The context for LeBron’s 57-point masterpiece last night is something I, a devoted Wizards fan, would prefer to ignore—the Wizards spent portions of the spring and an interview with ESPN’s The Jump chirping that the Cavs ducked them in last season’s playoffs, and went so far as to say that they, the Wizards, who’ve neither advanced past the second round of the playoffs nor won more than 49 games during my lifetime, were the class of the Eastern Conference. Yeesh.
What I would really like to do is puff up inside my basketblogger togs and scold you for needing that narrative silliness to appreciate LeBron’s sweet basketball moves, a position that not coincidentally ushers your attention away from the many crimes of self-ownage the Wizards have already committed this season. Quick, here is a video of LeBron to distract you! Pay no attention to those men in red!
LeBron has never before in his 14-plus seasons in the NBA made as many as 23 shots in a game. They were all lovely, and made for spectacular television, but the show, for me, starts at about 4:16 of the video above, when LeBron backs Bradley Beal down late in the shot clock and buries a tough turnaround jumper in his mug to put the Cavs up 12. It’s not the first time we’ve seen LeBron make a turnaround jumper, but once he got the taste for it in the second half last night, it became the go-to action in Cleveland’s offense. On his very next scoring possession the Cavs used a Kyle Korver screen to force a switch, and LeBron visibly slowed up, waiting for a defender to present himself for back-down humiliation. When no one showed up—when Beal blew the switch out of pure chickenhearted laziness—LeBron eventually settled for a rim attack. But what he wanted was some poor sucker to murder in the post.
LeBron is not going to suddenly become a guy who shoots 70 percent on tough post shots, like he did last night, but it sounds like he’s getting more and more comfortable with expanding his post game, per this Brian Windhorst report:
“I work on my game every day and the shots that I was taking, pretty much all of them I work on,” James said. “I’ve been working quite a bit on my turnarounds and my fadeaways and my footwork, things of that nature, and I was able to get to it. Once I fade, I really don’t see the defender as much, and I’m just focusing on the target.”
“As I’ve grown as a basketball player,” James said. “I’m staying disciplined with my shot, disciplined with my balance and every shot that I took it feels like it was going in.”
No Wizards player came close to bothering him once he had someone pinned on his back and the floor spread. After John Wall played him close on a couple turnarounds, LeBron went ahead and backed Wall all the way under the basket before going to a step-through reverse. LeBron gave the business to Beal and Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter and Jodie Meeks and any other light-in-the-shorts rag doll the Wizards sent his way. By the end of the game the Wizards were selling out to prevent anyone but Wall from guarding LeBron—LeBron has at least four inches and 50 pounds on Wall, and if Wall is the best Wizard for guarding LeBron in the post, the Wizards are never, ever going to beat the Cavaliers again. Which kind of makes the case for them shutting the hell up for a little while about their standing in the NBA.