For one remarkable 21-game stretch during the 2012-13 regular season — more than one quarter of all games — LeBron James shot 63.2 percent from the field.
This is the preseason, so it’s a good a time to explore some hypothetical story lines as the Heat eyes a three-peat.
Here’s a “two-parter”: Could James shoot 60 percent for an entire 82-game schedule and, if he did, could that magic number result in the Heat challenging the Bulls’ NBA regular-season record of 72 victories?
At this point in his career, James is playing the game of basketball against himself more than he’s actually competing against opponents. During training camp and the preseason, he has laid out a few of his goals for 2013-14. Among them, he wants to take the most efficient shots possible within the flow of the Heat’s offense while also focusing his efforts inside the box.
Given those objectives, could James shoot more than 60 percent from the field for an entire regular season?
“I don’t really set out goals as far as what I want to shoot from the field,” James said. “I know I want to take good shots and I know I want to be in attack and if that results in [60 percent] then it will be great, but I want to get the best shot for myself and for our team every possession.”
But for a large block of games last season, it almost seemed like 60 percent was the goal.
From Jan. 12 to Feb. 26, a stretch of games that included a break for the All-Star Game, James went on one of the greatest tears of his career. He shot 63.2 percent from the field and his emphasis to get inside turned around the Heat’s season.
Before Jan. 12, the Heat started the season 23-11. The underwhelming stretch included a two-week period from Dec. 28-Jan. 10 in which the Heat lost five games. Then, on Jan. 12 in Sacramento, James got serious and shot 7 of 10 from the field, which helped reverse a trend of poor road performance to begin the season.
After Sacramento, the Heat finished the regular season 38-4.
Several factors went into the turnaround, including the addition of free agent Chris Andersen and one prolonged stretch of greatness by Dwyane Wade before his injury, but James’ efficiency was the ultimate decider in the Heat setting a club record for regular-season victories (66).
So, could James shoot 60 percent for an entire season? James didn’t really want to entertain the idea Sunday, an off day for the Heat before road preseason games this week in Washington and Brooklyn. But his teammates didn’t mind the conversation starter.
“Nothing surprises me about that guy,” Shane Battier said. “As long as he’s willing to take the punishment of trying to shoot 60 percent, which means a few more rim attacks a game, it’s possible.
“I don’t know if he’s willing to take the punishment, because that takes a tremendous amount of punishment to shoot that high of a percentage. But if anyone can do it, he can do it.”
James’ health is something to consider. The Heat would rather James jack up shots from the outside all season and be healthy for the playoffs than bang inside in order to grind out meaningless regular-season victories in February and March.
But there’s an obvious relation between James’ shooting percentage and the Heat’s win column.