LeBron James is averaging 23.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game this postseason, but that alone isn’t why the Cavs are 9-0 and closing in on their second straight Eastern Conference championship.
Rather, it’s because James and his teammates have completely bought in to Tyronn Lue’s unselfish, ball-moving, pass-happy system.
A little accountability from the leader has been good, too.
“I’ve never seen LeBron James as focused as he is,” CBS Sports Network basketball analyst Wally Szczerbiak said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I played with him back in ‘08-09. We won 66 games. It’s unbelievable that’s seven years ago, but the one thing I’ll say about LeBron is he was a great player, he was a great leader, he was a great teammate, he was a great friend. (But) I think he could mature a little bit from then to now – and I think that’s what he’s done. Going down there and playing for the Miami Heat, playing under Pat Riley, I think he learned the importance of being a pro and being mature and being a winner and he learned how to do that. I think we’re seeing the fruits of that with this Cleveland Cavalier team because he’s on a different level mentally than I’ve ever seen him. He’s getting his teammates to play at a different level mentally, particularly a guy like J.R. Smith.”
Smith is shooting 48.4 percent from three in the playoffs and averaging 11.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 assist per game.
“We saw him in a New York Knick uniform kind of go down the wrong path,” Szczerbiak said. “Right now, he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s on the right path and that team has one goal in mind: to win a championship.”
When Szczerbiak looks at the Cavs, he sees a team full of professionals – not in the literal sense of playing basketball for a living, but in the figurative, all-encompassing manner of conducting one’s self the right way. Being a pro, Szczerbiak said, isn’t about talent. It’s not about the 48 minutes on the floor, either. It’s about the 24 hours before and after games and how you approach your responsibilities.
“That’s a big part of being a professional,” Szczerbiak said. “In order to bring it every single night 82 games a year – and then into the playoffs when you’re a successful team – you have to be doing the right things to prepare yourself to be successful physically and mentally. If you’re not doing the right things off the court mentally, you’re not going to be mentally locked in when you need to have the right coverage on a defensive play, when you need to remember an offensive set that’s been drawn up out of the huddle.
“Everything goes into being successful when that 48-minute game starts,” Szczerbiak continued. “It starts with your preparation – eating, (being in) the weight room, (and being) mentally (in tune) with your life off the court. For me, it was all about being a family man. I was married early on. That kept me on the straight and narrow. That kept me focused on basketball. Every guy does it differently (and does) whatever works for them in order to be prepared and to be locked in when that game starts.”