LeBron James on Monday evening (Getty Images)
Despite the team’s reputation as hungry, young defensive go-getters, the Charlotte Bobcats are the NBA’s worst defensive team. They rank 30th out of 30 teams on that end, featuring an array of smallish guards and wings that have major trouble funneling scorers into defensive help from Bismack Biyombo, Tyrus Thomas, Jeff Adrien, and the much-missed Byron Mullens.
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This shouldn’t devalue in any way the performance that LeBron James put on during Miami’s 99-94 win over Charlotte on Monday night. The league’s reigning MVP shot 13-14 from the field, only missing a short jumper in the third quarter (that James claimed to be fouled on, ‘natch), and we have video from his brilliant 31-point, eight-assist night right here:
The Associated Press and STATS – as they often do – did the work for us in qualifying James’ night:
According to STATS, James' effort tied for the league's third-best shooting performance with at least that many attempts in the last 18 years. Shaquille O'Neal was 15 for 16 for the Heat against Seattle on Feb. 25, 2006, and Dwight Howard was 14 for 15 for Orlando against Philadelphia on April 14, 2007.
''I didn't plan it that way, I was just attacking when I could, got into the paint and was able to make some shots,'' said James, who made nine shots from 2 feet or closer.
This is key. As you can tell from the video, LeBron scored on an array of jump hooks and lefty-leaners, utilizing that post-up game that has gone into overdrive since a 2011 workout session with Hakeem Olajuwon. James has always had the skills to pull off a night like this while working around the rim, but he never had the clarity of mind or confidence to dive into moves like these without over-thinking things until the 2011-12 season. Perhaps LeBron would have gotten to that point anyway, but we don’t doubt that Hakeem’s tutelage helped.
What Olajuwon never needed to help with was stopping James from stat-hoarding. The AP and STATS point out that this is the 67th time in the player’s career that he’s managed a 31-8-8 line, including postseason play, but you won’t find James trying to force a pass in the final minutes in order to get over that triple double hump. From the Associated Press:
''If he knows and feels he's close to a triple double, he doesn't let that affect his game,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''He's not going to be one of those guys that will throw it off the backboard and try to get a rebound.''
That’s important. This isn’t to say Jason Kidd is the type to push for a late bucket or rebound to round out yet another triple double, but the stat remains one of the NBA’s most overrated. LeBron James could go an entire season without a triple double, but if he averaged 31-8-8 all year it would be a season for the ages. It’s something that we too often overlook while either obsessing over triple doubles, or only paying attention to box scores when LBJ comes within a few inches of shooting 14-14 from the field.
Kevin Durant is having a fantastic year, and his improved defense and passing were on display in a win on Monday night as well:
James is still the gold standard, though, mixing nearly all the scoring with defensive and passing exploits that Durant can only hope to approximate. It’s fun watching these two bob and weave for MVP votes night in and night out, but James remains the clear winner in this race to anyone who isn’t suffering from LeBron Fatigue.
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