CLEVELAND -- After a dominating win by his Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, a 105-94 beatdown of the Los Angeles Clippers in which the Cavs led by as many as 32 in the third quarter, leading to all five starters sitting out the fourth, LeBron James had a point he wanted to send home.
Following a shootaround earlier in the day, it was pointed out to him that Cleveland led the NBA in isolation points per game, a statistic that historically portends postseason pitfalls as opposing defenses have all the time in the world to dissect the sets you run and prepare to counter them in a seven-game series. The simpler the set -- and one-on-one clearouts are as simple as they come -- the easier it is for a defense to figure out a way to stop it.
The Cavs were about to win their 12th straight later that night, so there was nothing alarming in the moment about the fact that 12.1 of their 101.7 points per game as a team came off isos. But still, the evidence was there -- thanks to some digging by ESPN Stats & Info -- that none of the past five NBA champs ranked in the top five in that category (even James' Miami teams ranked eighth in 2012-13 and 12th in 2011-12 with all of his and Dwyane Wade's individual mastery off the dribble).
Is it nitpicking to point out a potentially negative trend in the middle of a win streak? It depends on whom you ask.
The stat was presented to Cavs coach David Blatt before the game and he snapped at the mere mention of it.
"Man, you guys come up with some new stat every day," Blatt said. "It's amazing. I'm just amazed how many different little things. We're becoming like football. We used to be just this beautiful free-flowing game. And now it's broken down to every minute detail possible. I don't know if it's good or it's bad. It's just interesting."
James, however, accepted the information.
"We definitely don't want to use that," he said. "We don't want that to be a crutch. It's something that is great to go to, but you don't want that to be the main thing, for sure. In the postseason, when everyone starts to really break down the things that you like to do, the things that you do not like to do, playing one-on-one basketball is definitely not a formula for success in the postseason. I know that. So, for right now it's done some good things for us, but I think we're a much better team when everyone is involved and we're sharing the ball like we've done in some of the games this year."
Make no mistake, as much as James preaches the importance of process in his comeback-to-Cleveland season, he's always had one eye on the prize, reminding reporters not too long ago that five of his past eight campaigns included a run to the Finals. That is the path James intends to walk once again.
So rather than be threatened by any insinuation that everything isn't perfect with his team, as they've ridden the longest current winning streak in the league and in the process jumped from sixth to tied for third with Washington in the Eastern Conference, James merely used it as motivation.
Yes, even with that isolation-heavy offense, the Cavs came into Thursday with the sixth-most efficient offense in the league, scoring 106.8 points per 100 possessions. Yet at the same time, they were in the middle of the pack in field goal percentage (15th) and assists per game (13th).
Against one of the better teams in the league -- a Clippers team that had won road games in San Antonio, Phoenix and Portland in recent weeks -- James went out to prove the Cavs are already capable of shedding their iso-heavy label.
"Did that answer your question?" James said after the game, referencing the conversation at shootaround.
He then admitted to relishing the team-centric performance, checking the scoreboard as the game went on to track Cleveland's assists totals.
"I thought about it all day," he said.
By the time Blatt pulled the starters at the end of the third quarter, the Cavs had 94 points on 50 percent shooting and had assisted on 21 of 29 baskets (72.4 percent). For the season, the Cavs had an assist rate of 57.7 percent coming into the game.
James set the tone for the night, racking up six of his team-high nine assists in the first quarter and in the process helped eliminate another pesky storyline that had been following the team this week -- Kevin Love's poor play. After Love had a season-low five points on just 1-for-7 shooting Monday, James helped get Love going to 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting in the first quarter alone against the Clips. Love finished with 24 points on 6-for-14 shooting and nine rebounds in 29 minutes.
James' response to the isolation statistic was overwhelmingly positive. And not just because of how he and the Cavs played against the Clippers. There was another statement James made after shootaround that spoke volumes about where his head is at these days.
"I was able to just refocus my mind and reboot my system," he said when reflecting on his two-week rest period that preceded the Cavs' resurgence.
Before that, he spent the first third of the season going through the motions and seemingly kept getting stuck on how different things were in Cleveland than back at the cocoon he left in Miami.
But his "watch this" response to the isolation statistic? This was exactly the same game-within-the-game challenge that fueled him when he was with the Heat. Instead of he and Wade seeing how uber-efficient they could get from the field -- topping out at ridiculous wing-player shooting percentages of 56.7 percent for James and 54.5 percent for Wade in 2013-14 -- now James has a more evolved team offense to shoot for as the Cavs come down the stretch.
"Long term, that's exactly how we want to play," James said. "When the ball moves, we're a better team. We're a much better team."
And they're a team that James finally is ready to admit is ready for prime time.
"I said we won't be able to really judge our team until we get healthy," James said. "And we're really healthy right now and guys are playing their roles. Guys know their roles, and that's very great."
As James finished that sentence, a harmonica could be heard across the locker room, as Iman Shumpert made a musical exit out the door.
James' eyes lit up at the sight.
It sounds like he believes he has a real team, a real contender in Cleveland again.
There's nothing isolating about that feeling.