The Utah Jazz kept giving LeBron James space, so James kept jacking up three-point shots.
And, one after another, James’ attempts from outside missed the mark. On Saturday in Utah, James went 1 of 6 from beyond the arc in the Heat's 94-89 loss. His three-point shooting for the season now stands at 35.8 percent after shooting over 40 percent last season. In addition to his occasional effort on defense, James’ accuracy from outside is one of the biggest differences between his overwhelming MVP effort last season and his current inconsistencies.
“I think offensively we were not in rhythm all night,” James said. “We had some great looks, including myself, we had some really open looks. It’s just one of those games where offensively you’re out of rhythm and you just try to win it defensively.”
As a team, the Heat shot 43.3 percent from the field, which represented one of the team’s worst shooting performances of the season. In addition to James, Chris Bosh had an off night, as well. He went 3 of 12 from the field and 0 of 3 from three-point range after shooting 50 percent from the field over the past two weeks.
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“There wasn’t a great flow the entire game, and that’s going to happen,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re a veteran team. We really would have liked to shown some resolve to win this even if it’s not going our way.”
Things haven’t gone James’ way from three-point range since November. He began the season shooting nearly 50 percent from the outside, but since November his numbers have nosedived.
James shot 48.8 percent from three-point range in 14 games in November, but his percentages have steadily declined since that impressive beginning to the season. He shot 35.1 percent from distance in December, 27.5 percent in January and he is shooting 26.3 percent from three-point range to begin this month.
For now, neither James nor Spoelstra is worried about the poor numbers. As a team, the Heat is shooting 36.9 percent from three-point range after shooting 39.6 percent from distance in 2012-13. Across the board, the Heat’s three-point shooters are trending downward. James, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller all shot better than 40 percent from three-point range last season. This season, Miller is gone and the only marksman shooting better than 40 percent (Michael Beasley, 43.8 percent) isn’t in the team’s regular rotation.
Break the numbers down further, and more trends emerge. The Heat is shooting 45.4 percent on corner three-pointers this season, but just 31.5 percent above the break. The numbers on corner three-pointers are tops in the league, and that’s especially noteworthy considering the Heat has taken more corner three-pointers (412) than any other team. The Los Angeles Clippers are second in attempted corner three-pointers (374).
“We’re best in the corner, but we’re giving up more corner threes than we want to,” Spoelstra said. “It’s one of the most efficient shots in the game. It’s not a secret. It’s in teams’ scouting reports. We’re not giving up a secret.
“That’s a shot that we like, we try to work for that shot. Our No. 1 priority is to get to the paint and attack the rim for the guys that we have, and we do have guys who space the floor for them.”
On the other hand, the Heat is ranked 27th in the NBA (third to last) on three-pointers above the break. The majority of James’ three-point attempts have come from that area, and he’s shooting 33 percent from there.
From long range, James has been out of rhythm for several months. Since December, he has shot 30.7 percent from three-point range and every month since November his accuracy from that distance has gotten progressively worse.
It’s a troubling trend for the back-to-back MVP as the season moves closer to the playoffs.
Last season, James never shot below 37 percent in a month, and he shot 43.2 percent from three-point range in February. This February, James is 5 of 19 on three-point attempts in the first four games.
“I’ve been shooting, but obviously it hasn’t been going in,” James said of his three-pointers. “But I feel comfortable every time I take it, so you just got to knock them down.
“I’m in a little funk from outside the three-point line, but I’ll get back to it.”