Justin Norris | Staff Writer
LeBron James is having perhaps his most statistically dominant season in his transcendent 15-year career.
James is on pace to play in all 82 games for the first time in his career, and he is surpassing his lofty career averages in almost every major statistical category. King James is averaging 27.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.1 assists per game, while shooting 54.7 percent from the field, 36.1 percent from 3-point range and 73 percent from the free throw line. This is his highest scoring average since his first stint in Cleveland, and his highest rebound and assist averages ever.
In addition to these jaw-dropping numbers, James, at 33 years old, is leading the NBA in minutes per game, while serving as the only constant for a wildly inconsistent Cavaliers team that has seen even its head coach miss games, and has used 26 different starting lineups this season.
Earlier this season, James also became the youngest of seven players to reach the elusive 30,000-career-points milestone, and just eclipsed Michael Jordan’s record for most consecutive games with double figures in points, with 867. James’ level of play appears to be at an all-time high. It’s no wonder that he told reporters after recording his career best 14th triple-double of the season, “I’m like fine wine, I get better with age.”
Despite the greatness of James, the Cavaliers are not expected to win the NBA championship this season. A LeBron-led team has never finished below the second seed in the Eastern Conference in a season that he advanced to the NBA Finals. Yet, James told reporters earlier this season that “it doesn’t matter to me if I’m a sixth seed, or a 3 seed, or a 2 seed, 8 seed. If I come into your building for a Game 1, it will be very challenging.”
However, the road to James’ fourth championship and a second title for Cleveland, particularly through the Eastern Conference, is more arduous than it has been since his return to Cleveland before the 2014-15 season. The Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics should provide a legitimate test for James and the Cavaliers even before facing likely either the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.
The problem for the Cavaliers has never been about scoring points. Their issues start on the other side of the ball. They are the fifth in the league in points per game, but they also have the fifth-worst defense in the league.
The only possible way for the Cavaliers to win their second title in three seasons is to increase their lackluster regular-season effort and intensity levels defensively once the playoffs begin. This is something they have shown themselves incapable of doing for the past three years. In order to avoid postseason disappointment and beat the Raptors, Rockets or Warriors, the Cavaliers must be able to generate stops against the top 3 offenses in the NBA. If not, James could look to sign elsewhere when he becomes a free agent this summer.