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LeBron better than ever at 33

LeBron James ages like a wine. (AP)

LeBron James ages like a wine. (AP)

CLEVELAND (AP) – LeBron James emerged from a chaotic, complex season unscathed — better than ever.

Still the NBA’s undisputed king.

Despite no longer having Kyrie Irving at his side. Despite an injury-riddled season in which the Cavaliers’ roster morphed twice and despite being surrounded by a supporting cast that included rookies and just three holdovers from Cleveland teams he dragged to three straight NBA Finals, James played every game and powered through his 15th pro season like it was another helpless defender in the lane.

By investing millions into maintaining his body and with a work ethic that has pushed him since childhood, James seems intent on challenging basketball’s natural cycle of aging.

At 33, and on the eve of making a run at his eighth straight Finals, James is not slowing down. He remains the game’s best all-around player, most dominant force. Still, the one to beat. Still, the player most capable of carrying a team to playoff victories. Still, the most likely player – sorry Messrs. Westbrook, Harden, Curry and Durant – to make a play that wins a game or a series.

“It doesn’t seem like he gets old,” said Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown. “He just doesn’t go away.”

While Cleveland’s season was highly irregular, James had another brilliant one.

He averaged 27.5 points – his highest total since 2010 — and established career-highs in assists (9.1), rebounds (8.6) and played the full slate of games for the first time. He led the league in total points, minutes played, surpassed 30,000 career points, recorded 18 triple-doubles and was the league’s second-leading scorer in the fourth quarter (7.5 points).

The three-time champion also extended his record of scoring at least 10 points to 873 games, a mark once owned by Michael Jordan (862), the player James has spent his entire adulthood being compared to and the one he has equaled on many measures.

Jordan was not done at 33, winning three more titles. But his game aged differently. Jordan relied more on jumpers as he got older and ceded tough defensive assignments to other Bulls. James continues to take over games physically, particularly late, and he never hesitates to defend the opponents’ toughest scorers. And the Bulls never counted on their general to rebound or dish out assists as the Cavs lean on James.

James has done it all amid a strange, soap-opera-like season for Cleveland, which endured injuries, illnesses, trades and tribulations from late last summer until early spring.

“As the Land Turns is what I call it,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, who returned from an illness just last week.

Following Wednesday’s regular-season finale, James stamped this as-yet-unfinished season a personal triumph.

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