Blueprint for LeBron James to Retake Control of 2013 NBA Finals
There weren't any worries of James repeating the struggles of his first championship bout with the Spurs in 2007, especially since talk of his supposed issues in the clutch were silenced after Miami's finals triumph last year over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This wasn't a question of whether James could dial up a dominant performance. Four MVPs in five seasons say not only is the King the preeminent player on the planet, but that he's already one of the greatest to ever pick up a basketball.
Analysts wondered just where he would exert his dominance the most. Would this be the "Magic Johnson" LeBron, the player who reminds the hoops world that 6'8" point guards do exist. Or would the "Michael Jordan" James show up, the player who had embarked on a blistering six-game stretch of 30.8 points on an astounding 71.7 percent shooting earlier this season.
Well, James decided to go "Oscar Robertson", triple-doubling in the NBA Finals for the third time in his career. But heading into Game 2, he'd be wise to invite in his best Jordan impression; the Heat might have no other choice.
It's going to take more than just embracing an aggressive, attacking mentality.
San Antonio made its focus clear 48 minutes into this series: Gregg Popovich's club is going to focus all of its defensive effort on limiting James' touches. The Spurs crowded James on his post touches and left multiple defenders within closing range when he started his drives from the perimeter.
But there's only so much that a defense—even a military-level disciplined unit like the Spurs—can do to affect James,
First thing's first: James has to look more for his own shots.
Dwyane Wade was serviceable in Game 1 (17 points, 7-of-15 shooting), and Ray Allen and Mike Miller masterfully handled their floor-spacing roles (combined 4-of-6 from three). But James is clearly the best scoring option on Miami's roster.
He needs to be more active earlier in the contest. He attempted only four field goals in the first quarter of Game 1, two of which he hoisted from three-point territory.
That brand of basketball just plays right into San Antonio's hands. The less James is attacking the basket, the fewer defenders the Spurs have to commit to slowing him down, and the more they'll have left over to account for the Heat's other offensive weapons.
He's a smart enough passer to pick apart a collapsing defense, but that defense won't close as hard in the paint if he's not attempting strong drives to the basket. This isn't Roy Hibbert and David West lurking around the basket, it's a 37-year-old Tim Duncan and a softer-than-advertised Tiago Splitter.
James needs to use his genetic gifts to his advantage and take his game to a vertical level that no Spurs players can reach. He needs more touches on the low block where he can bully his defender or thread the needle to an open teammate on the perimeter. And he has to look to push the tempo at every opportunity, racing toward the rim before the Spurs have the chance to set their defense.
But he can't force the issue, either. A tall task surely, but something you can reasonably ask from a player of his caliber.
When the passing lanes are open, he has to exploit them. Erik Spoelstra needs to go to his point guard-less lineup earlier in the game, let James initiate more offense to turn the tide and force the Spurs to adjust to what they're doing.
James then has to remember that the first read that presents itself isn't always the right one to make. So what if Chris Bosh is open on the wing, that's the shot San Antonio wants Miami to take.
Part of the problem (a majority of it even) rests on his teammates.
Shane Battier (21.9 three-point percentage in the playoffs) has to rediscover his stroke. Bosh needs to move back to the elbow where he can take advantage of both his shooting and driving strengths. Wade needs to remember how good of a playmaker he can be when he balances his scoring and distributing, something he didn't do in Game 1 (two assists, 15 field-goal attempts).
Defensively, James has to will his body into finding that extra gear that he possesses.
Yes, that means more one-on-one matchups with Tony Parker. San Antonio looks like a well-oiled machine when it is operating on all cylinders, but its offensive system starts and stops with Parker's ability to penetrate into the lane.
Take Parker out of the game, and you've cut the head off the chicken. Manu Ginobili's capable of running the offense in stretches, but a heavy dosage of him initiating the sets is what Miami wants.
Playing Parker head up is going to take a physical toll on James, but the Heat can't afford to keep watching Parker race around Mario Chalmers like he did in the fourth quarter. James doesn't just have the speed to stay with Parker, but his tremendous size advantage narrows the point guard's shooting and passing windows.
The Heat won't be out of this series until the Spurs can rack up four victories. A loss in Game 2 would hurt (particularly in the 2-3-2 finals format), but the Heat's situation would still fall short of disaster level.
Still, you have to think that James needs this win, needs to get a finals win over San Antonio after five defeats in his first five games against the Spurs.
He has the tools to make that happen. He just needs to find a better way of using them to his advantage.
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