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.
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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.
Last season, when James shot more than 60 percent, the Heat went 24-2. The losses were two memorable games. The first, on Jan.14 in Utah, served as a rallying cry for coach Erik Spoelstra in the locker room. James scored 32 points, shooting 13 of 19 from the field and 2 of 4 from three-point range, but the Heat was out-rebounded 40-23.
The only other loss for the Heat last season when James shot at least 60 percent from the field was the March 27 at Chicago, which ended the 27-game winning streak.
Considering how well the Heat plays when James concentrates his offensive efforts inside, it’s not a completely farfetched notion to wonder whether the Heat could challenge the Bulls’ regular-season record of 72 victories if James shifted more of his game inside.
But 60 percent? That’s a big increase from 56.
“A four-point jump is a lot,” Chris Bosh said. “That’s huge. We’re asking him to do a lot and he’s shooting some outside shots. Usually the guys who shoot 60 percent, those are guys who are picking and rolling and they get more dunks than anything else.
“If he does, that will be awesome. We’ll probably have and outstanding record even better than last year, but we just need him to play the basketball he needs to play and I never pay too much attention to numbers. But we’ll see.”
Of course, advanced statistics will tell you James effectively shot 60 percent last season. “Effective field-goal percentage,” according to basketball-reference.com, is a statistic that “adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth one more point than a two-point field goal.” James’ effective field-goal percentage last season was .603.
“I wouldn’t put a ceiling on him,” Spoelstra said of 60 percent from the field. “It’s not necessarily a goal of ours but we want him to improve, to grow, to reinvent and with the understanding of the game and the talent level of these guys, we will be striving for higher field-goal percentages.”
Roger Mason Jr. has missed the Heat’s last two preseason games due to a strained right quadriceps, the veteran guard revealed on Sunday. Spoelstra had previously said Mason missed the games due to “general soreness.”
“In training camp I strained it a little bit and I kept playing through it and they have experience with these types of injuries, so rather than me — I want to be out there, so I’m going to push through it — but you’ve got to be smart about it,” Mason said.
Mason had a notable debut with the Heat in the preseason opener, scoring 14 points off the bench and leading the Heat in minutes played (28). He is questionable for Tuesday’s game in Washington. The Heat plays in Brooklyn on Thursday.
Shane Battier said he missed Friday’s game against Charlotte in Kansas City because he’s old.
“That was a senior night,” Battier said. “As the elder statesman of the team, I told Ray [Allen] I need a few nights every now and then. And Ray looked at me kind of quizzically and we don’t count Ray as a senior statesman because he looks 24 years old, so I’ll happily take the role. With that role comes a night off every now and then.”