CLEVELAND: The transition occurred much later last season, more toward March and into April. When LeBron James transitioned into more of a post player, it was in anticipation of what lay ahead in the postseason.
Now he’s doing it a bit out of necessity.
Teams have begged James for years to play more out of the post, believing his awareness and acute passing skills coupled with his speed and strength would make him a nightmare to handle.
James has often resisted, choosing instead to play around the perimeter with the ball in his hands. Yet before the season even reached Thanksgiving, James has acquiesced. He is in the post now, passing out of double teams and finding open shooters.
His 13 assists Monday against the Orlando Magic matched a season high on the same night he joined Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to rank among the top 25 in both scoring and assists.
It’s his play out of the post recently that has been perhaps one of the biggest surprises. It’s also a sign of his good health. Yes, he’s had two back injections this calendar year, but James clearly is feeling great. His back issues last season wouldn’t have allowed him to play in the post early even if he wanted. To this point, the back doesn’t look like it’s hindering him at all.
“Last year was more of a feel out thing. They was trying to put in a new system, it was a new system for me,” James said. “Later in the season I started getting more in the post and obviously in the postseason I did it even more. But right now it’s just the way the offense is working. I’ve been in the post a lot, Kevin has been in the post a lot and we’ve given opportunities not only for ourselves but for our teammates.”
Love was the beneficiary on a lot of James’ passes Monday. His 34 points were not only a season high, but his highest in a Cavs jersey. Love reached the 30-point mark twice last season, but not before January. His comfort level in this system is evident.
“We’ve done a really good job the last few games, every single one of us, of going from a good shot to great,” Love said. “You saw that a lot [Monday] on the perimeter.”
The Cavs’ ball movement on offense the past few games has been fluid. The Magic entered as the third-best defensive team in the league (ranked by shooting percentage) and the Cavs shot 53 percent against them. The Cavs face the Toronto Raptors Wednesday, another top-10 defense, although they’re without center Jonas Valanciunas for the foreseeable future as he recovers from a fractured hand.
James will be there. And if the recent past is any indication, he’ll be back in the post picking apart the defense.
“It’s just the energy behind the ball,” James said. “For me as a passer when I’m in that mode, I just want to put it on time and on target and my guys are ready to catch and shoot or catch and finish. I believe it has a lot to do with the finishing touch on the ball going in.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ.