LeBron James has enjoyed a terrific season. But his last two games have been among his best.
He’s had a number of games which have been statistical marvels. But these two come at the end of the regular season against a pair of playoff contenders. In a 124-117 win over the Bucks, James put up 40 points, his second-highest total this season, with 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He then had 35 points, 17 assists, seven rebounds and zero turnovers in the Cavs’ 132-129 win over the Raptors.
This isn’t to say correlation indicates causation. There have been a number of contributing factors. Kevin Love returned to the lineup on Monday for the win over the Bucks, the same game Lue took his leave. The Cavaliers also seem more committed to running the offense through James. And he is probably pushing harder with the playoffs nearing.
What’s more, these performances aren’t totally anomalous. James has been excellent for most — if not all — of the season. In the month of March, he’s averaging 31 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.2 assists. On the season, his PER is 28.34 and his player impact estimate is 19.0, third-best in the NBA. He’s having an MVP-caliber season.
Still, I smell smoke. And we know there’s fire.
It’s easy to temper the connection between James’ performances and the departure of Lue. It’s also easy to deepen the connection. After all, the two were yelling at each other less than a week ago on the sideline. LeBron didn’t sound like he had a huge problem with his coach’s decision to take a leave.
“Um, I think it’s probably well overdue,” James told media on Monday, via Cleveland.com. “You know understanding what he’s been going through throughout this season so — obviously health is the most important with everything. In life like, not surprised by it at all.”
LeBron may not be excelling out of spite. He may not be sticking it to Lue. He could simply feel some relief on the sideline after the tension became too much to bear. Or he’s just playing well with Love.
But this is LeBron. It’s probably all the above.