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LeBron James.

The departure of Kyrie Irving has brought out the best version of LeBron James

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Kyrie Irving has received many plaudits during the first quarter of the season for some stunning displays for the Boston Celtics and as the inspiration behind their terrific 18-4 record.

When he decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, there were question marks about whether he would be able to win without LeBron James and he has answered those emphatically already. 

Irving has taken center stage for the Celtics and has been able to showcase his full array of talents as the main superstar on his team.

The C's are looking like the early winners of the trade but even though the Cavaliers are yet to see Isaiah Thomas - their marquee acquisition from Boston - take to the floor, the deal has already given them something better in return. 

Kyrie may be flourishing away from LeBron but the same can be said about the King as he's taken his game to extraordinary heights so far this year.

Dominance

In his 15th campaign in the NBA, James is averaging career-highs in points (28.2), assists (8.3), rebounds (8.3), field goal percentage (58 percent) and three-point percentage (42 percent).

Without the services of Irving and, for the time being, Thomas, LBJ has gone up a few gears with his production, which is not easy for a 32-year-old to do, especially with the minutes he's clogged up over his career. 

Miami Heat v Cleveland Cavaliers

The four-time MVP continues to rack up the minutes too as he leads the league in that department playing 37 a night. 

Quite frankly, the Cavs needed the best possible version of the superstar after beginning the season in a horrible slump.

Largely thanks to his brilliance, they are now in a much better place and riding a nine-game winning streak where he has done almost everything for his franchise on both ends of the floor. 

Clutch gene

He has been Cleveland's best scorer, playmaker, defender and sometimes their best rebounder. King James thrives on being the leader and with his former All-Star point guard now wearing the Celtic green, it has enabled him to showcase his ability to close out games and come up with some of the best clutch plays of his career.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons

Alongside Irving, he ranks in the top five in the NBA for points scored in clutch time - the last five minutes of a game with the score within five points - and field goal percentage. 

They are also both among the league's top scorers in the fourth quarter. Per ESPN Stats and Info, last season, James and Irving ranked 20th and 21st, respectively, in total clutch scoring.

Now on separate teams, the duo have been able to take on the responsibility themselves without sharing with one another.

"The last couple years, Kyrie obviously being as great as he was in the fourth quarter, we kind of pick our games. There was games half the time that he had it going and, 'Hey, go get it.' There was games half the time where I had it going, and I'd go get it," James said, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst.

Los Angeles Clippers v Cleveland Cavaliers

"Right now my teammates look at me and they're like, 'OK, like, this is your quarter, you've done this your whole career. Let's try to make some things happen.' It's very important that I try to come through for them."

In a recent win over the Brooklyn Nets, the three-time champion put the team on his back and took over in the fourth to get them the victory with 23 points in the quarter. 

"We couldn't find a solution to stop him in the fourth quarter," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, per Windhorst. "We were trying different stuff. I guess we could have trapped him, but he's such a great passer; we didn't want to give up threes. You've got to give him a lot of credit."

Shooting

Much of this can be attributed to the 13-time All-Star's improved shooting. It's still early, but the aforementioned percentages he's hitting this year would set a career mark if he keeps it up throughout the campaign. 

Cleveland Cavaliers v Washington Wizards

He has become a legitimate threat from beyond the arc with his improved three-point stroke, something which has always been a weakness in his game.

"My man has worked his way into being a real shooter. Like, for real. He can really shoot," teammate Kyle Korver said. "His fundamentals, he has worked on it, in this last year that I've been here. His shot is really, really good. He's worked hard, and it's showing."

The three-time champion told ESPN's Dave McMenamin that a mystery elbow injury in the offseason caused him to change his shooting mechanics and has been the reason behind his drastic upturn.

The small forward credits the shooters he's played with for helping him get to a consistent level of shooting, including Ray Allen, Mike Miller, James Jones and current teammates Korver and J.R. Smith. 

Cleveland Cavaliers v Washington Wizards

The Akron native has been a man on a mission this season and will certainly be among the top candidates for the MVP award if he performs at this level for the whole year.

But there's no doubt that James is more focused on team success and has his eyes set on leading the Cavs to the Finals again and who can bet against him doing that and going one better when he's performing at a devastating rate.

Topics:
NBA
LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Eastern Conference
Dwyane Wade
Miami Heat
Southeast Division
Kyrie Irving

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