AN IM­PROVED SHOT AT 5TH MVP AWARD

Al­tered me­chan­ics have aided his shot

Albuquerque Journal - - SPORTS - BY MARLA RI­DE­NOUR AKRON BEA­CON JOUR­NAL

Changes in his re­lease prompted by a sore el­bow over the sum­mer seems to be an im­pe­tus for even more great­ness from LeBron James.

CLEVE­LAND — Should LeBron James win his fifth NBA Most Valu­able Player award this sea­son, the Cava­liers star might have a sore el­bow to thank.

As James worked on his game this sum­mer, he said an in­flamed el­bow didn’t al­low him to get the reg­u­lar ex­ten­sion on his shot and he was forced to change his me­chan­ics.

The re­sults have been so spec­tac­u­lar that James could be voted MVP for the first time in five years.

His 25-foot step-back 3-pointer with 16.6 sec­onds re­main­ing was the game-de­cid­ing shot in Wed­nes­day night’s 101-95 tri­umph over the Sacra­mento Kings at Quicken Loans Arena. It not only capped a 32-point night in which James fell one as­sist shy of this third triple dou­ble in 201718, but it en­abled the Cavs to tie the fran­chise record for con­sec­u­tive reg­u­lar-sea­son vic­to­ries with 13.

It was the same “Chicago” play the Cavs ran when James fa­mously “scratched” for­mer coach David Blatt’s sug­gested plan and made a buzzer-beat­ing jumper to win Game 4 of the East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals against the Bulls in 2015. This time, coach Ty­ronn Lue said James sug­gested it.

Score­less in the first quar­ter, James made 12 of 18 field goal tries, in­clud­ing 5-for-8 from 3-point range. The per­for­mance im­proved his sea­son shoot­ing per­cent­ages to .587 over­all and .430 from long range, the best of his of his 15-year ca­reer.

James’ 3-point per­cent­age is blow­ing away the Golden State War­riors’ Steph Curry (.381) and the Bos­ton Celtics’ Kyrie Irv­ing (.373). James is near­ing Kyle Korver ter­ri­tory (.438).

“He’s like ‘Give me the ball, we’re about to win,’” Korver said. “I’ve been around some guys who’ve had amaz­ing years. I’ve been play­ing with him, and Der­rick (Rose) when he was MVP, Allen Iver­son when I was young. But he’s taken this to a whole new level.

“It’s amaz­ing to have a bet­ter than a front-row seat, be­cause I’m usu­ally on the court next to him some­where.”

Korver stands fifth in league his­tory in 3-point­ers made, so his words carry weight. Af­ter James scored 23 of his 33 points in the fourth quar­ter of a home vic­tory over the Brook­lyn Nets on Nov. 22, Korver noted the re­sults of James’ off­sea­son work.

“My man has worked his way into be­ing a real shooter,” Korver said then. “Like, for real. His fun­da­men­tals, he has worked on it in this last year. You can tell he thinks about it, he stud­ies the game, he stud­ies his own me­chan­ics, he puts in a ton of time and he’s con­fi­dent shoot­ing that shot. It looks re­ally, re­ally great to me and I watch these things.”

Korver agreed with the sug­ges­tion that it could be as sim­ple as the changes James made be­cause of the el­bow. James said that once the el­bow swelling started go­ing down in late Septem­ber, he stuck with the ad­just­ments.

“That helped me with my shot, too, when I had an el­bow in­jury,” Korver said. “If you shoot it just a lit­tle bit wrong, it hurts. So you’ve got to shoot it per­fect for it not to hurt.

“You’ve got to re­train your mind to think, ‘This is the right way to shoot it.’ A lot of it is at­ten­tion to de­tail. If you’re go­ing to be great at some­thing, de­tails re­ally mat­ter.”

This is only the sec­ond sea­son of James’ ca­reer in which he’s shot over .400 from 3-point range. The other was 2012-13 with the Heat, when he shot .406. That was the sixth straight year he raised his field-goal per­cent­age and sec­ond in a row when he’d im­proved his long-range num­ber.

James said the off­sea­son im­prove­ment was nec­es­sary be­cause “shoot­ing the ball is what this league has kind of turned into.”

TRADE: The Philadel­phia 76ers have traded be­lea­guered cen­ter Jahlil Okafor to the Brook­lyn Nets.

The Six­ers also sent guard Nik Stauskas and a 2019 sec­ond-round pick to the Nets for for­ward Trevor Booker.

Thurs­day’s games

LAK­ERS 107, 76ERS 104: In Philadel­phia, Brandon In­gram made the win­ning 3-pointer with 0.8 sec­onds left and fin­ished with 21 points in Los An­ge­les’ vic­tory over Philadel­phia.

Julius Randle and Jor­dan Clark­son each added 16 points to help the Lak­ers snap a five-game skid.

WIZARDS 109, SUNS 99: In Phoenix, Bradley Beal scored 34 points to help Wash­ing­ton beat Phoenix,

Two nights af­ter scor­ing 51 points in a vic­tory at Port­land, Beal had 22 points in the first half.

NETS 100, THUN­DER 95: In Mex­ico City, Caris Lev­ert scored 19 points, Ron­dae Hol­lis-Jef­fer­son added 17 and Brook­lyn over­came another strong per­for­mance by Rus­sell West­brook to beat Ok­la­homa City in the first of the Nets’ two games in Mex­ico City.

West­brook had 31 points, eight re­bounds and six as­sists.

ROCK­ETS 112, JAZZ 101: In Salt Lake City, James Har­den scored 29 points, and Chris Paul added 18 and 13 as­sists to lead Hous­ton to a win over Utah.

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