At this point — 10-plus years, four MVPs and two NBA titles into his illustrious career — we all have a healthy respect and admiration for the type of brilliant plays LeBron James can make on a 94-by-50 rectangle. But we also might take for granted, just a bit, how consistent he's been over the years. He's suited up for 95.2 percent of the 809 regular-season games his teams have played since entering the league in 2003, with more than a few of those 39 DNPs coming in the final days of seasons after his teams had already sewn up playoff seeding, and he's been productive just about every time he's laced up his high-tops.
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The reliability of James' night-in, night-out contributions came to the forefront during Tuesday's matchup with the Toronto Raptors, when his offensive rebound and put-back dunk of a missed layup by Miami Heat point guard Norris put him in some incredibly rarefied air among NBA legends. Our friends at the Yahoo Sports Minute have more:
The last time James failed to crack double-figures? Jan. 5, 2007, while a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The leading scorers in that game? Drew Gooden, who no longer appears on an NBA roster, and Michael Redd, who will reportedly officially announce his retirement on Wednesday. (It's been a while, is what I'm saying.)
Here's another look at the luminaries James joined on Tuesday, as displayed on the Heat-Raptors broadcast:
Pretty good company. (Screencap via r/nba)
Not a bad group to be associated with, huh? Similarly, this note from The Associated Press about James' career scoring profile offers some context on how much more likely LeBron is to have an amazing night than a bad one:
James has more regular-season games of scoring at least 50 points (nine) than nights where he's scored less than 10 (eight).
And another, from the AP's Tim Reynolds:
[...] most nights, the streak has lived on by a fairly comfortable margin.
He's finished with exactly 10 points only once in his last 499 regular-season games — that being Oct. 31, 2007, at Dallas — and has scored under 15 points only 15 times during this stretch.
And another, via the AP's Ian Harrison:
[Tuesday] was the 162nd time during the streak that James has reached 10 points in the opening quarter.
"I just go out and play every night and those are the results," he said.
Tuesday's results, appropriately enough, were both customarily amazing and arrived at seemingly effortlessly:
The final tally: 35 points on 13 for 20 shooting, a perfect 8 for 8 mark from the foul line, eight rebounds, eight assists (three leading to layups/dunks, three leading to 3-pointers) and just one turnover in 36 minutes of a 104-95 Heat win without starting big man Chris Bosh, who hung back in the States after the birth of his daughter, Dylan Skye. Ho-hum.
LeBron might not have been aware of the streak before Tuesday — "That's pretty cool, since you brought it up. I had no idea. Hopefully, you didn't jinx me" — but as he worked to keep the Raptors at bay and seal up Miami's first road win of the season, he clearly felt sprightly enough to get footloose and fancy-free ... and, of course, suck in the defense enough on a drive to open up Ray Allen in the corner for an all-over-but-the-shoutin' 3-ball:
The footwork might be breezy and the playmaking may seem easy, but as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told Sportsnet's Michael Grange, all we get to watch (or witness, if you prefer) is the tip of the proverbial iceberg:
“One of the more unique qualities about him is that drive, that fear of failure, the constant push to make himself uncomfortable,” says Spoelstra. “What’s unique about that is he’s been crowned the best in the game [for his age] since he was in the seventh grade. … that usually distorts your perception of what matters and how much you should be working.
“But he understands the whole puzzle — not only individual work, but to be out here every day – shootarounds; practices; film sessions — he’s lacing them up. He doesn’t always feel great, but he’s going to be there to make this work. That’s as big as anything he does for himself.”
And why the train keeps rolling, night after night, six-plus years down the line.
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