MIAMI>> Miami Heat practice had ended, and LeBron James lingered under a basket, fetching free throws for two teammates as he awaited his turn to shoot.
At the other end of the gym, Dwyane Wade shook his head as he watched the NBA’s most valuable of players engage in the most mundane of drills.
“He doesn’t — you can see him — rest on his greatness,” Wade said. “He continues to work at it. That’s what makes him special. He leaves nothing to chance.”
The formal announcement of James’ fourth Most Valuable Player award is planned for Sunday, the eve of the Eastern Conference semifinals for the Heat. The honor will vault him into an elite category shared by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, the only other players to win the award at least four times.
James said he was humbled to keep such company.
“I’m a historian of the game,” he said. “I know the game. I know these guys paved the way for myself and the rest of us.”
James’ other MVPs came in 2009, 2010 and 2012. He and Russell are the only players to win the award four times in five years, and he and Abdul-Jabbar are the only players to twice win the award in consecutive seasons.
At age 28, James isn’t resting on his laurels. That’s why he kept shooting with teammates Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers after practice Saturday, while the other Heat players had headed for the showers.
“I don’t know my ceiling,” James said. “I don’t stop trying to improve my game — just like today, being in here with Rio and Ray, the last guys to leave the court. I want to continue to maximize what I have.”
James said his primary goal remains helping the Heat win a second successive NBA title. They’re scheduled to open their conference semifinals series at home Monday against the winner of the series between Chicago and Brooklyn, which went to Game 7 on Saturday night.
The Heat have been idle since Sunday, when they completed a series sweep of Milwaukee. The most scrutinized subject during the layoff has been Wade’s sore right knee, and while he expects to play in Game 1, he said he’ll likely have to cope with discomfort for the rest of the playoffs.
“I told the coaches, ‘Don’t ask me how I’m doing,'” Wade said to a cluster of reporters. “The mind is a powerful thing. Everything is mind over matter. So when you’re dealing with something, you’re dealing it. You understand what it is.
“But when people continue to pat you on the back and ask you if you’re doing all right and how you are feeling, you start to feel like, ‘Well, something is wrong with me.'”
Wade smiled at the media scrum.
“So I would like for you all not to ask me anymore. Thank you.”
Injuries to Wade and other stars around the league this postseason stand in contrast to James’ durability, one of his most remarkable traits. In a 10-year career, he has never missed more than seven games in a season, suggesting he’s likely to remain a force — and an MVP contender — for years to come.
Jordan was 35 the last time he was chosen MVP, in 1998. Abdul-Jabbar won for the final time at 33, Chamberlain and Russell at 31.
“Who wouldn’t love to continue to play at an NBA level in the mid-30s?” James said. “We all would want that. Health is always the No. 1 thing.”
Healthy, James keeps improving, and the consensus among the Heat and their opponents is that this season was his best yet. He averaged 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists while shooting a career-best 56 percent for a team that won a league-high 66 games, including 27 in a row.
That’s after leading Miami to the 2011-12 NBA championship and then helping the U.S. win a gold medal at the London Olympics.
“We tell our organization and our fans, ‘Don’t take this for granted,'” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s a once-in-a-generation player, and you knew it when he came into the league. There are No. 1 draft picks, and then there are No. 1 generational draft picks that are heads and shoulders above everybody else. They don’t come around very often.”
While James pledges to be even better in 2013-14, teammates wonder what part his game can improve.
“I don’t know,” Udonis Haslem said. “I’m running out of stuff, man.”
“Maybe next year he’ll shoot 70 percent,” Chris Bosh said.
In search of his ceiling, James hung around after practice Saturday, shooting extra free throws.
“He’s on the verge of winning four MVPs in five years, and he’ll be the last one to leave the gym today,” Wade said. “He understands the gift God gave him. He understands that not many have it and it doesn’t last for too long, and he wants to make sure he maximizes all of it.”