- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Steve Nash of the Dallas Mavericks is having a nice little week. He scored a season-best 31 points in a victory over Cleveland. He dimed a league-best 19 assists in another victory over Sacramento, this one nationally televised.
Maybe best of all, Nash also got an up-close glimpse of the guy he now calls the NBA's best athlete.
"It's got to be LeBron," Nash said.
Proper football is Nash's first love, like ours, which means it usually requires a silky touch or mazy dribbling from the feet of Zinedine Zidane to make him gasp. Then came Tuesday night, when LeBron James came to Dallas and made a 50-by-94-foot hunk of basketball floor -- a space Nash thinks should be expanded to accommodate the size and speed of the modern hoopster -- look like a sprinter's lane.
"From foul line to foul line, he's so fast it's ridiculous," Nash said. "He's the fastest guy I've ever played against."
James, of course, didn't want to talk about quicks when we managed to corner him for a few minutes. He refuses to say anything apolitical about the Rookie of the Year trophy he's going to win handily, insisting that it's still an open race with Carmelo Anthony. Ditto for the Olympic roster spot James won't campaign for. He really doesn't want to talk about anything except the playoffs, because his fast-fading Cavaliers, seemingly a lock to qualify for the NBA Tournament last month, are suddenly clinging to faint hopes.
The ball is back in James' hands because the Cavs' new point guard, Jeff McInnis, is on the injured list with shoulder trouble. It's better for James and the Cavs when McInnis has the ball, leaving LeBron to zoom around, but you saw last Saturday why James gets compared more to Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan. He totaled 41 points and 13 assists in a crucial victory over New Jersey, with James pushing the ball upcourt so quickly that Paul Silas eventually told him to forget about running plays. The message from the coach was simple: Just run, just push it.
Cleveland needs more of that more than ever, as it begins a pivotal stretch of games against fellow playoff hopefuls starting with Friday's ESPN visit to Milwaukee. The Cavs play the Bucks twice in the final 12 days of the regular season ... and Miami twice ... plus Toronto on April 6 and then New York to finish the regular season at Madison Square Garden on April 14. To rise from No. 9, Cleveland will have to win most of those games.
Before speeding off to his next conquest, James shared a few of his thoughts on the Cavs' plight with ESPN.com ... although it should be noted that it's hardly disastrous, given how ordinary James looked in the preseason and how poorly the Cavs began the season.
Here's two minutes with LeBron on:
Dealing with sky-high expectations. "It's been easy. I'm not kidding. I pretty much created the hype by me playing this game of basketball so well. I've been able to take care of everything on and off the court."
Comparisons to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. "It's OK sometimes. You kind of smile when you're compared to those guys. That's a compliment. Then again, I'm trying to create my own dynasty."
Wearing No. 23. "The number is going to stay the same. I can't change this number. I've been wearing it since I've been playing sports, and that's nine years old."
Resentment from older teammates. "I'm a grown man. I was an only child. I've pretty much been an only child my whole life. It's been easy because I was ready, and because I think physically I was able to come right in and play. ... Now I'm pretty much the leader of the team."
How much missing the playoffs would take away from his accomplishments. "If we didn't have the bad start we had, we'd definitely be in the playoffs. But we've still overachieved this year. No one ever thought we'd be in the playoff hunt at this time of the year. We shouldn't hang our heads if we don't make it."
Whether he has exceeded his own rookie-year expectations. "I never overachieve."
LeBron James slowed down enough to answer questions about Rookie of the Year and the playoffs.