Miami forward LeBron James struggled in the Heat's 86-83 loss to the… (Ronald Martinez / Getty…)
Reporting from Dallas — It's happening all over for LeBron James.
Dreaded whispers about his lack of clutch efforts. Sarcastic comments about his disappearance in the fourth quarter of the NBA Finals. Above all else, comparisons to that game last year, the one that shuttled him out of Cleveland and into Miami, where sunny shorelines, warm ocean water and an NBA championship surely awaited.
James didn't do himself any favors with an eight-point effort Tuesday against Dallas in Game 4 of the Finals. He had never scored so low in 89 prior playoff appearances, not even in his controversial 15-point game in last year's conference semifinals against the Celtics.
"I think it's time that I try to get myself going individually," James said Wednesday, offering a rare smile snapped up eagerly by photographers at a news conference before the Heat began practice.
If Miami plans to take a 3-2 series lead over Dallas on Thursday, James will have to be at his best. And he should save it for last, where he's been strangely lacking.
He has a total of nine points in the fourth quarter this series. Dirk Nowitzki equaled that on his own down the stretch of Game 4, 101-degree fever and everything.
Part of James' disappearance is because Dwyane Wade has been unstoppable, averaging 29.8 points and shooting a sublime 58.8% for a guard.
But the other part is … what, exactly?
The Mavericks' lane-clogging zone defense? Maybe. Massive fatigue for a player averaging a ridiculous 44 minutes in the playoffs? Possibly.
But this is LeBron James.
He's even getting criticized by Dallas journeyman DeShawn Stevenson, who said James "checked out" mentally toward the end of Game 4.
"He's been talking for a long time, since our Washington Cleveland days," James said. "Those guys are playing well. We're playing well. It's [now] a three-game series. Talk is cheap."
Wade hopes James can provide some sort of fourth-quarter currency. They had a late-night talk after Game 4, their rooms right across the hall from each other at the team hotel.
"He feels like he let me down," Wade said. "Obviously, I understand he's going to respond. So we just talked about the moment more than anything … not about his performance. We just talked about the situation and the opportunity that we have, you know?
"We're tied, 2-2. We have two out of three games on our home floor. We have a great opportunity in Game 5 to come out here and try to win another one. I'll take two out of three in Dallas on the road."
Wade then added, "Eventually he's going to do something amazing and it's going to put us over the top."
James studied game video when he got back to his room Tuesday night. There was plenty more video with the rest of the team before Wednesday's practice. In fact, Miami players and coaches were 30 minutes late for a scheduled media-interview session because they went longer than expected breaking down Game 4.
James has looked marooned when he ends up on the weak side of the Heat's pick-and-roll offense, part of the reason he's averaging 17.3 points and shooting 46% in the Finals.
He made three of 13 shots in Game 4, taking only one shot in the final quarter and missing it.
"Eight points is definitely inexcusable for myself," he said. "There were times I definitely could have attacked. If that's getting an offensive rebound, making a couple of baskets, being more aggressive to give my guys opportunities to get open looks, I have to do that. That's what my job is. That's what I'm here for."
The problem: James spoke similar words before Game 4, saying he would be more assertive.
Miami can only hope he starts listening to himself.