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James will be facing bigger challenge

June 07, 2007|LONNIE WHITE | Times Staff Writer

To get to the NBA Finals, Cleveland's LeBron James proved that Detroit's Tayshaun Prince, Chauncey Billups and Lindsey Hunter could not guard him one-on-one and that he had enough basketball sense to break down the Pistons' trapping zone and double teams.

So as a reward, James gets a matchup against San Antonio defensive specialist Bruce Bowen and the Spurs' suffocating team defense. How James handles this challenge will determine the outcome of the series.

At 6 feet 7 and 200 pounds, Bowen is an inch shorter and 40 pounds lighter than James, who has enough of a size advantage to dominate if he forces Bowen to defend him in the post. Against Detroit, James displayed good patience and court savvy whenever a smaller player tried to guard him, and it will be important for him to do the same against the Spurs.

But expect San Antonio to limit the times Bowen is exposed inside with quick double teams that may include big man Tim Duncan. Normally, the smart play would be for James to pass the ball back outside to an open teammate. However, that may be the wrong move.

With his freakish athletic ability, James should not hesitate to attack the rim. By forcing the issue, he would not only increase the chances of getting Bowen in foul trouble but also Duncan. That would give the Cavaliers a huge advantage.

Look for Bowen to allow James long three-point attempts early in games and then to switch things up by forcing him to drive with the ball later. James can get in trouble if he settles for his trademark fade-away jump shot, especially when he goes to his left.

Because Bowen is known to undercut players with his feet when they shoot jump shots, it will be crucial for James to stay mentally strong. He can't afford to get caught taking ill-advised shots while also worrying about Bowen. That would be a definite edge for San Antonio.

There's no doubt that James has the full trust of his teammates because of his willingness to play team basketball. But a key for the Cavaliers will be how well James' teammates work with him.

Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Daniel Gibson and Donyell Marshall also need to be assertive and not rely on perimeter shots, particularly when they are not falling.

The bottom line is that James and his teammates have to avoid being lulled into plays San Antonio wants them to make. That's part of the reason why the Spurs have been so successful -- because of their ability to play help defense and shut down passing lanes.

Summary: By getting to the NBA Finals, James has already silenced many critics and he can take his developing legend to a higher level with a strong effort against the Spurs. But expect San Antonio to be better prepared to deal with the Cavaliers' role players, which may have the most impact on James' effectiveness in the end.

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