The zone. You’ve heard of it before, right? Sleepy Floyd once scored 29 points in the second quarter of a playoff game. Isiah Thomas scored 25 points in the third quarter of Game 6 of the 1988 Finals. Kobe dropped 81. Cats get in varying levels of the zone, fairly often. The zone is basically a hot hand on fire.
We shouldn’t be looking at his recent six-game stretch of averaging 31 ppg on 72 percent shooting as a scoring or shooting streak. So we should take this virtuosity out of the zone-territory, altogether. LeBron is operating in a realm, an otherworldly strata of sustained excellence that has seen very few visitors over the years.
As we’ve collectively witnessed this elevated version of LeBron-play, we, of course, started contemplating if this is, perhaps, the best stretch of non-playoff basketball that anyone has ever played. In the interim, folks have dutifully rifled through mental Rolodexes and basketballreference.com game logs, and identified some cold-blooded stretches for the games’ legends.
Michael Jordan had a 13-game stretch late in the ’88-’89 season where he averaged 34 ppg (on 51 percent shooting), 12 apg and 11 rpg. He had 11 triple-doubles in 13 games, seven in a row. Early in Shaq’s ’99-’00 season, there was a six-game stretch where the Diesel put up 36 ppg (on 63 percent shooting), 16 rpg and 5 bpg. Kobe Bryant averaged 43 doggone points for the full month of January. These were stretches of games where these guys were basically playing like aliens.
That’s the realm, not the zone.
Glen Rice got in the zone at the 1997 All-Star Game, when he dropped 24 points in the first half. Game 5, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals – Reggie Miller goes bonkers in the fourth quarter, for 25 points. The zone is like losing your mind for a moment and going berserk.
LeBron has not lost his mind. In fact, aesthetically, outside of some of his fast break shenanigans, there’s been a scary amount of meticulous, calculated patience to his play. All the great ones say the game “slows down” for them when they’re at their best. LeBron’s assassination of opponents’ half-court defenses has been super-methodical, because he’s seeing the game three plays ahead of everyone else. But, unlike his sky-high IQ peers—Kobe, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan and Rajon Rondo—he happens to be the most athletically gifted player in the league, giving him more leeway. Whenever he chooses, he can decide to use that first step and drive; or pull-up and drop a midrange jumper over his defender; or see how close he can draw the double team before kicking it out to an open teammate...LeBron’s realm is a beautiful thing.
I don’t know if this is the best stretch of basketball that anyone has played. I just know that LeBron is operating in that extraterrestrial realm where it’s difficult to argue that any human has ever played the game better. Not Wilt, not Larry, not Magic, not Bernard, not Chuck, not Kareem—no one. Enjoy this while it lasts. He’s gotta come back closer to earth at some point…right?