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LeBron James making noticeable turnaround in NBA Finals

The Miami forward has averaged 31 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists to help the Heat split the first two games with Oklahoma City. James also has produced in the fourth quarter, a rare occurrence in past Finals.

June 17, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • LeBron James during a break in the action against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Two of the NBA Finals.
LeBron James during a break in the action against the Oklahoma City Thunder… (Larry W. Smith / EPA )

MIAMI — Dwyane Wade playfully ambled onto the interview platform with an announcement to make.

"No LeBron questions," the Miami Heat guard said Saturday afternoon, "because he's sitting there" behind some nearby curtains.

Wade smiled as he spoke, his teammate's sterling play making him no longer a taboo subject in the NBA Finals.

LeBron James has averaged 31 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists as the Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder split the first two games in a best-of-seven series that resumes Sunday with Game 3 at AmericanAirlines Arena. More tellingly, he's bothered to show up in the fourth quarters.

That rarely happened last year in the Finals, when James averaged only three points in the fourth quarters and seemed to wither in the final moments.

Remember, it was Wade who took the errant three-pointer in the last second of Game 2 against the Dallas Mavericks, a colossal collapse by Miami. And it was Mike Miller who missed the potential tying three-pointer at the end of Game 4, another Heat defeat.

But there was James with 1 minute 26 seconds left in Game 2 against the Thunder, rising for a 15-foot jumper that he banked in to give Miami a 96-91 lead. James later pestered Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant into a missed baseline runner with nine seconds to go before making a pair of free throws to secure the Heat's 100-96 victory.

"He's doing everything he needs to do right now to put ourselves in a position to win, and that's on both ends of the court," Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He's at a mentality right now that I can't put too much on his plate, and that's minutes, that's responsibility, defensively, playing multiple positions, shouldering a huge load offensively.

"He gets it, he's accepting of it, and he's producing. We need it."

James appears to need it most of all after two previous Finals appearances that went wildly astray. His Cleveland Cavaliers were swept in four games by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. Last season, his first with Miami, the Heat held a 2-1 edge against the Mavericks before losing three consecutive games.

Most of the blame fell on James' sturdy shoulders after a string of forgettable fourth quarters that included one shot and no points in Game 4, two points on one-for-four shooting in Game 5 and seven meaningless points in Game 6.

He has averaged 6.5 points in the final quarters against the Thunder, more than doubling his late-game output from a year ago.

James said he had become "more comfortable" in his second season with the Heat after a year of constant adjustment. Asked whether he was more ready to meet the moment in these Finals, James said, "I'm going to go out and make plays for my team throughout the game. I'm going to leave it out on the line, and at the end of the day, I'm going to be happy with that."

Part of James' success could be tied to a decreased reliance on long-range jump shots. According to an NBA.com statistics database, 30 of James' 46 field-goal attempts in this series have come within nine feet of the basket, including 21 within five feet.

The three-time most valuable player has scored at least 30 points in five consecutive playoff games, extending a run of success that he hopes will end with three straight home victories and a long-awaited party in South Beach.

"We want to win it, I want to win it," James said, "but I only can control what I can control, you know, and that's going out and being there for my teammates throughout the game."

He's been a constant presence so far, and a relentless nuisance for the Thunder.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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