SAN ANTONIO — LeBron James banked in his first 3-pointer of the night and swished his fourth to move past Peja Stojakovic for No. 18 on the all-time 3-pointers list in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 114-104 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday.
It turns out the Spurs are partly responsible for James’ 3-point shot improving the way it has.
“I just want to be able to not have any weaknesses, you know, and allow a defense to dictate what I do,” James told Spectrum Sports after the game. “Because of the Spurs, in a lot of my early years, [they are] part of the reason why my jump shot is a lot better today. My first Finals appearance in ’07 they went under on everything and I didn’t shoot the ball, I wasn’t comfortable with shooting the ball at that point in time in my career. So I give a lot of thanks to their scheme, a lot of thanks to a lot of other teams that I went against.”
James’ 33 points and 13 assists paced L.A. on a night when the entire team seemingly found its stroke, as the Lakers shot 14-for-33 (42.4 percent) from the outside, continuing a recent trend.
In the their last five games, all wins, the Lakers are shooting 43 percent from 3 and 47 percent on open 3s, this after only shooting 32 percent from 3 and 39 percent on open 3s through the first 12 games of the season.
“We’re continuing to commit to no-force offense,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “We’re going to keep the action moving and keep making the extra pass until it’s open. We have open looks, this team is going to knock them down. LeBron was being played under on pick-and-rolls. He knows he’s got the extra green light to load them up over the top. He’s a deep shooter on our team and he made some big ones down the stretch, the whole second half, really.”
While there’s so debate as to whether James intentionally used the glass on his first 3 of the night — “I did not call bank, I’m not even going to lie to you, but it went in … so I’ll take it,” he said — there’s no denying how he’s worked to add the 3 to his repertoire.
“That’s just what great players do,” said Lakers guard Troy Daniels, a known marksman who went 3-for-3 from 3 against San Antonio. “Everything that people said he couldn’t do, he’s doing it now. That’s what they do. They just overcome, overcome, overcome, overcome. And hey, arguably the best player ever to play the game, so it’s just a pleasure to play with him … Congratulations to him.”
James and the Lakers making uncontested 3s is a welcome development for a team that shot just 34 percent on open 3s last season, which ranked 29th in the league, according to Second Spectrum.
“We got shooters,” explained Kyle Kuzma. “This year is about people that can make shots. It’s a little bit more attention on the court.” James also credited the Lakers’ personnel, not only the added players like Danny Green, Quinn Cook, Jared Dudley and Daniels known for their outside ability, but the addition of Anthony Davis who is a willing passer out of the double teams he attracts.
“We have a lot of options, we have a lot of guys that can make shots, but at the end of the day when we put the ball on the ground we attract eyes, and when you attract eyes you’ve got numbers on the weak side and you want to pass up a good shot to get a great shot,” James said. “It just makes everyone else feel so much more important to the offense and to the rhythm of the game when you’re making extra passes.”
“Well there are phases of your career and you got to have different weapons,” Vogel said. “The last few years, he’s really improved as a 3-point shooter. If he’s going to beat you over the top, I don’t know how you guard him.”
For the 17-year veteran who turns 35 in less than a month leading the No. 1 team in league with a 15-2 record, there’s no signs of slowing down.
“Every time I tell you guys that it’s the best I’ve felt, you guys kind of get a, ‘All right,’ [look of disbelief] and then I go out and I’m able to do what I do,” James said. “But that’s how I feel, man. My spring [is back], my quick-twitch [muscles are back], my mind is sharp, my body is good. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on. It might be the wine I’m drinking. I’ll keep drinking some more if I’m going to keep doing that.”