shot,” James said, mentioning balance as the biggest change. “I’m not a big golfer, but I can understand sometimes when those guys change their swing sometimes, and they can maybe even change their golf clubs, they feel like just one little switch can get them to drive that ball 400 instead of 360. That’s the way I felt.”
The overall change to James’ play came after the Cavaliers were blown out by the Heat on March 19, when James was criticized for hanging out and laughing with Dwyane Wade at halftime instead of warming up. After the ensuing media frenzy and some peculiar late-night tweets, James met with head coach Tyronn Lue, and then separately with general manager David Griffin.
Ever since, he’s been dominating.
“It’s a mind switch, a mind switch,” James said Monday. “I’ve been going to the gym even more, dialed in more on what needs to be done and what needs to be better.”
“Zero dark thirty,” Tristan Thompson said of James’ recent play. “It’s about that time. You see it every year. It’s about to go down. Let’s do it.”
“I get that feel,” James added. “It’s ramping up a little bit more over the last week as the regular season ends. I’ll be extremely excited.”
There are still plenty of problems lingering around the Cavaliers, despite their top seed and improvement on court. Kevin Love could be playing his final season in a Cavs’ jersey, though lately Kyrie Irving’s name has been floated as possible trade bait. Then there is the unavoidable fact that the Cavaliers, assuming they advance to the Finals, will likely meet the Warriors or Spurs. Either way, it will be an uphill battle for James and the Cavs.
James was historically great in the playoffs last year, though at a certain point all the miles on his legs will add up and he will simply be physically incapable of carrying his team like he did last year. His 35.6 minutes per game this season were the fewest of his career, though, and that should help. And his play of late might just be a sign of things to come.