I'll be 33 in (14) days and it's my 15th season and this is the best I've felt in my career. —LeBron James
CLEVELAND — One of the recognizable sports figures on the planet won’t be celebrating his 33rd birthday on the beach or on a yacht, sipping one of his favorite wines.
Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James will actually be in Salt Lake City to face the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena for the second time this season on Saturday, Dec. 30.
“I’ll be 33 in (14) days and it’s my 15th season and this is the best I’ve felt in my career,” James said during Saturday’s shootaround. “I want it all.”
James & Co. welcomed the Jazz to Quicken Loans Arena Saturday night for the first of a two-game regular-season series.
Utah (14-16) was coming off an impressive 107-95 victory in Boston Friday, snapping a four-game losing streak, but had to face Cleveland (22-8) without Rudy Gobert (left knee sprain) and Derrick Favors (eye laceration) during their toughest stretch of the season and came up short, 109-100.
“That’s a huge win for them last night,” James said. “I watched the whole game from top to bottom for them to lose their top two bigs, in (Rudy) Gobert and Derrick Favors and them guys still being able to go out there. They move the ball extremely well.”
James is an early MVP candidate, defeating Father Time, with nightly averages of 28.1 points, 9.1 assists and 8.3 assists and doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. He’s had much success against Utah in the past and passed Celtics legend Larry Bird with the sixth-most triple-doubles in league history with 60, during the game against the Jazz.
His five triple-doubles this season are the most by an NBA player at this stage of his career in league history. He ended with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists on 9-for-15 shooting.
“I feel good. This is my 15th year but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel, and I want to continue that,” James said. “I want to try and kind of break the mold for the next generation to just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you pass your prime when you get 31’ or you pass your prime in your 12th year in the league or whatever the case may be, so hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get $200 and $300 million and be 33 years old.”
James is already considered to be one of the greatest NBA players of all time as a three-time NBA champion, three-time Finals MVP and four-time league MVP.
What continues to make him successful on a day-to-day basis is his attention to the details. He’s never satisfied with where he’s at and works to get better, although he seemingly has it all.
“What he’s doing at this age, in his 15th year, is unbelievable, but it’s a tribute to him just taking care of his body, doing all the right things, eating healthy, stretching, getting his treatment and then putting the work in,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “I think as he’s gotten older, he’s added that 3-point shot to his game the past couple years, and when he’s making that shot it opens up everything else for him, so it’s just a tribute to him and what he does as a professional.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder is also impressed with his strong on-court production at this stage of his career but is more blown away with the level of intelligence that he’s thinking the game on. It’s chess, not checkers, with James.
“I think that his basketball acumen continues to increase and that’s made him even more efficient,” Snyder said. “Clearly, he’s still talented and his talent at the highest level athletically and his strength, but he’s just becoming even sharper.”
Individual goals are no longer James’ thing at this point, but the way he’s playing, he would certainly like to add another Most Valuable Player trophy to his collection, if the opportunity presents itself.
It’s all about breaking the norm. Players aren’t supposed to be performing at this elite level in year 15, but those other guys aren’t James.
“Team success has always been No. 1, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards and individual achievements it would mean a lot,” James said.
RUDY GOBERT: The Vertical's Shams Charania reported Saturday morning that Jazz center Rudy Gobert suffered a sprained PCL in his left knee and bone bruise on Friday night against the Boston Celtics and would likely miss another month. However, the Jazz wouldn’t speculate on a specific timetable. The team announced that the All-NBA center was examined by the Jazz medical staff and underwent a MRI but said he would be re-evaluated in two weeks. Gobert previously sat out three weeks of the season with a bone bruise on his right knee. Derrick Favors also received six stitches in Boston and didn’t play in Cleveland with a left eye laceration. At halftime, the Jazz also announced that Favors showed concussion-like symptoms and is now on the concussion protocol.
“Rudy’s resilient. He’s got a great approach and he’s tough,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “I know, you look at him and he’s big and he’s long and he’s not 280, but he’s tough, and that’s a credit to him that he’s able to bounce back the way he has. And again, the injury sucks, but hopefully he’ll be able to do that quickly.”