LeBron James has played plenty of power forward over the years. He’s played point guard (or de facto point guard, anyway), shooting guard and small forward, too. He’s done everything.
Except play center.
That was until Sunday, when he played it late in the Heat’s overtime victory against the Trail Blazers — and Miami outscored Portland 25-11 with him at the five. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told our man Ira Winderman, writing for the Sun Sentinel, there will be more of it.
“We’ve talked about it all season,” Spoelstra said of the team’s internal deliberations. “This certainly now is a good sign that we can start to do that. That might be a way we could use our versatility more.”
In practice, there was not much of a difference with James at center on offense — he got the ball in his hands on the perimeter and attacked. He pulled down rebounds then raced out to lead the break. He took a pull-up three. The offense looked like the Heat’s normal small-ball, up-tempo offense, save that they could be even more versatile because Zydrunas Ilgauskas or some other big didn’t need to be out there.
The difference is was on defense, where James had to defend Marcus Camby. That may ultimately define when Miami can put LeBron at the five — when there is an opposing center James can guard. It won’t fly against Boston; but while Camby is a good rebounder he is not a huge, back-to-the-basket center who will overpower James. That was not the matchup the Blazers were trying to exploit anyway, they wanted to isolate LaMarcus Aldridge on Chris Bosh.
Miami has been winning a variety of ways on their current streak, and up-tempo is one of them. James at the five is just a more versatile way to do that. And it’s going to give some opposing coaches some headaches.