There’s a lot of scrutiny on LeBron James’ intangibles. How much effort he’s put in during these Finals. How much patience. How much intensity. How much focus. Is his head right? It goes on and on and on, ignoring the fact that the Mavericks have game-planned for James about as well as you can. They’ve been aggressive in their double once he puts the ball on the floor, challenged him with charge opportunities, attacked his dribble, and forced him away from his tendencies. Here’s a 3-step plan to get James back into the zone he’s been in during these playoffs.
Step 1: Off is better than on
The Mavericks start to salivate when James runs point. That’s supposed to be the terrifying super-option for Miami, having the former MVP running point with Wade and Bosh. But James too often gets frozen coming up the floor, wasting seconds trying to find a play developing. He waits too long to figure out what he’s going to do, and doesn’t have the improvisational skills to adjust when the defense shuts off his options. In short, him running point is a bad plan.
In Game 5, the Heat started by running James off-ball, having him work to catch and shoot. Their opening possessions was a post play for James on the right side. When the defense adjusted, he kicked it out… and then reposted. It was the last time we saw it from James in that game, despite the tremendous amount of pressure it puts on the defense. James also caught a fair number of passes off the cut beneath the rim. Hmm. 6-8, 285 lb. freak of nature, underneath a basketball rim getting the ball. I wonder if this is going to work? The Heat completely abandoned this plan by the third quarter, despite its success, opting instead for hero ball with James going back to watching defenders on the perimeter and running into doubles. Stubbornness is ugly.
Step 2: Make the daring pass
James is the best athlete on the floor, so why not give him a few opportunities to just go up and get the ball and take care of business? The Heat all season long tried too many highlight plays going for alley-oops. Abandoning those in the playoffs and especially the Finals is a sound strategy, it’s better to work for a quality shot. But the Mavericks have attacked all the sound sets the Heat have tried running, especially the pick and roll. So why not get James a few daring alley-oop plays? You want the defense to back off of Wade and James running the pick and roll. The lob is the best way to do this. It’s risky in terms of turnovers and a chance for the Mavericks to pick it off, but it’s also the best way to punish the Mavs for the defensive strategy they’ve settled on.
Game 3: Pretty simple…. make shots.
All of this changes if the jumper starts falling for James. All of it. That’s been the only real difference between the Celtics’ and Bulls’ series and the Finals. His jumper was hitting, then. Now, it’s not. To his credit James has tried to adjust to it, but the result makes it seem like he lacks confidence. He’s got to get the jumper going. I’m never an advocate for high-usage chucking, especially not in such a drastic situation. But the importance of James getting it going offensively and being able to beat the double and zone is so big, James should have a license to gun in the first half in order to get his jumper going. Without it, it’s hard to see how the Heat are going to be able to force a Game 7.