What LeBron James Must Do to Win Series for Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
The Miami Heat rely on James more than they did last season. With Dwyane Wade's knee affecting his performance on a game-by-game basis and Chris Bosh and Ray Allen disappearing on a moment's notice, they don't have a choice.
If and when the Heat advance through to the NBA Finals, James is going to deserve the bulk of the credit. He's the reason Miami has come this far.
To bring the Heat even further, he must do even more.
At their current pace, a Finals berth is hardly a sure thing. Roy Hibbert has clobbered them in the post and they're getting swallowed whole on the boards, neither of which is James' fault.
Failing to obtain a third straight Eastern Conference crown will be.
Falling to the Pacers won't be James' cross to bear entirely. He's played better than any of his teammates against Indiana. As the reigning MVP and the prevailingly accepted best player in the league, though, the onus will fall on him. Fair or not, that's just how it is.
Avoiding such blame requires winning. And winning will require him to do more.
Whether that entails being more consistent in certain aspects of his game or simply embracing concepts he has strayed from doesn't matter—the Heat just need more of LeBron.
Take Hibbert out of the Game
Prior to the start of the Eastern Conference Finals, James asserted that he wasn't afraid of challenging Roy Hibbert at the rim.
"Me?" James replied when asked if he'd hesitate to attack against Hibbert. "Me? Nah."
The stats say otherwise.
Per ESPN.com, James has driven toward the rim with Hibbert on the floor 18 times. In those instances, he's shooting just 33 percent from the field, but he's attempted just three shots. For the most part, he's elected to defer. A lot. More than 61 percent of the time to be precise (11 passes on 18 drives).
Daring to insist that James is afraid of Hibbert is beyond naive, but he is aware of Hibbert's presence. And now, he has to ignore it.
Relentlessly attacking the rim is how James is going to get to the foul line, how the Heat are going to put extra points on the board. More importantly, it's how the Heat can get Hibbert in foul trouble.
Indiana's tower committed five or more fouls 21 times during the regular season, the fourth most in the NBA behind DeMarcus Cousins, Amir Johnson and (you guessed it) Dwight Howard. He's done the same six times during the playoffs, more than any player who made a postseason appearance.
Hibbert's 3.8 personal fouls per game is not the worst mark of his career, but it's still high. James needs to use Hibbert's size against him. Though he has a tendency to jump straight up when contesting shots, he's absolutely massive, and any contact he inflicts can be construed as a foul.
Removing Hibbert from the game—even if only for spurts—makes scoring easier, for James especially.
Through four games, James has driven toward the rim 10 times with Hibbert off the floor. On those occasions he's shot the ball 60 percent of the time (six) and connected on 83.3 percent of his attempts (five).
By continuing to attack the rim against Hibbert, James will be attempting to create more opportunities to attack against everyone not named Hibbert, circumstances under which he has excelled.
Be More Aggressive in the Post
James' post-up game has turned into a thing of beauty, much like everything else he does.
In Game 3 against the Pacers, James received 17 touches in post-up situations. He shot the ball nine times and connected on five shots. Including what he tallied off fouls, he scored 14 of his 22 points off post-ups.
Game 4 was a different story. James saw 10 post-ups, shot the ball only six times and connected on just one. Post-ups only accounted for three of his 24 points.
While this could toe along the lines of what we just discussed with Hibbert, it's actually different.
Back-to-the-basket sets are about brute force, creativity and aggression. James has to be willing to back his opponent down under the basket, no matter who it is, and then worry about Hibbert.
In Game 3, he didn't hesitate to engage the Pacers on the block. James took 41 total dribbles when posting up compared to 22 in Game 4.
He needs to look for his shot down there, even if it doesn't immediately present itself. Over-dribbling shouldn't be condoned, but 1) James rarely over-dribbles and 2) Game 3 saw the Heat hand the Pacers an 18-point romping. There's something to this whole LeBron posting-up thing.
James needs to find that out for himself. The only way to do that is to remain aggressive in the post.
Shoot More Threes, Too
This sounds contradictory to him continuing to post up, but really, it's not. We're just telling James to shoot more in different situations. That's what the Heat need—especially from behind the rainbow.
James is connecting on just 36.7 percent of his deep balls in the playoffs, but he's converting on 42.9 percent of his treys against the Pacers. Indiana allowed opponents to shoot just 32.7 percent from beyond the arc during the regular season (first in the league), so yes, that's impressive.
What's more is James has been more accurate from downtown the more he shoots from there.
In the six playoff games James has shot at least four three-pointers, he's hitting on an average of 43.8 percent of them. In the seven games he's hoisted up three or less, he's burying an average of 23.5 percent.
James drilled 4-of-7 from long range in Game 4, his three-point prowess being much of the reason the Heat were able to stave off the Pacers' many attempts at running away with the win. Facing the top-ranked defense, it's also important to score as many points as possible. And he can put points on the board from the outside in a hurry.
No, we don't want to see James being less aggressive in the post at the expense of shooting threes, but it's time he shot more. A lot more. And from everywhere.
How can LeBron take control against the Pacers?
His 16.8 field-goal attempts are a career-playoff low. He's dishing out 6.7 dimes a night, yes, but his teammates aren't hitting enough of their shots to warrant him deferring as frequently. Miami collectively hit on just 39 percent of its shots in Game 4, and it is converting on just 34 percent of its deep balls overall in the series.
James needs to take control of this series. His supporting cast is important—extremely important—but he must become more selfish (for lack of a better word) on offense.
Going right at Hibbert, being more aggressive on the block and most definitely letting those deep balls fly would be a great place to start.
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, NBA.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise attributed.
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