LeBron James calls it “proactive” defense.
In his past six games, James has not been called for a personal foul. During that time, he has recorded 41 rebounds, five steals and five blocked shots, including four blocks in the Heat’s victory against the Mavericks. Oh, and not to mention James has scored 157 points (26.1 points per game) during the run.
But not a single personal foul.
James’ last personal foul was a charge in the first quarter of the Heat’s victory against the New Orleans Hornets on Dec. 8. Since then, James has played 250 minutes 4 seconds without drawing a whistle for a personal foul. In the month of December — 10 games — James has only been whistled for six personal fouls.
“Hey, I don’t foul,” James joked before Saturday’s game against the Utah Jazz.
That night, James was whistled for his first infraction since Dec. 8, a technical foul in the second quarter for arguing an official’s non-call.
So, how does he do it? How does one of the most aggressive defenders in the NBA play defense night after night without being called for a foul?
“Some of it’s preparation, some of it’s luck,” James said. “Some of it’s being in the right position, knowing the system, being in the right position, knowing when the rotations happen defensively.”
During James’ streak, the Heat has held its opponents to an average of 89.5 points per game. The 16-point win against the Jazz was Miami’s fourth victory in a row. The Heat forced at least 20 turnovers in each of those games.
“I’d be concerned if he was just standing around,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of James’ streak without a foul. “If he’s hiding and taking himself out of plays, taking mini-vacations on possessions, but he’s been activating our defense.
“When you have his type of athletic, god-given ability and you add it to his mind and the preparation, he can be one or two steps ahead of the play, which allows him to be a playmaker defensively, allows him to be physical, get in the thick of it, but also be early enough so he’s not getting called for out-of-position fouls.”
These days, James is a man of many streaks. Offensively, he has scored at least 20 points in every game this season (24). It’s the longest active streak of its kind to begin a season since Karl Malone’s 24 in 1989-90. Spoelstra said the most impressive thing about James’ offensive streak is “he’s done it without trying to go for it.”
“The fact that it’s over 20 straight games when there’s clearly times in the game where he’s not necessarily trying to score,” Spoelstra said. “That he’s reading the game but more importantly reading what we need. That’s the ultimate IQ of a player.
“He’ll take segments of the game where he feels that he needs to be a facilitator and get guys going and you can see it. ... He’ll get guys involved and then score when needed. I probably call less plays for LeBron than any other player.”
The streaks, both offensive and defensive, will be put to the test on Tuesday in the Heat’s highly anticipated Christmas Day game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Entering Sunday night, the Thunder had the best record (21-5) in the NBA.
The Thunder is ranked fourth in the league in personal fouls drawn (21.4) and is second in the league in points per game (105.1). The Heat is ranked 18th and fourth, respectively, in those categories.
The Heat’s recommitment to defense in the past three weeks has moved it up in the rankings to 15th in opponent points per game (97.74).
“We’re in the right direction,” James said. “We’re making a huge step. We don’t want to go back.
“There are going to be games where you don’t play to the highest level. For the most part we’re doing it at a high level right now.”
While playing for the Cavaliers, James scored at least 20 points in 49 consecutive regular-season games from Dec. 14, 2007 to March 26, 2008.
Overall, James currently has scored at least 20 points in 45 consecutive games. He scored at least 20 points in the Heat’s 21 postseason games in the 2012 playoffs.