LeBron focused early in shortened season
Even after drubbing Dallas on Sunday, the mood in the Miami locker room was hardly one of celebration. So it was mentioned to a straight-faced LeBron James that he didn’t seem too happy.
“I’m good. I’m good,” James insisted.
So James says that. But everybody knows James truly won’t be happy until he’s hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of this truncated 66-game NBA season.
Eight seasons have passed in James’ career and he still doesn’t have a ring. For years, it was noted Michael Jordan didn’t win a championship until his seventh season. Well, James is past that. Even another superstar much maligned for not winning titles — Wilt Chamberlain — got his first of two in his eighth season.
But James now is a clearly a small forward with a big task in mind. His performance in the 105-94 win in the regular-season opener at defending champion Dallas was downright dominating. In 36 minutes, James had 37 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
“We’re a focused bunch,” James said of his Heat, who clearly have more important things in mind than winning a regular-season game, even if it’s over the team that ousted them from last June’s Finals. “We want to try to be business-like and approach every game like it’s our last.”
James’ next final game is Tuesday’s home opener against Boston, another team that has proved a roadblock in his quest for a ring. When he was with Cleveland, the Cavaliers lost to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2008 and 2010.
But whatever team is on the schedule this season, you get the idea it might not matter. James seems as determined as ever to take care of the only missing entry on his resume.
After Miami had last season come to an end with a loss to the Mavericks in Game 6 of the Finals on June 12, James admits he was in a zombie-like state until around the start of July, saying, “I beat myself up.” He eventually was able to pick himself up off the canvas.
“You can never let it go all the way,” James said of the Finals, one in which he regularly struggled late in the fourth quarter of close games. “I was in a hole for at least two or three weeks. And, after that, doing absolutely nothing and talking to absolutely nobody. Just moping around. (James finally realized) it’s time to get back up and start to get better and work on my craft. Studying the game. Studying the Finals. Studying the whole playoffs and seeing ways I can help myself get better as an individual player, which will help our team.”
It was the longest offseason of James’ life, literally and figuratively. A lockout pushed the start of the regular season back nearly two months.
But James, once he shook off his Finals funk, used the offseason to get better. He paid a visit to Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to gain some wisdom on playing in the post. And he showed plenty of that off Sunday.
“He spent a great deal of time in the offseason on his own, working on that game,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “It allows us to add another dimension of inside-out and still able to play to some other strengths.”
The Heat also has stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But if they are to win the title this season, much of it will fall on the shoulders of James.
Wade has twice been named to the All-NBA first team and was Finals MVP when the Heat won it all in 2006. But even Wade sometimes can get in a mesmerizing mode when talking about the awesome talent of the 6-foot-8 James.
“LeBron has now become very good at that pull-up,” Wade said of James’ mid-range game, which he also improved during the offseason. “He can be even more effective than me with his height, with his jumping ability.”
James is a two-time MVP. He’s won a scoring title, and his 27.7 average is the third-highest in NBA history. But can James be even better this season?
He seems to think so.
“Me as a competitor, I never like to return to a season the same player as last year or the year before,” he said. “I can’t afford to come back and not be a better player or dwell on what happened (in last season’s Finals). It’s time for me to get better.”
And there’s still time for James to turn his reputation into one of a champion. If he wins a ring this season, it would be at 27. That still would be one year younger than when Jordan, who played three years of college ball to James’ none, claimed his firs