Earlier this week, the Cavaliers announced that Kevin Love had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery and would miss the next six weeks of the season. Cleveland had just rebounded off a poor stretch of form in January, which saw them lose six of eight games at one point, and with the Love news, it was fair to wonder if the team had enough to stay afloat and keep the No. 1 seed.
Then LeBron James happened.
Over his last three games, all Cavaliers wins, James has put together one of the most efficient, incredible weeks of his entire career. And the fact that he's doing it now makes it as impressive a thing as he's ever done.
Mark D. SmithMark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
First, let's get to the week James just had. In wins over Denver, Minnesota and Indiana, James averaged 28 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds in 35 minutes a game. All well and good. That's (somehow) not that surprising a line for James, even though he's played some 48,000 minutes in his career.
What stands out is his shooting over that stretch. James is shooting 70 percent from the field over the last three games, and 77 percent from 3. Seventy seven percent from 3, while making 10 in a 3-game stretch. His +/- over the last three games is +45.
This is flabbergasting.
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The reason I'm vaulting this to the top of the LeBron pantheon is partly because of the talent level (or lack thereof) surrounding him. With Love and J.R. Smith out and Iman Shumpert nursing a bum ankle, James hasn't played with a supporting cast this thin since his first run in Cleveland. It's James and Kyrie Irving out there right now, with the two of them hoping for whatever help they can get from one of the oldest rosters in the league.
(And before I go on I should say that James hasn't been totally flawless this week -- his 5 turnovers a game are an admitted mark on the excellence.)
But look at how and when he's doing this. James has been to the NBA Finals for six consecutive seasons. That workload over the past seven years is unlike anything we've ever seen in the NBA. The playoff games alone in that streak is like adding another season to his body.
He's never hurt. Other than a couple self-mandated vacations, he hasn't taken any time off.
And it's not just this streak. James has averaged over 35 minutes a game for the past 14 years.
Despite all that mileage, despite all those games, he's still able to dial up one of the finest weeks of his career. We've never seen anything like this.
Geoff BurkeGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
And that's what makes this streak so stupidly impressive to me. With the team threadbare, with himself undoubtedly exhausted, with an unprecedented career (for his age) of minutes logged, hard fouls, full-court sprints, dives to the floor ... James is putting up a 28-10-6 and shooting 70 percent from the floor and nearly 80 percent from 3 this week, getting three wins for a team that gave Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson and Derrick Williams major minutes.
History might not remember this week like it will some of James' other greatest weeks, but for me, channeling that energy to pull out these performances when his team needed him, it's as great a week as he's ever had.