A cure for LeBron’s late-game blues

Miami Heat’s LeBron James pauses during a break in play against the Dallas Mavericks during Game 4 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Dallas, Texas June 7, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Over the last few days, much has been written about LeBron James and his late-game performances in Game 3 and in Game 4. People say he has been too passive, disinterested, or that he doesn’t have the mental makeup to succeed in big moments.

I think the issue is with his involvement in the offense. In Game 2, LeBron controlled the ball late and wasn’t able to generate good shots. The Mavs won. In Game 3, Miami gave the ball to Dwyane Wade and let him do his thing. The Heat won. So in Game 4, they did the same thing, only Dallas was ready for it and Wade wasn’t nearly as productive down the stretch. The Heat lost. Criticism rained down on LeBron for his 3-of-11 shooting and his eight points.

But think about it — LeBron has been used to handling the ball on every possession for the last seven years. Suddenly, he’s spotting up on the wing watching Wade run a pick-and-roll with Chris Bosh and waiting for a pass that’s probably never going to come.

He’s not involved, and when he is involved, he’s running a version of Mike Brown’s drain-the-clock-and-force-a-bad-shot offense from his days in Cleveland. Or maybe Mike Brown is an offensive genius and LeBron refused to run his brilliant plays, who knows.

Regardless of the cause, here’s the solution: Go post, young man.

For years, I have been harping on LeBron for his lack of a post game. He’s a 6-8, strong-as-an-ox 250 lb small forward with terrific vision and passing skills and he refuses to go down to the block. Granted, he has posted up a little bit since arriving in Miami, but I haven’t seen it much (if at all) against the Mavs when he’s being guarded by the likes of Jason Kidd (6-4, 210 lbs) and Jason Terry (6-2, 180 lbs). LeBron’s unwillingness to post (or Spoelstra’s play-calling) is the reason the Mavs are able to get away with those matchups. So LeBron stands on the perimeter, covered by a guard who is used to covering people on the perimeter. How does this make sense?

As regular readers know, I played for (current Wisconsin coach) Bo Ryan while at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and his #1 offensive priority was to get the ball in the post. He preached that throwing the ball inside led to better quality shots and more free throws, leading to more efficient offense. And he was right. As the years went on, he became more willing to let knockdown three-point shooters do their thing, but the Heat don’t have many of those, so it’s not really relevant. (Why am I mentioning it? Because I was a knockdown three-point shooter who wasn’t allowed to do his thing. Grrr.)

Anyway, Spoelstra and LeBron could take a page from Bo’s book and run the offense through LeBron in the post. If he has a smaller guy on him, the Mavs would be forced to double-team or LeBron would be able to score at will (assuming he has any post moves, which is a big assumption). If the put Marion on him, he could setup in the mid-post, catch the ball and go.

But this strategy is predicated on the notion that LeBron and Co. have actually practiced this type of offense and it’s pretty clear that they haven’t, not enough to utilize it in the Finals, anyway.

The Heat may very well go on to win the Finals doing what they’re doing. If they do, I wouldn’t expect LeBron to suddenly become a serious post player. If they lose, perhaps he’ll be motivated enough to improve his game in the same way that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did mid-career. Both players realized that they needed a way to punish teams for covering them with smaller defenders, and both players became excellent shooters/scorers in the post. LeBron would be able to add the extra dimension of passing out of the post as teams cheat or double.

A few years ago, LeBron said that playing on the block was “boring.” There’s still time for this leopard to change his spots, but perhaps it would take another Finals loss to finally convince LeBron to take his talents to the post.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Related Posts

One response to “A cure for LeBron’s late-game blues”

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>