Miami Heat

Miami Heat’s LeBron James more efficient than ever


LeBron James is shooting a career-high 55.6 percent from the field this season as he takes total efficiency to the ultimate level.

Friday: Clippers at Heat

When/where: 8 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Arena.

TV/radio: Sun Sports, ESPN; WAXY 790, FM 104.3, WAQI 710 (Spanish).

Series: Heat leads 29-19.

Outlook: The Heat is 20-3 at home and is looking to sweep the season series with the Clippers after defeating Blake Griffin and Co. 99-90 at Staples Center in January. … Udonis Haslem enters three rebounds shy of 5,000 for his career. … LeBron James is shooting 75 percent (24 of 32) in his past two games. … Injured Clippers point guard Chris Paul is expected to return to action for the marquee game. Paul, an MVP candidate, has been sidelined since Jan. 21 with a bruised right kneecap. Clippers point guard Chauncey Billups could also be available. Billups has only played in three games this season because of an inflamed tendon in his left foot. … The Heat is 16-5 against Western Conference teams.

For exactly 55 minutes and 58 seconds of court time spanning three games, LeBron James attempted 21 shots and made 20.

The one shot he missed? It was a layup, of course.

“I got fouled on it,” James said of his point-blank miss under duress in the third quarter against the Bobcats.

Actually, if you want to be technical, James appeared to be fouled about three times on the play by Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo. But let’s not quibble about the uncontrollably long arms of Biyombo. That’s beside the point.

James’ numbers alone during his extraordinary run, which began in the fourth quarter against the Raptors on Sunday, carried over into the next night against the Bobcats and extended into the first quarter against the Rockets on Wednesday, will go down as one of the most efficient stretches of basketball in NBA history.

But how he did it, that’s even more special.

James wasn’t just efficient close to the rim. When the game called for it, he stepped outside and buried jumpers as well. The two knocks on James’ offensive game used to be his reluctance to use his strength and an unreliable jump shot. That scouting report is about as dated and useless as Paris Hilton.

Entering Friday night’s marquee game against the Los Angeles Clippers, James not only has the highest field-goal percentage of his career (55.6) but also the highest three-point field-goal percentage (40.8).

“Everybody will try to come up with limitations for him,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s the human condition from outside. We don’t want to.

“I’ve been asked this question: ‘Is he playing too well?’ Is he doing too much? Should we craft a game where he doesn’t play as efficiently to save him, so he’s not reaching his potential? Should he not push himself to go to another level, to always stay uncomfortable to reach higher and higher? That logic doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t apply.”

The mastery of those 55 minutes and 58 seconds stands as a microcosm of James’ offensive evolution. Last season, when the crown of being the world’s best basketball player was pressed firmly atop his head, James seemed to be at the top of his game.

Wrong. James is getting better because he’s one year wiser.

“I’ve always been intelligent and had a high basketball IQ,” James said. “It is just that my game has improved. … I am more efficient. When you are younger you take bad shots. You learn from those moments.”

And, of course, scoring is only one small part of James’ overall game. In a league of the world’s greatest athletes, he is peerless and clear on his way to winning his fourth MVP award in five seasons. Sometimes, it’s as if the game itself is his only competition.

Against the Raptors, James was 4 of 4 from the field in the final nine minutes eight seconds of the game.

The six-quarter run of near perfection started with a five-foot driving jump shot. James followed that with a breakaway dunk off a steal. He then delivered the game’s dagger, a three-pointer from 24 feet. But James wasn’t finished. For good measure, he added a 23-footer with 32.9 seconds to play.

The next night, after watching the Super Bowl in a sports bar in Toronto, a late-night flight back to Miami and, according to his Twitter feed, after taking his kids to school in the morning, James went 13 of 14 from the field against the Bobcats, scoring exclusively from close range.

His field-goal percentage (92.8) was a career high. All told, James’ 13 field goals came from a combined distance of just 41 feet.

The near-perfect shootXZing night along with eight rebounds and eight assists put James in some rare company.

“I didn’t know it hasn’t been done [since] Wilt [Chamberlain] did it,” James said. “I think he owns almost every efficiency stat that we have in mankind, just how dominant he was, and he lived on the rim. So that’s pretty cool when you’re linked to one of the greats.”

James then started Wednesday’s game against the Rockets 3 of 3 from the field with a dunk, a 19-foot jumper and a 20-foot jumper. He finished the game 11-of-18 shooting, including 3 of 6 from three-point range.

Chamberlain? He played before the introduction of the three-point arc — not that he ever would have attempted one. It’s past time to rethink James’ statistical relationship with basketball legends. Being linked to James, it seems, is the game’s new gold standard.

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