CLEVELAND — LeBron James was on each of the previous two Cavaliers teams to win 13 consecutive games, in 2009 and 2010. And he was the hero again in Wednesday’s 101-95 victory over the Sacramento Kings to give the current Cavs their 13th straight triumph, tying the franchise record he helped set years ago.
Only this time around, he’s doing more of his damage from beyond the 3-point arc, punctuating his improved shooting this season with a trey with 16.6 seconds left to grow the Cavs’ lead from 2 to 5 and effectively end the Kings’ night.
The 3 was James’ fifth of the night. He went 5-for-8 from deep — even better than his sharpshooting teammate Kyle Korver, who went 4-for-8 — to lift his 3-point shooting average to 43.0 percent for the season, a career high. The previous best mark for the 15-year veteran was 40.6 percent in 2012-13 with the Miami Heat. When the Cavs were off to those win streaks in 2009 and 2010, James shot 34.4 and 33.3 percent from deep, respectively.
Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson participated in live 4-on-4 play at Wednesday’s practice, but Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is still unsure about when the duo will be back.
After a nearly two-week absence from the team, Cavaliers point guard Derrick Rose apologized to his teammates on Wednesday for being away.
“I just wanted to continue to improve my game,” James said of his increased marksmanship this season. “I try to get better and better each and every year, and shooting the ball is what this league has kind of turned into, so for me to continue to improve, that’s what I wanted to do. I put a lot of work into my offseason training and I just try to implement it into the season once it gets here.”
Two-time MVP Stephen Curry, widely credited for the 3-point revolution that the entire NBA has embraced, is shooting 38.1 percent from 3 this season, for comparison’s sake.
It was James’ ninth game this season with three made 3s or more out of 25 games. Last season, James hit three 3s or more 17 times in 74 games.
His dagger 3 on Wednesday came on the same playcall that freed James up for a game-winning 21-foot corner jumper in Game 4 of the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Chicago Bulls to knot the series 2-2.
That play, which James revealed came to be after he “scratched” the original plan that former Cavs coach David Blatt had drawn up with 1.5 seconds left that would have had James passing the ball in from underneath the hoop rather than shooting it, has since been dubbed “Chicago” by the Cavs’ coaching staff.
Coming out of a timeout with 20.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter and clinging to a two-point lead against the Kings, James asked for “Chicago” again.
“Was going to run a different play, and then Bron said, ‘I want Chicago.’ So I said, ‘OK,'” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “We got it to him and he made a big shot. That was a huge play for us to put us up five.”
LeBron James on his late dagger 3 that effectively ended the Kings’ night: “I have other options but tonight with five seconds on the shot clock, it was up to me to try and make a play and I was able to do that.” AP Photo/Tony Dejak
What are James’ options once he receives the ball when “Chicago” is run?
“Shoot it,” James said with a smile. “I mean, I don’t remember the exact time in Chicago when I made that shot, but it was very low. We drew that up on the fly and Delly [Matthew Dellavedova] gave me a great pass, and I was able to raise over top of Jimmy [Butler] and knock it down. And ever since then, it’s been called ‘Chicago.’ But I mean, I have other options; but tonight, with five seconds on the shot clock, it was up to me to try and make a play and I was able to do that.”
The shot against the Bulls was a catch-and-shoot with James’ foot on the 3 line, thus only counting for two points. James’ shot against the Kings was created by a step-back move that took him from inside the 3-point arc to behind it. James is now 8-for-11 on step-back 3s this season, according to NBA.com/Stats.
“A lot of teams are not expecting me to shoot a lot of outside shots,” James said. “But I feel just as comfortable out there as I do in the paint. So, I’m just going to continue to improve my game where I’m keeping defenders and defenses off balance and they just don’t know where it’s going to come from.”
James’ teammates know where the fuel behind their winning streak is coming from, however.
“He’s just demanding the ball,” Korver said of James. “He’s like, ‘Give me the ball, we’re about to win.’ And I’ve been around some guys who’ve had amazing years. I’ve been playing with him, and Derrick [Rose] when he was MVP. Allen Iverson when I was young. Guys who could just, man, amazing.
“But [James has] taken this to a whole new level. It’s amazing to have a better than a front-row seat, because I’m usually on the court next to him somewhere. So, he’s playing really special basketball at the end of the game and, I’ll say it again, I’m glad he’s on my team.”