LeBron James definitely doesn’t “suck.” Following his lethargic 9-turnover performance in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 106-97 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, though, the four-time MVP repeatedly stressed otherwise.
Here’s James via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
“As far as turnovers, I suck, I suck,” James said. “Tonight was another one of those nights… Of my nine, I think five of them were unforced, four of them were attack turnovers. But, I suck. As far as me turning the ball over, I got to do better.”
Seems extreme, right? The film, however, tells a different story.
As LeBron indicates, five of his nine miscues were due to simple carelessness with the ball or miscommunications with his teammates. We don’t expect a player of his caliber to get his dribble stolen twice or flat-out throw a pass out of bounds or directly to the opposition, but James did each on multiple occasions at Philipps Arena.
And though the turnover game is where he was worst, the 30 year-old actually wasn’t much better in other facets. Stymied from the opening tip by Atlanta’s stable of versatile defenders and trap-heavy scheme, James was a tentative attacker en route to 18 points on just 5-of-13 shooting. What surprised most is how ineffective he was when David Blatt made a conscious effort to get his star touches on the block. On more than one possession, LeBron struggled to establish effective post position while being checked by hyper-aggressive 6-4 wing Kent Bazemore.
The King simply wasn’t himself on Friday night. It’s a long season, and the Hawks were amped for another chance to prove their worth against a team some believe had recently usurped them in the Eastern Conference pecking order. From the top down, the Cavaliers didn’t match the home team’s intensity.
Considering the opponents’ notable discrepancy in energy and James’ uncharacteristic turnover issues, last night’s game could almost be considered encouraging for Cleveland. Blatt’s squad recovered from an early 16-point deficit to briefly take the lead in the third quarter before entering the final stanza down 81-79.
If you’d told us LeBron and Kevin Love would combine to shoot 8-of-21 through the first 36 minutes against a team like Atlanta, we’d assume the Cavs would be down double-digits. But they were right where they wanted to be after such a dispiriting start, with a legitimate chance to take a win from the team we believe will ultimately come out of the East.
What happens, basically, when these teams inevitably meet in the playoffs and LeBron doesn’t “suck?” Despite Cleveland leaving Atlanta with a loss, it has cautious reason to glean a bit of confidence from being competitive during a contest in which the league’s best player performed nothing like it.