December 14, 2011

Miami Heat’s LeBron James happy to back down now


Miami Heat players, from left, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh pose for photos during an NBA basketball media day in Miami on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011

Miami Heat players, from left, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh pose for photos during an NBA basketball media day in Miami on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011
David Santiago / AP
For all the talent and offense on the Heat’s roster last season, there was one noticeable flaw. The team simply didn’t score enough points in the paint.
The expectation going into this season was to solve the problem through free agency. Didn’t happen. The market for big men was limited and the Heat’s budget didn’t allow for competitive spending. Instead of buying a solution, the Heat is hoping a little creativity can provide an answer.
And by creativity, we mean LeBron James.
James spent the offseason working on his post game with the goal of providing a little more balance to the Heat’s offense. He worked with Hakeem Olajuwon for a week; and worked with his back to the basket for “four or five months.” Already one of the league’s most versatile players, James likely will be asked to do even more this season if the Heat is serious about using its versatile roster in unorthodox ways.
James and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra began planning the next step of James’ career before the lockout began.
“When I spoke to him last, we were on the same page in late June and it was already something that he wanted to work on,” Spoelstra said. “He spent some time with Hakeem Olajuwon and more importantly he spent some time working on it and that’s the evolution of great players. You don’t stop.
“There’s not a point where you say, ‘OK. I can’t improve.’ The great players still always try to add another dimension to the game because defenses change, scouting reports get better and they always have to stay a step ahead of the curve.”
In last year’s NBA Finals, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks stifled James on the perimeter and the two-time MVP tried in vain to shift his game inside. It wasn’t pretty. James scored eight points on 3-of-11 shooting in the Game 4 and was stunted offensively the rest of the series (two more losses by the Heat).
Frustrated, James went in search of guidance. He found Olajuwon, Yoda of frontcourt offense.
“If you guys ever get an opportunity to meet Hakeem, and sit and talk to him for just two or three minutes, you guys will see why he was so successful and why he is the man he is today,” James said. “He is unbelievable to be around. So, the basketball thing was easy.”
Olajuwon made a lasting impression on James — “It was overwhelming. I’m humbled and blessed that he gave me the opportunity to be with him,” James said. — but it will be interesting to see how much James retains.
Udonis Haslem, who wouldn’t mind a little extra help inside, said James’ new work in the paint could completely transform the team.
“You take one of the best athletes to ever play the game and if you can implement some of Hakeem into LeBron’s game, not only does it take his game to a whole other level, it takes our game to a whole other level as a team,” Haslem said. “It makes us somewhat unguardable. When he goes down to the post, you can’t guard him with a small guy and you can’t put a big guy on him.
“So it creates mismatches all over the floor.”
Sounds promising.
Of course, James has to buy in to make it work. Just because he has tried to improve his post game doesn’t exactly mean he likes doing it.
“There’s nothing fun about it,” James said. “There’s nothing fun about banging with a big man.”
Shane Battier, who is guarding James during training-camp practices, said when James commits to the paint, there’s not much you can do to stop him.
“He’s so strong,” Battier said. “When he wants position, he gets it.”
Said Chris Bosh: “[James is] going to have to be patient because it doesn’t come in one offseason, but that’s what we need — with his size and speed and ability to create mismatches.”
Center Eddy Curry sat out practice Tuesday to rest a tender hip flexor. He worked on his conditioning instead.
“We really want Eddy to stay healthy and help us,” Wade said.

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