LOS ANGELES -- The NBA is in the midst of the statistical era, in which virtually everything is tracked, from the times a player dribbles to the distance they run, down to the step.
If you have access to the right database, you can even identify the number of games in which Ray Allen hits a dagger 3-pointer from the left corner, as he did in the Miami Heat’s 116-112 win over the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night. Informally, that number is “a lot.”
If there’s room, perhaps another stat should start getting tracked: nights when LeBron James is a true “1-through-5.”
That moniker, an awkward nickname Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gave to James last season, refers to his ability to guard every position, from the point guard through the center, depending on what is called for defensively. Spoelstra’s efforts to focus on that trait have resulted in it often being included in James’ résumé.
But the actual act of guarding all five players within a game happens somewhat rarely. When it does, it is usually a part of a memorable effort. In that way, it is sort of like a triple-double.
It seems James is close to those triple-doubles almost every night -- he had yet another near miss in this win with 31 points, 8 rebounds and 12 assists -- but actually achieves it only a few times a season. The same goes for the 1-through-5.
It happened Wednesday, though, with James being assigned to guard everyone from Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to point guard Darren Collison to some highly physical struggles in the post area with Blake Griffin.
“That’s why I should be Defensive Player of the Year,” James said. “No one has ever done this before.”
Perhaps James should reassess that DPOY plea considering this was a night when Griffin went off for 43 points. Nonetheless, it was a reminder of why James is who he is. This hasn’t been a banner season for him, but in the past three weeks he has been top notch.
Wednesday, he was flying around the floor setting the tone for the Heat’s quality road win. In the fourth quarter, he also played point guard as the Heat went with a big lineup to combat a Clippers’ comeback attempt that peeled a 19-point lead in the first half down to two.
Seeing James go toe-to-toe with Griffin called to mind that just a week earlier he was doing the same with Kevin Durant, guarding him at one end and attacking him at the other. That night, James and Durant were exchanging long-range jumpers off slick dribbling. This night he was going back-and-forth with Griffin with power dunks and basket attacks.
It can be easy to take this for granted when he has made it a habit for a decade now, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
After a couple months of less-than-standard defensive effort -- his numbers from November and December are quite a blow to that DPOY hope -- there has been no missing his uptick in recent weeks. The Heat are now 5-1 over their past six games and clearly playing their best stretch of the new year.
“LJ displayed his entire arsenal defensively,” Spoelstra said. “Guarding 1-through-5, on the glass, in the post, on the perimeter. He even had one of his famous chase-down blocks, one that most players would give up on.”
James caught Collison from behind on that fast break in the second quarter. James has three blocks in the past two games after having three in the previous 16 games. He has 11 steals in the past three games and 21 in the past 10 games after the leanest two months of steals in his career.
It’s hard to track defensive effort through numbers, that is one area stats have yet to truly conquer, but those basic details tell the tale of his recent play.
It may have been tough to see, looking at Griffin’s scoring and 31 points on a hot shooting night for Jamal Crawford, but the Heat put forth a strong defensive game against the Clippers. Otherwise, there was no way they would’ve survived being outrebounded by 21 boards and giving up 29 second-chance points.
It wouldn’t have been possible without "1-through-5" doing his 1-though-5.
“That’s why I’m sitting here with like nine bags of ice,” James said. “I’m going to need my off day.”