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Since Christmas Day, the emotional and psychological tolls take on the Cleveland Cavaliers are clearly evident.
It’s inevitable when any team, let alone one with aspirations of reaching a fourth consecutive NBA Finals and playing for a championship, wins only three of 12 games.
However, it appears the difficulties when it comes to the bottom line are beginning to affect even LeBron James.
The 33-year-old James has played in all 45 games this season for the Cavaliers (27-18).
Now in his 15th NBA season, James remains on pace to play all 82 regular-season games. In his storied career, he’s played even 80 games only twice, the first being in his second season (2004-05) when he played 80 and the other being in 2008-09, when he played 81 as a 24-year-old.
Does James need a rest?
“You’ll have to ask him,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said at practice Sunday in Independence. “I’m not sure.”
The numbers would indicate the answer to that question is, “yes.” That’s a conundrum for Cleveland, though. How do you play the guy regarded as the best on the planet less while the team is trending downward?
In the 12 games since Christmas, James’ numbers have taken a downturn. Consider his season statistics, with his numbers during the 3-9 skid in parenthesis:
- Minutes per game — 36.9 (35.5)
- Field goal percentage — 55.3 (50.0)
- 3-point percentage — 36.2 (20.0)
- Free throw percentage — 75.0 (61.6)
- Rebounds per game — 7.8 (6.8)
- Assists per game — 8.7 (7.1)
- Steals per game — 1.7 (2.2)
- Blocks per game — 1.1 (1.2)
- Turnovers per game — 4.3 (4.4)
- Points per game — 26.8 (19.8)
- Team record –– 24-9 (3-9)
The numbers’ show James’ difficulties have really come in terms of shooting the basketball. Especially from the 3-point line, where he’s made just three of his last 23 attempts over his last six games, for an abysmal 13.0 percent.
Lue didn’t point to fatigue, though, as a source of James’ downturn. He’s actually playing almost a full minute less (36.9 for the season, 35.5 in the skid) than he did a season ago (37.8).
“I think struggles come to him not getting easy baskets,” Lue said of James. “I think not getting stops and defensively, not being as good as we need to be.
“I think it makes Bron struggle on the offensive end because we don’t get the easy baskets in transition, getting to the paint, getting to the free throw line.”
Through James’ career, the more an opponent can set its defense and keep the 6-foot-8, 250-pound LeBron Express out of the open court the more effective it is against him.
“In the half court set, (Oklahoma City) trapped him last night,” Lue said. “They’re loading up to him, not letting him play in the post.”
The solution, then?
“We’ve got to play faster,” Lue said. “But we gotta get stops to do that.”