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State of mind is key for Miami Heat’s LeBron James

Probably, what you need to do as a fan of the Heat is try and beat the traffic to AmericanAirlines Arena and be in your seat about 30 minutes before home games from now on.

It’s worth the price of admission just to see LeBron James put on a show during the Heat’s pregame layup line. Everything after that, well, has been history in the making.

But, really, who needs a dunk contest weighed down and overproduced by corporate sponsors? Not James. For the past week, he has playfully turned warmups into organic dunking exhibition.

Before the Heat’s victories against the Clippers and Lakers on Friday and Sunday, respectively, James awarded the early arrivers with some dunks that would have been awarded 10s in any dunk contest. James’ favorite pregame dunk involves him tossing the ball skyward toward the basket, like a self-assisted alley-oop, before meeting the ball in midair for a two- or one-handed dunk.

Each performance is met with a wave of gasps from fans.

James’ dunking displays are just one indication of how much fun he is having right now playing the game of basketball. Several factors have come together during the past five games to produce the best individual statistical run of James’ career, with James’ state of mind perhaps being one of the most important.

Lately, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has repeated a variation of the same idea nearly every day he sits or stands in front of a microphone: James simply loves playing the game of basketball and that attitude has fueled everything.

It’s such a simple concept, but one James recognizes as important, considering the dark pall he played under in his first season with the Heat. In 2010, James was not having fun. As a result, his game was stunted and so was the Heat’s potential.

“Coming into the season, last season, I didn’t put any pressure on me, last year, before the season started,” James said. “I grew up loving the game and having fun, and that’s why I was always able to play at a high level and play free, because I just always have fun with the game. I said, ‘That’s how I’m going to play.’ ”

Boil it down, and, when you’re the best player in the world, with a combination of athleticism and skills perhaps never before seen in the game, really the only thing that can hold you back is yourself. Matching his unmatched skill set with an unbothered disposition has made all the difference.

Winning a championship, James said, has had nothing to do with his overall happiness and mind-set. Of course, removing the burden of getting that first ring probably didn’t hurt.

“It’s not that I won a championship that allowed me to play even freer,” James said. “It’s just that I got back to having fun. That was my No. 1 thing.

“I can’t be somebody else. I can’t be what somebody thinks I should be or this person or that person. I am who I am, and that’s the way I approach the game. I guess it has resulted in me doing what I do best, and that’s trying to play at a high level.”

But winning helps, of course. The Heat has won five games in a row entering Tuesday’s home game against the Trail Blazers. During the winning streak, James is shooting 55 of 77 from the field (.714). Take a closer look, and James has made 49 of his past 65 shots (.754).

For the season, James is shooting at a career clip (.562).

“Winning does a lot,” James said. “I love to compete, I love to go against the best, I love to get out there with my teammates. And we’re enjoying the way we’re playing right now. I said before last season I was going to get back to playing the game and having fun. Ever since it has been ongoing.”

Besides saying James is simple having fun playing the game, Spoelstra offered a more analytical answer for James’ high form.

“Because of the spacing and the trust, there isn’t the stress level on his part, or any of our guys, that you have to make the shot,” Spoelstra said. “They feel more confident now than ever in the offense. If you don’t have it, the next guy will be able to make it.

“There is a freedom of mind when you play that way. [James] is a very intellectual basketball player, so he feels that.”

And he also expresses that freedom before games with one amazing exhibition dunk after another. So, get to the arena on time, Miami.

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