He's had problems with the basics, too. Even his shoes haven't been right. His latest signature Nikes, the LeBron 11, have been huge sellers. It will probably be the best year Nike has had selling James' stuff to date, and the commission checks have probably been fantastic. But James has twice had to stop wearing the shoes during games so Nike could redesign his custom molds because of issues in his toe area and with traction.
All of this discomfort in body and equipment has shown up in James' play. It's true he has never shot it better, now at 58 percent. But the rest of his numbers have slipped: rebounds, assists, blocks and steals are down and turnovers are up. His defense has at times been truly lackluster, to the stunning point that the Heat have actually been better defensively this season when James has been on the bench. That's not a number anyone expected to see.
Last year, James was miffed when he wasn't named NBA Defensive Player of the Year and it seemed like he'd vowed to try to win the award this season. Instead, he's probably had his three most inconsistent defensive months since the 2004-05 season.
James seems to be both willfully and purposely conserving energy and focus for when it really matters. The Heat are focused on giving Dwyane Wade games off for a "maintenance" program. James seems to be operating his own program, especially when it comes to expending energy on defense.
"I'm not where I want to be in terms of health," James said.
In short, this has not been James' best half season. He has not been the league's MVP to this point. Durant has him.
But it isn't over, it isn't over by a long shot. James knows it and Durant does too. But the push is without a doubt on and they both want it badly. James knows he's got a very serious challenger and Durant knows he's got a giant to take down.
"The MVP," James said. "It's an unbelievable award."
"Of course, as a player, you would love to win the MVP award," Durant said. "Every day I got to just keep chipping away."