Following a 113-108 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday in which he scored seven of his game-high 39 points on three dagger jumpers in the final minute, four-time MVP and three-time champion LeBron James made a bold proclamation about his level of play in his 15th season.
“Probably an all-time high,” James told ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth during a walk-off interview after the game. “Just because of my body, my mind, the way I go out and approach the game. And then, just the grace of God, giving me the ability to do this. I’m blessed, and I never take it for granted.”
Since returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, James’ combined points, rebounds and assists per game have gone up every season. That total is at 44.4 for James this season, which would be the fourth-highest of his career and the most since the 2009-10 season, when he was 25 years old, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
James finished Wednesday’s game shooting 15-for-25 from the field (5-for-8 from 3-point territory) with 10 assists and 8 rebounds. It was the fourth game of his career with 39-plus points, 8-plus rebounds, 10-plus assists while making five or more 3-pointers. He scored 13 of the Cavs’ final 15 points in the first half and their final nine in the second half.
“He wanted it,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said of James’ late-game execution. “The ball was in his hands. … Down the stretch we wanted to put it in Bron’s hands and run pick-and-roll.”
James has been on a roll since the Cavs changed their season with a dramatic roster overhaul at the trade deadline. In 10 games playing with his new teammates, James is averaging 30 points, 9.8 assists and 9.7 rebounds per game and the Cavs are 6-4.
Wednesday’s win was the Cavs’ second straight and a good start to their six-game road trip.
“It was closing time for us, and I just had to try to make some plays to try to win the ballgame,” James said. “I was able to shake free a little bit. I had a little bit of air space on them shots. Just been trusting my mechanics, trusting what I’ve put into the game and I was able to knock them down.”
James, 33, is fourth in the league in points per game, second in the league in assists per game, 17th in rebounds and 21st in steals. He has also played in all 64 of the Cavs’ games this season.
When told of James’ “all-time high” comment, Lue said, “Yeah, he’s definitely playing well, and tonight we had to ride him a little bit more than we wanted to. But down the stretch, we needed him to make plays, he had the ball in his hands and he did that, so he is playing at a high level. I didn’t know until today that he’s second in the NBA in assists. I didn’t even know that. So he’s passing the ball, sharing the basketball, having 10 assists again tonight and he could have had 18-19, but we missed some open shots. So he has to continue to keep doing that for us.”
The win put Cleveland up a 1½ games on Washington for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference standings with 18 games left to play. However, showing some of the same confidence he did when rating his game, James said he isn’t paying attention to seeding.
“Listen, it doesn’t matter to me if I’m a 6-seed or a 3-seed or a 2-seed, 8-seed,” James said. “If I come into your building for a Game 1, I can be very challenging.”
The next building James and the Cavs will come into is Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Cavs play the LA Clippers on Friday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
Another sign that James’ game has no sign of dropping off are the set of billboards erected in L.A. and paid for by a Lakers fan — echoing the billboards put up in Cleveland and paid for by a Philadelphia 76ers fan — clamoring for him to come play for the purple and gold.
“That’s crazy, that’s so crazy,” Jordan Clarkson said. “That’s like a thing now, isn’t it? I wonder who’s next.”
Clarkson, who was traded from the Lakers to the Cavs last month, said the thought of James joining the Lakers was already a talking point in the team’s inner sanctum this season.
“I wouldn’t say like management and the coaches or nobody, but in the locker room people talk when they see what’s going on on the internet, and they talk,” Clarkson said. “That’s probably the only thing. People talk in the locker room, that was it.”
There is sure to be plenty of more talk about James around the league after the performance he put on late against Denver.
“It was ridiculous,” Larry Nance Jr. said. “Those are shots that, like, as a defender, you just turn around to your coach and go, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what you want from me.’ But, no, it was incredible.”