NBA

LeBron playing at perhaps highest level yet

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MIAMI (AP)

(Eds: Adds detail, quotes. With AP Photos.)By TIM REYNOLDSAP Basketball Writer

After a recent Miami Heat practice in Washington, Ray Allen told the coaching staff he was skipping the bus ride and running back to the hotel.

LeBron James' ears perked up.

With that, the three-time NBA MVP went looking for his running shoes.

''LeBron said, `If you're going to do that, I'm going to do that too. I'm not going to be outdone by somebody else. I'm going to run,''' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''So he gets very competitive with things like that. If other people are working on their game, he takes notice.''

That approach must be working. James' game - already considered among the best in the NBA - might be better than ever right now.

He's made 37 of his last 47 shots over his last 111 minutes, a torrid 79-percent clip. For the season, he's shooting a career-best 56 percent so far, easily on pace for the sixth straight season of improvement in that department. His 3-point shooting, at 42 percent this season, is much improved. He's shooting 70 percent inside the paint.

''I want to continue to push the button, continue to get better, maximize my potential and not waste an opportunity,'' James said.

The numbers go on and on. He's averaging 26.9 points this season. According to STATS LLC, only five players in NBA history have averaged that many points while shooting at least 56 percent over a full season. Maybe that's why Heat guard Dwyane Wade marvels when talking about James these days, saying ''every year, it seems like he does the amazing.''

''Numbers don't lie,'' James said.

At least, they don't in this case. After winning his third MVP award, second Olympic gold medal and first NBA championship, James said he wanted to get even better.

''It's kind of like, where is the bar for this guy? Does he have a bar?'' Wade said. ''And I'm glad that he's doing all this while he's in a Miami Heat uniform.''

Miami continues its homestand on Sunday, playing host to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, who have won seven of their last nine games.

While he's been sensational all season - sweeping the Eastern Conference player of the month awards so far, almost certainly moving to the front of the class in the MVP balloting once again and once again averaging more combined points, assists and rebounds (42.0) than anyone else in the league - James has been particularly hot of late.

Starting in the fourth quarter of Miami's game last weekend at Toronto, James has generated 102 points on 47 shots. How off-the-charts effective is that? Remember, if he went 47-for-47 on 2-pointers alone and did nothing else, that would only add up to 94 points.

His ''bad'' game in the past week was an 11-for-18 showing against Houston. He shot 13 for 14 against Charlotte on Monday, the lone miss coming on a layup attempt where he appeared to get fouled. Against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, he shot 9 for 11 - and probably had a case that one of the two misses he was charged with really wasn't a shot attempt at all.

Nonetheless, it all adds up to James missing 10 shots in the last 12-1/2 quarters of Heat basketball. Across the NBA, 14 different players missed at least 10 shots on Friday night alone.

''I mean, come on. We try to come up with new superlatives every single game,'' Spoelstra said. ''He's the best player in the game and he's continuing to reinvent himself. This guy isn't trying to shy away from work ethic or preparation. He's getting after it. Our film sessions, he treats them like he's a coach. He sees something, he'll point it out to the guys. He's continuing to improve. And quite frankly, we need it.''

James said he's done nothing out of the ordinary to raise his shooting numbers.

Hard work, he said, has been the difference. The Heat added one of the game's all-time elite shooters in Allen last summer, and James is typically involved in some sort of shooting session with the NBA's career 3-point leader after every practice. He hits the practice court to take game-situation jumpers when his legs are fresh. He does it again when his legs are tired.

His confidence might be higher than his shooting percentage. And it's showing.

''When I'm able to go out there on the floor, I just try to make things happen,'' James said. ''But I want to continue to get better. I'm not satisfied and I work on my game each and every day, trying to figure out ways I can get better, both offensively and defensively, from the interior to the exterior, whatever the case may be.''

Tagged: Heat, LeBron James

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