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 has staggered to a 3-9 record since it lost at Golden State on Christmas and fallen behind Boston and Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings, its 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 Monday 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 is averaging 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 4.4 turnovers. He is making 21 percent of his 3-pointers this month after knocking down 35 percent 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 Tuesday’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 offense. 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.
James knows the Cavs need to get Thomas — and Derrick Rose, back from an ankle injury — up to speed. It’s taking time, and it’s going to require patience — and maybe some pain.
“It’s a challenge that I’m willing to make and willing to do,” James said. “It’s definitely a fine line for me personally, but I’m willing to see if it works well for us or if it doesn’t work well for us.”
James and his teammates practiced the past two days while searching for answers following a horrific performance on Saturday against Oklahoma City. With Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony combining for 88 points, the Thunder put up 148 against the Cavaliers, whose defensive ineptitude has raised questions about their title legitimacy.
Coach Tyronn Lue didn’t show his team film from the game, but James watched it to try to decipher what went wrong.
“A lot of bad things,” he said. “We had some good things offensively. We almost scored 130 ourselves. But defensively we had a lot of breakdowns and a lot of things we gotta clean up.”
There’s a pile of alarming issues right now, but James isn’t overreacting.
“I’m not a red-flag guy. I’m not a concerned guy,” he said. “I’m a guy that thinks it’s going to get better. That’s just who I am.”