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LeBron James not playing his game in these Finals

Hello World!

Let’s be honest.  After eight successful NBA seasons, this is not the LeBron James we have become accustomed to seeing.

James is a 6-foot 8-inch, 250-pound rim-attacking phenom.

He impacts the game by getting to the free throw line and burying his defenders under the basket figuratively and literally.

However, James is not playing his game.  We have not seen that same aggressive attacking player since the Heat 92-84 Game 1 victory from American Airlines Arena in Miami, FL.

In that game LeBron scored a team-high 24 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 5 assists.  He knocked in 4-of-5 from 3-point range and 9-of-16 from the field for a 56.3% shooting clip.

He was active and engaged.  He was vocal and available.  He was dominant and timely.  He was playing his game.

But since then James has gone into somewhat of a funk.

A funk that is happening at the worst of times with the Larry O’Brien trophy awaiting the winner of these 2011 NBA Finals.

Watching the Mavs comeback from down 15 on their homecourt in Game 2 definitely didn’t help matters, but yet and still the Heat managed to pull out an impressive Game 3 victory on the road in Dallas to go up 2 games to 1 heading into a pivotal Game 4.

LeBron James (GlennJames/NBAE/GettyImages)

LeBron James has resorted to settling for long jumpers against the Mavs which is a huge part of the reason behind his well-documented 4th quarter woes.

But that is where James lack of aggressiveness started to really be questioned.

While the Mavs assertively reveled in their Game 2 comeback rally James hoisted long jumpers late in the shot clock.  He held the ball out on the perimeter, not only allowing the Mavs to grab long rebounds and run on the other end, but he kept his teammates out of their offensive rhythm by selfishly attempting to go at it alone.

His fourth-quarter woes have been heavily documented in this series, however those claims are not without merit.

To say James has struggled in the closing moments of this Finals’ series would be a gross understatement.

In 5 games against the Mavs LeBron is averaging a mere 2.2 points per game shooting just 25% from the floor in the fourth quarter.  In comparison Dallas’ lone alpha dog Dirk Nowitzki is putting in 10.4 points per game – 2nd most All-Time to Shaq in 2000 (11.5) – on 48.1% during the fourth and final period of play including, of course, two go-ahead buckets to lead the Mavs to a commanding 3-2 series lead.

To put LBJ’s fourth-quarter mediocrity into perspective, the two-time NBA MVP is currently tied with Mavs’ backup point guard J.J. Barea in fourth-quarter scoring in this series.  Barea, of course, is just 5-10, 175 pounds and has averaged a mere 19.8 minutes of action per game in the Finals.

Even worse with Wade hampered in Game 5 with an apparent hip problem, James had an opportunity to take over the game and lead the Heat to a series-commanding 3-2 lead, however he chose to pass first and shoot jumpers as opposed to doing what he is best at; which is attack.

James looks tentative and unsure.

He is not making the right plays at the right times for his Heat teammates and his lack of assertiveness is hinging on self-destruction.

When Wade left with that aforementioned hip injury, Miami needed ‘Bron to take over.  For that is why he was brought to South Beach in the first place; to complement Wade in these times of need.

However James went into a perplexing shell of himself and left the Heat with much more questions than answers heading into an elimination Game 6 from Miami.

The Heat should, at this point, know what they are going to get from their leaders, however only Dwyane Wade has been reliable through 5 games averaging a remarkable 28.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting an incredibly efficient 57.6% from the field.

Chris Bosh, the third wheel of the Heat star-studded trio, has been respectable putting in 18.4 points and 7.2 rebounds, but is only shooting 37.3% from the field through five games.

James, based solely on the lofty expectations he has given himself and those watching, has simply been subpar.

His 17.2 point-per-game average in these Finals is almost 10 points off his regular season average of 26.7.

His shooting percentage has dropped from 51% during the 82-game regular campaign to just 45.3% against Dallas.

His free throw attempts down an amazing 5.2 per game.

LeBron is also taking almost 4 less shots than he did during the season, hoisting an average of 15 in the Finals to 18.8 throughout the year.

As much as the Mavs deserve credit for their surprisingly consistent and stingy defense even they know that James is not playing his usual aggressive attacking style of game.

The disparity in free throw attempts tell that story better than any statistic you can find over the last five games.  As NBA enthusiasts we all well know that a spike in attempts from the charity stripe usually indicate a player’s aggressiveness and overall assertiveness offensively.

James, more than any other player in the league, is a prime example of this.

LeBron James

This is the LeBron the fans of Miami are dying to see. An attacking engaged threat to get to the rim at any time.

Against the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semis ‘Bron went to the line an average of 8.8 times per game attempting 13 and 11 free throws in the Heat last two victories, respectively.

However, against the Mavs he has not attacked the basket consistently resulting in an extremely low 3.2 free throw attempt average through 5 games.  And since he is only shooting 68.8% when he gets there, the “King” is adding just 2.2 points per game from the stripe in this series.

He is actually attempting more 3-pointers (4.6) than free throws (3.2).

We all know that’s just not good enough.  And we also know that that’s not the game we’ve become accustomed to seeing from LeBron.

For the Heat to have a chance at an amazing title in their first run with their new “Big 3”, James has to find himself.

He has to recognize that what makes him so impactful on the court is his ability to attack and force the opposition to adjust.

He can single-handedly alter the dynamic of a game with his sheer power and determined driving ability.  Once he forces defenses to close he opens up everything for Miami – wide open perimeter 3’s, cuts at the basket, and foul trouble for the opposition.

Right now James is simply giving the Mavericks a pass.

He is making their run to their first NBA title all the more easy, by not imposing his game, his will on them.

That has to change.

But is it already too late?

No.

The Heat, and more importantly James, have two more games to right the ship.

Two more opportunities for greatness.

Oh, and of course, one could say LeBron does fairly okay (extreme sarcasm) in these elimination games: 31 points, 10.1 rebounds, 7.5 assists per game.

NBA Playoffs Central

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