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LeBron James as an NBA model of efficiency

Miami Heat superstar has improved his shooting accuracy — to which a notable six-game stretch attests — and 'making greatness look easy,' his coach says.

February 16, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • Miami Heat forward LeBron James fades into the dark during team introductions.
Miami Heat forward LeBron James fades into the dark during team introductions. (Robert Duyos / MCT )

HOUSTON — Maybe the Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan comparisons don't take it far enough.

LeBron James is doing things that seem incomprehensible even to the finest in his field, like Michelangelo's brush strokes or William Shakespeare's use of tragic irony.

"We're just human," Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum recently told reporters. "He's not."

The best player in the NBA has transformed himself into an efficiency expert, the Miami Heat superstar occasionally mixing in a miss among his breathless array of dunks, jump shots and unnerving drives to the basket.

He recently compiled a six-game stretch in which he scored at least 30 points while shooting better than 60%, becoming the first player in league history to do so.

And in the seventh game, King James rested. Or at least his otherworldly shooting touch took a breather, James making 14 of 24 (58.3%) shots Thursday during a victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

His teammates and rivals only wish they could be that "off" every night.

"A lot of us say, 'Well, he can get better,'" Miami guard Dwyane Wade said, "but unless he shoots 80% on a nightly basis, the guy is as good as it gets. I think the last two years, everything in his career has just been coming together perfectly."

Having already bolstered his post game, James has vastly improved his shooting accuracy, particularly from three-point range. He is making a career-high 56.5% of his shots heading into the All-Star game Sunday at Toyota Center, including 42.5% from beyond the arc.

His previous career best from three-point range was 36.2%.

"He has literally taken everything that everybody said about him that he didn't do well and is proving it all the time now," Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving said. "That's as simply put as you can say it. He's doing everything people said he couldn't do."

Which means he's doing more than a little bit of everything. He is averaging 27.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists one season removed from his third most-valuable-player award and first championship, triggering inevitable comparisons with the game's all-time greats.

Not that James was a willing participant in the chatter.

"I'm not MJ, I'm LJ," James tweeted this week to his more than 7 million followers.

Jordan weighed in as well, telling NBA TV he would take Bryant over James at this point in their careers because Bryant has five title rings to James' one.

For the record, James also trails Jordan by five championships and two MVPs.

"Rings do not define someone's career," James said. "You look at a guy like Jud Buechler, who has multiple rings. Charles Barkley doesn't have one ring. He's not better than Charles Barkley.

"Sometimes, it's the situation that you're in and the team that you're on and it's about timing as well. I don't play the game and try to define who I am over what guys say or how they feel about me."

That's too bad, considering how nearly everyone gushes over the runaway MVP leader, whose team holds the best record in the Eastern Conference.

James' highlight reels run as long as he's on the court, every minute played a tapestry of his greatness.

"He pulls out things in games where I'll be like 'Really? Come on, man. I haven't seen you work on that,'" Wade said. "But he just has the talent. He can go to anything and now he's got the confidence to go to it."

Said Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra: "He's making greatness look easy. What I love about LeBron is that he doesn't get complacent. I think it would be the natural human condition to relax as the best player in the game with a title, to say, 'That's enough.' But he keeps pushing forward to try to break barriers and continue to improve."

One of the final frontiers for growth could be James' mental makeup.

"Physically, I don't think he can become too much more dominant than he is right now," Spoelstra said, "but he's really controlling games now with his mind and his understanding of the game and pace and feel as much as he ever has before."

His shooting hasn't been too shabby, either.

"Is this the highest level I've ever played at?" James said, repeating a question. "I think as far as efficiency. The numbers say that, the efficiency level. I've played some good ball in my career. We're witnessing it right now, so it's easy to say, 'This is it,' but I've played some great basketball over my career."

None better than what the master of the game has unveiled these last few weeks.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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