It’s easy to forget now, but LeBron James’ inaugural season back with the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t exactly get off to a swimming start. The wine and gold opened just 5-7 one year ago, casting doubt on the viability of its new Big Three and rookie head coach. But a bigger problem than those marked the Cavaliers’ early-season struggles: The subpar performance of a four-time MVP who was rapidly approaching the wrong side of 30 years old.
Cleveland’s season tilted on James’ two-week absence in late December and early January. David Blatt’s team went 34-10 after its best player sat out of eight games to rest nagging knee and back injuries, cementing itself as co-title favorites along with several teams out west.
The Cavaliers’ improved play, obviously, was a direct result of James’ own personal improvement. Less than a year later, coming off a fifth consecutive Finals performance, and just weeks removed from an injection to address more back pain, The King, apparently, feels better in 2015-16 than he ever did last season.
Here’s James on his physical condition courtesy of ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
“I feel better in the mornings; I feel better throughout the games; I feel better throughout the day,” James said before a Cavs shootaround Wednesday in preparation for their game against the Toronto Raptors. “It was a rough start to the season for me last year and for our team. Obviously the way we’ve been playing, a lot is predicated on my health and being able to lead these guys out on the floor and not from the sidelines.”
The 13-year veteran is averaging a career-low 36.1 minutes per game thus far. He’s more engaged defensively and shooting with more frequency and accuracy at the rim than he ever was or did in 2014-15. James, somewhat quietly, has been the utterly dominant force we’ve come to expect over the last decade-plus during the first few weeks of the season.
Is it a coincidence that he’s feeling as physically fit as he has in years? Surely not. And once the 11-3 Cavaliers grow fully healthy, a fresh James seems poised to lead his team to heights it could never quite reach last season.