Leave it up to the pesky defense of Andrei Kirilenko to end one of LeBron James’ offensive streaks.
James has never shot the ball as well as he has to begin this season, but Monday was held to less than 50 percent shooting for the first time 11 games. James was 8 of 18 from the field and 2 of 5 from three-point range. James’ streak of 10 games with a shooting percentage of .500 or better was a career high.
Despite the off night, James still finished with 22 points. He has scored at least 20 points in every game this season. With career-high averages in rebounding, three-point shooting and field-goal percentage, James appears to be the league’s early leader for the MVP award. James is the reigning MVP and has won three MVP awards in four years.
James won last season with a shooting percentage of .531, which is his career high for a season. James is shooting .541 this season. James is shooting .424 from three-point range.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra partly credits James’ crisp shooting to familiarity with the offense and his teammates.
“It’s his third year now,” Spoelstra said. “He understands where he can get his opportunities and still set the table for the entire team. Not just scoring but running the offense, getting shots for other guys. His game continues to grow like all the great ones.”
The majority of James’ field goals this season have come from five feet or less, where he’s shooting 76.2 percent (115 of 151). With so many three-point shooters on the floor at the same time, driving lanes have been open for James and Dwyane Wade consistently.
“We’re trying to provide enough space for him to attack and get the easy ones and work our offense, ” Spoelstra said.
But James’ other field goals have been evenly spread among distances. From five to nine feet, James has 19 field goals. From 10 to 14 feet, he is 12 of 33. James’ midrange game (15 to 19 feet) is his lowest shooting split. He’s shooting 35.8 percent (24 of 67) from that distance.
Step back a few feet and James is shooting at a career clip. From 20 to 24 feet, James is shooting 45.2 percent (19 of 42) and from 25 to 29 feet James is shooting 42 percent (21 of 50).
Ball movement has a lot to do with James’ high numbers, Spoelstra said.
“He’s improved his shooting and the ball movement, assisted threes are a highly efficient shot for us this year,” Spoelstra said. “When we force a trigger and the ball moves and especially when it gets to the corner, that’s been our most productive shot all season long.”
As proficient as James is shooting, Spoelstra still isn’t about to condone the random heat check. Of course, James rarely hoists up three-pointers in isolation anymore.
“The non-assisted dribble-up three — we’re still not a fan of that shot,” Spoelstra said. “Even for our three-point shooters. The only guy, Mike Miller can come off the bench and shoot from 60. We don’t care. He can do it blindfolded and I don’t care. I just want him having that mentality.”
The Heat is ready to hit the road. Miami has played 10 of its past 11 games at home. The Heat plays at Dallas on Wednesday before returning home for games against Utah and Oklahoma City (Christmas Day). After that, the Heat makes stops in Charlotte, Detroit, Milwaukee and Orlando (New Year’s Eve).
“I love the home-game stretch but you get that real team aspect and camaraderie when you’re on the road when it’s just you and the guys and the coaches and the people that’s with you,” James said. “That’s when you know what type of team you can become.”
The Heat went 4-2 during its six-game homestand, which was its longest of the season.
“It’s unusual,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not an excuse, but we haven’t handled it quite the way we would have liked to here at home. “We’re used to the normal NBA rhythm. Play some games here, go out for a few games and build some toughness on the road. It feels like we’ve been home forever. While that’s OK, you also know what’s on the horizon. We’re going to catch up to everybody as some point.”
The Heat is on the road for 14 of its next 19 games beginning with the Dec. 26 game against Charlotte.