When Suns interim coach Jay Triano was the head coach of the Toronto Raptors from 2008-11, he figured there was one way to slow LeBron James.
“The first thing we did was customs,” Triano said. “If you can hold him up there a little bit there’s a chance.”
That may still be the only way to neutralize James. At the age of 33, after having played in 1,344 games – the equivalent of more than 16 NBA seasons – entering Tuesday, he’s still arguably the best player in the world.
James, whose Cleveland Cavaliers played the Suns on Tuesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena, was second in the league in assists (9.0), tied for fourth in scoring (26.9) and tied for 17th in rebounding (8.4). He’s also averaging 37 minutes per game, behind only Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, both averaging 37.1 minutes per contest.
“It’s unbelievable,” Suns guard Devin Booker said.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James talks to the media, March 13, 2018, at Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix.
Mark Henle/ azcentral sports
James isn’t oblivious to time. It just seems that way.
“It’s very tough, very challenging,” he said before Cleveland’s shootaround Tuesday. “As far as being an NBA player, how to approach it, how to (take care of) your body, things of that nature. How do you continue to, you know, stay consistent? I’ve learned all of that on my own. All on the fly because I’ve never had somebody I could go to … and nobody ever kind of lended a hand to me, either, so I’ve kind of just figured it out.”
Like everyone around the NBA, the Suns – particularly their young players – are astounded by James’ continuing brilliance and durability. He’s played in all of Cleveland’s games this season.
“Number one it’s a testament to how much he loves the game,” Triano said. “If you don’t love the game you don’t do that. … He’s worked hard enough to build a body that can withstand the rigors of the NBA game year after year after year with every type of defense and every type of personnel trying to guard him. It’s pretty phenomenal, really.”
Rookie forward Josh Jackson said he didn’t think it was possible for a 33-year-old to be one of the NBA’s elite players – until James came along.
“He’s just your ideal athlete, a guy who doesn’t take the game for granted and takes care of his body,” Jackson said. “Every year he just looks better and better. It’s crazy because we all know he’s getting older but at the same time he’s getting better.”
After James had 39 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in Cleveland’s win over Denver last Wednesday, he told ESPN that he was playing “probably at an all-time high.”
“Just because of my body, my mind, the way I go out and approach the game,” James added. “Just the grace of God giving me the ability to do this. I’m blessed and I never take it for granted.”
It was unlikely center Alan Williams would make his season debut Tuesday against Cleveland. Williams, sidelined since having offseason arthroscopic knee surgery, said he’d like to get a “couple of more practices” in before returning. He also said he’d prefer to make his debut at home in front of Suns’ fans.
That would line him up to play against Golden State Saturday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Rookie guard Shaquille Harrison was all smiles Tuesday, one day after signing a multi-year contract that is guaranteed through the rest of this season.
“It’s a marvelous day, probably the best day of my life,” said Harrison, who has averaged 4.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals in nine games. “I’ve grinded to be here. It’s not an overnight thing. It’s taken years and years of being in the gym and watching film and sticking to what I do. So it feels good that it paid off.”