WASHINGTON — LeBron James is not one to fool himself when assessing his play, and, as he spoke to the media after Friday night’s contest, was pinpoint accurate in his assessment that he was bound to come out of the zone he was in while putting in basket after basket against the Washington Wizards.
As he pointed out, he figured that he would miss. “I missed 11 shots,” James said in concluding his session with the media.
His sarcasm was as perfect as his entire game in leading the Cavaliers out of a early-season funk. Twenty-three shots of his did swish through the net as The King amazed everyone in the Capital One Arena crowd with 57 points as Cleveland came away with a 130-122 victory against one the Cavaliers’ biggest threats to their Eastern Conference dominance in the Wizards.
Of all of the NBA games in his surefire Hall of Fame career that LeBron has participated in (that’s 1,287 games, regular season and postseason combined), he scored more points than tonight’s output only once. No matter the degree of difficulty, once James made six of his first seven shots in the first quarter, everyone had a feeling that he was going to stick the landing.
“Every shot that I took felt like it was going in, even when they were highly contested,” said James just outside of the Cavaliers locker room after the game. “I just had my eyes on the target. Just trying to stay disciplined, and as I’ve grown as a basketball player, I try to stay disciplined with my shot and disciplined with my balance. And every shot that I take felt like it was going in.”
Almost every shot in his repertoire was on display tonight, though only four of his 34 shots on goal were taken behind the three-point arc – he made two of those threes – making his point total all the more awe-inspiring.
“You don’t get bored with the process,” said James when asked about what it requires mentally to be able to shoot a high percentage while putting up a big scoring total. “Work on my game every day. The shots that I was taking, pretty much, all of them I work on. Even the one-legged fadeaway three near the baseline, I work on that too and I barely missed that.”
See? LeBron was not perfect. But only just.
What LeBron’s performance also did was break a four-game losing streak by the Cavaliers, a skid which raised questions about the chemistry of a team incorporating seven new players this season. Knowing they needed to put a tally in the win column, and stat, James played every single second of the second half, completing the contest playing 42 minutes.
“We needed this win, so I had no intention of coming out [in the second half],” said James. I felt pretty good. I’m almost back to myself, back to my wind. Any time I know I can play a full half, I know I’m right there. So it’s definitely great to get that win for sure.”
It is not as if the Wizards were willing welcome mats; Far from it, especially given that this is a team not shy about publicly stating that it thinks it belongs in the class that the Cavaliers occupy in the Eastern Conference hierarchy. Cleveland held a double-digit lead for most of the game, only for the Wizards, winners of 25 of their last 31 home games coming into tonight, to cut the lead to six.
As the Wizards team and crowd sensed a remarkable comeback about to be completed, there was James again. After hitting a back-breaking three-pointer from straight away earlier in the fourth quarter, he caught a bullet pass from Derrick Rose in the lane, pivoted, faded away and hit a jumper while being fouled by John Wall. His free throw completed a three-point play, gave Cleveland a nine-point lead and ended their losing streak.
“We obviously witnessed one of the best players to ever play the game,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks, whose team has lost consecutive games at home for the first time since Nov. 7 and Nov. 11 of last season. “He still has it, if you guys didn’t know that. We knew that. Going into the game, very rarely you see a guy hit like 10 straight heat-check shots. It seems like every shot he was contested, and a lot of them were mid-range.”
“We tried everything,” Brooks continued. “We tried everything.”
Everything was not enough, because that’s what LeBron James was last night: everything; He also had 11 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks, just for good measure.
How does that oft-quoted line from HBO’s popular series The Wire go? “You come at the king, you best not miss.” The NBA’s version of The King did not miss, and what we got to see because of it was history.