AN IMPROVED SHOT AT 5TH MVP AWARD
Altered mechanics have aided his shot
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.
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.