LeBron James has reached a level where eyebrows are raised in surprise at every missed shot. Consecutive misses border on a cause for concern and statistical lines like his 1-for-8 shooting performance through three quarters of play on Friday night are unthinkable. He's so good that every one of his sub-par performances is now notable.
It took until 6:05 remaining in the fourth quarter for James to get to 10 points, continuing his streak of 475 consecutive games in which he scores in double figures. The last time he failed to score at least 10 points came against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 5, 2007, while he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He scored eight points on 3-for-13 shooting and 2-for-2 shooting from the free throw line in 43 minutes.
James' lowest scoring game as a member of the Heat came against the Los Angeles Clippers back on Feb. 6 of 2011. He was 6-for-15 from the field and 2-for-5 from the line. He also had 10 boards and nine assists in a 97-79 victory. He wasn't even that bad by the standards of many top scorers, but a 40 percent shooting night is fairly poor by his absurd standards.
Even though James' biggest scoring totals and best season scoring averages came as a member of the Cavs, he's become a much more efficient and dynamic scorer in recent years. Through a combination of playing with better players and simply getting better in his own right, James posted a career-best 53.1 field goal percentage for the season in 2011-12. Through 55 games in 2012-13, before Friday night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies, James was shooting 56.8 percent from the floor.
These are numbers that come from consistent performances, not massive surges that balance out poor shooting performances. It's pretty rare to see James shoot worse than 40 percent from the floor -- it's only happened twice this season -- and performances like Friday night's are even more rare. He shot 29 percent from the floor, failing to make 30 or better percent of his shots for just the fifth time since he joined the Miami Heat and the first time this year.
For comparison's sake, Kobe Bryant has failed to shoot 30 or better percent from the floor in 15 games during the same timespan, since the 2010-11 season began. Carmelo Anthony has failed to hit that mark 14 times. Kevin Durant, six times. James' own teammate, Dwyane Wade, has failed to reach that mark 10 times during that timespan*, including three times this season.
*Not counting a game from the 2011-12 season in which he played two minutes and did not attempt a shot.
Friday night's game was arguably James' worst offensive performance of the season, and only one other game even comes close. On Jan. 10, against the Portland Trail Blazers, James score just 15 points in a 6-15 shooting performance as the heat lost, 92-90, in Portland. James missed a tough contested layup that would have made it a two-possession game in favor of the Heat with under two minutes to go in that game. Although he had 11 rebounds and eight assists, he also turned the ball over six times.
James finished Friday's game against Memphis with a more impressive 18 points. However, five of those came from the foul line in garbage time as the Grizzlies tried to extend the game, but made none of their shots to keep the pressure on Miami. They had to play that game because James nailed a fantastic contested three-pointer with 24 seconds left, extending Miami's lead to four points and putting Memphis into a must-score game that they couldn't capitalize on.
As poor as James was at scoring in the first three quarters of the game, through which he had four points, he came up with the clinching shot at the end. He picked up eight boards, 10 assists, played great defense as he played more minutes than anyone on his team and turned the ball over just once. Even though he shot considerably worse from the floor, it wasn't as poor of a performance as the Portland game.
Everything about these numbers is incredible. That lines of 15-11-8 and 18-8-10 can occur in James' two worst games of the season is downright astonishing, as is the fact that the Heat had a lead in the final minute of both of those games. These two performances, along with one the game before the Portland loss against the Indiana Pacers in which he shot 50 percent from the floor, but turned the ball over seven times in a loss, are the only three out of his entire season that could reasonably be described as 'bad'. Out of 56.
And out of those five games where James has shot 30 percent or worse from the floor as a member of the Heat? James has gotten to the line enough to score 20 or more points in three of them. He's had a positive plus-minus rating in three of them. The Heat have won two of them. He doesn't necessarily disappear as a scorer or have a negative effect on his team's chances of winning the game when he can't hit jumpers, and one can comfortably count on one hand the number of times games every season in which he just can't make shots.
James doesn't have bad games like every other basketball player on earth has bad games, and his games that even approach "bad" status happen so infrequently that it would be unreasonable to expect more of them this season. Remember this game, because it wouldn't be surprising if he doesn't have another one like it until next winter.