James' Cavs on retreat

January 23, 2018
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (left) drives against Oklahoma City Thunder's Paul George in the first half of their NBA game in Cleveland on Saturday January 20.

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP):

LeBron James knows the Cavaliers have a proven vaccine that could cure them of this midseason malaise: a larger dose of him.

"I gotta be much better," he said.

As Cleveland have staggered to a 3-9 record since they lost at Golden State on Christmas and fallen behind Boston and Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings, their decline has run parallel to a statistical drop-off by James, who was considered the front-runner in the MVP race before the calendar changed to 2018.

"My numbers are down, the team's numbers are down and we're not playing well, so obviously it's a direct correlation of all of those things," James said yesterday before the team traveled to San Antonio. "I could care less about me individually, but when I'm not playing to my standard and we're losing, then I have to do a better job as well, so I gotta figure that out, too."

Over his last 12 games, James averaged 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 4.4 turnovers. He is making 21 per cent of his three-pointers this month after knocking down 35 per cent of his shots behind the arc in December. The 14-time All-Star, four-time MVP and three-time champion has failed to reach 20 points in four of Cleveland's past nine games after scoring fewer than 20 in five of the club's first 36 games.

Everything with the Cavaliers starts and ends with the 33-year-old James.

"That hasn't changed," said James, who enters today's game against the Spurs seven points shy of 30,000. "As a leader, the leader of this franchise, I have to do more, especially out on the floor. I have to pick it up for other guys and I haven't been able to do that as of late. It's not about them, it's about me."

One of the reasons for James' sinking stats is that he's been trying to incorporate guard Isaiah Thomas into Cleveland's offence. The All-Star has played seven games since returning from a hip injury that sidelined him since May, and he and James are still learning to work together.

Thomas is most comfortable initiating offensive sets with the ball, and James has been sacrificing early touches in the 24-second shot clock to accommodate his teammate.

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