Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra loves to say the Heat don't take LeBron James' greatness for granted. Spoelstra knows he has the game's top player on his team, a man who might go down as the best of all time. He knows it is the Heat's responsibility to get the most of out of James, and to put him in situations where he can bring the best out of his teammates. James has the highest possible expectations this season -- a fifth Most Valuable Player award, a third straight championship -- and he's earned them with his track record and his talent.
Just like the previous times he's reached those heights, it will take extraordinary effort and focus to get close to those goals. While James makes it look easy, it is anything but.
The reality is there's a good chance James doesn't win MVP this year. It won't even be because the voters are taking him for granted, either. Kevin Durant has been that good in Oklahoma City. There's also a good chance the Heat don't win another title, with three trips to the Finals and age catching up to their role players. It took seven games to dispose of the Indiana Pacers and a miracle to beat the San Antonio Spurs last season, and Miami might have to contend with Durant and Russell Westbrook this June.
Until the playoffs, the Heat's biggest challenge is complacency, and they will likely settle into the second spot in the Eastern conference. Miami owns a record of 37-14 heading into the break, and both James and the team as a whole have faced mild criticism for "coasting." While this is fair -- it is impossible to watch them and say that their defensive intensity is the same as it was last postseason -- it's understandable that there would be some slippage at this point.
And if you're pointing out James' dwindling minutes playing true power forward, or his reduced rates when it comes to steals, blocks and rebounds, you must also acknowledge James' otherworldly efficiency. James is averaging a career low 16.7 field goal attempts per game, and shooting a career-high 57.3 percent from the field with a 65.2 percent true shooting percentage. He's not shooting all well as he did last season from three-point range, but he almost never takes bad shots or takes the Heat out of their offense. Also, you might want to take a look at how his numbers stack up to Michael Jordan's at his age.
Every night James does something amazing. It might be a vicious dunk, it might be a preposterous pass or block. He was the No. 1 vote-getter for the All-Star Game, and regardless of what his coach says, it's impossible not to take him for granted. James had 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals against the Knicks on national television just a couple of weeks ago, and you've likely already forgotten about it. Not to mention his 39-points-on-18-shots game against Dallas in November, or his 35 points on 11-for-14 shooting against Phoenix a week and a half later, both as close to perfect games as possible.
At this point James has little to prove, but New Orleans might provide a stage for him to make a point. Starting as a de facto center and with Durant, the second-leading vote-getter, on the opposite side, wouldn't it be fun if James turned his 10th All-Star appearance into a revenge game? Miami lost to the Durant and the Thunder at the end of January, and they will have a rematch in Oklahoma City next week. A dominant performance would give people something to think about. The only problem is they might already expect it.