NBA notebook: LeBron James pushing perfection in new zone

Associated Press Occasionally, an NBA player comes so close to perfection in one aspect of the game that he turns his attention to another skill. Think of Wilt Chamberlain leading the league in assists or Michael Jordan eschewing the slam dunk competition for the 3-point contest. For LeBron James, who has conquered virtually every obstacle put in front of him, the next frontier appears to be a complete avoidance of personal fouls. On Tuesday, in a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals, James committed three fouls in a victory against Oklahoma City, ending a string of six consecutive games with no fouls and matching his total over the previous nine games. James, a three-time most valuable player, has also scored 20 or more points in each game this season, but for him, the no-foul streak was the one that should receive the attention. “The foul thing is more impressive to me,” James told reporters last week. “I don’t care about scoring as much.” His streak, which covered six entire games and encompassed 254 minutes 7 seconds on the court over the course of eight games, ended when he fouled the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka on a dunk attempt. During the streak, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh each committed 13 fouls. James’ previous career high for consecutive games without a foul was five, set in March 2009. James has always kept his fouls to a minimum. His average of 1.3 per 36 minutes before Saturday’s game against Milwaukee is a career best, but he has averaged more than 2.0 per 36 minutes only once in his career and averaged as few as 1.4 in 2009-10. His 96 fouls last season made him one of just 58 NBA players to play more than 2,000 minutes and commit fewer than 100 fouls. Many would insist that James is receiving superstar treatment from the referees, something said about Jordan throughout his career. But James has been the league’s biggest star for a number of seasons, so there is little reason to believe that referees are being even more deferential this season. The dearth of fouls is most likely a product of his patience on both offense and defense, his ability to control his movement and possibly a change in aggressiveness on the defensive end. James has taken a slight step back defensively this season — as have the Heat — but he still has a respectable defensive rating of 103 (meaning he allows 103 points per 100 possessions), a total made more impressive by his nightly assignment of shutting down the opposing team’s top player. Despite being a bulky 6 feet 8 inches, James guards almost every position on the court effectively. He was named the top defensive point guard in the NBA last season by Basketball Prospectus, yet has spent most of this season playing power forward. His steal percentage, which is an estimate of the percentage of opponents’ possessions that end in his stealing the ball, is down, but his block and rebounding percentages have gone up as he has adapted to the new position. Having won his first NBA championship and his second Olympic gold medal, James has little left to accomplish. But as his rebounds have soared to a career-high 8.6 a game, one has to wonder if he would consider making a run at Oscar Robertson’s achievement of averaging a triple-double for a season. It will not happen this season; his assist average is 6.9 a game. But with James, nothing seems impossible anymore.

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