As we head into a crucial Game 6 between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks in one of the most intriguing NBA Finals we have had in quite a while, there is one question that resides in the back of every coach's, player's, fan's, and journalist's mind:
What kind of LeBron James will we see in Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals?
Will we see the same LeBron we are used to seeing as fans, the one that was present during the Eastern Conference Finals? The one that runs the court, knocks down those easy jump shots and is good in crunch time?
Or will we see the LeBron that all of Cleveland is hoping to see, the one that has been present so far in this series? The LeBron that is not confident in his jump shot, that "checks himself out" in the fourth quarter and breaks under pressure?
Don't get me wrong, I will say LeBron did not do a horrible job in Game 5. He did create open shots off the double team, and contribute a lot with his triple-double. The problem is that LeBron won't beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game Six, and he won't get the ring he said he would trade his two MVP Trophies for.
LeBron will go home disappointed just like he has his whole career.
In the Finals so far, LeBron has been criticized for not putting all his effort into it, and as ESPN analysts like to say, he basically "checked himself out." He only scored eight points in Game 4, and only seventeen in Game 5 (although he did put up a triple-double).
LeBron has scored a combined 11 points in fourth quarters this series, compared to Dirk's 52 and Dwyane Wade's 40. LeBron is also tied with J.J Barea in fourth quarter points and trails Udonis Haslem by six points, which shows how much he has been struggling in the fourth.
LeBron does have the reputation of not being very clutch in big games, but it seemed like that faded away during the Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls, when he averaged 25.8 points per game after averaging 28.0 points in the Semifinals against the Boston Celtics.
He was clutch in the fourth quarter as he clinched both series. In Boston, he had a steal that clinched the game, and in Chicago he hit two very clutch shots with less than a minute left to win the series.
If LeBron wants two play well like he did against Chicago and Boston in Game 6, then there are three things he will have to do to force a Game 7.
Be Confident In His Jump Shot
LeBron's jump shot has improved a great deal this year compared to last year, and he has shut teams down with it. However, in this series, LeBron has lost a lot of confidence in his shooting.
In the last three games he is 1-11 behind the arc, and has really only hit two other jump shots inside the arc. LeBron is the best player on the court when his jump shots are falling, and it certainly will help Miami keep up with Dirk's dominant shooting.
If he can come out in Game 6 and start hitting some shots, you can expect a very big performance.
Run the Court
LeBron James does this better than anyone in the league, and when he does it he is almost impossible to stop. You saw him do some of this a little bit in Game 5, when he came all the way across the court for an easy layup in the second quarter.
It seems that Dallas has been limiting his fast-break opportunities by putting the energetic Shawn Marion on him. If he can run the court well in Game 6, Dallas will find it very hard to win.
Keep Up With Jason Terry
At the beginning of the series, LeBron did a great job of this, but in the last couple games it seems that Jason Terry has worn him out. Perhaps a reason LeBron has been so bad in the fourth quarter is because he has been fatigued from chasing Terry around the whole game.
If he can keep up with Terry and outplay him, he won't be worn down, and will become more of a fourth quarter presence.
What I predict LeBron to do is come out, have a good night and post a solid 30-point game, forcing a Game 7 against the Mavericks.
But that question will still be in the back of everyone's mind:
What type of LeBron James will show up in Miami for Game 6?
The answer will doubtless affect the outcome of the game.