Buck Harvey: LeBron turns into LeBruce with some help

DALLAS — Four years ago in the Finals, Bruce Bowen guarded LeBron James.

Now, James is Bowen.

Now, James stands in the corner on offense.

America loves this, since there’s nothing like some LeBron failure to lift everyone’s spirits. But others were at fault Tuesday, too, because James wasn’t being guarded in the fourth quarter by a shutdown defender such as Bowen.

Instead, the worst defensive player on the Mavericks took James.

Coaching should have addressed that.

There was a time, early in the season when Miami struggled, James’ camp leaked some criticism of Erik Spoelstra. That fit with the LeBron of Cleveland who never accepted blame.

Wednesday was something else entirely. Then, James’ basketball version of a panic attack was so clear to everyone that he confessed to everything. He sounded like another Spur then, Tim Duncan, taking full responsibility at a podium.

“Eight points is definitely inexcusable,” James said. “I hold myself up to a higher standard than that.”

Tuesday, his standard was D-League. Sometimes he jumped before he knew where he was going with the ball, and sometimes he watched Dwyane Wade.

DeShawn Stevenson’s description was accurate. It looked as if James had “checked out.”

“That’s kind of how I got in the Chicago series,” Wade said. “You kind of get passive, and that’s what we’ve been dealing with all year — trying to play with three guys who can get it going and that can take over games.”

It’s been the theory of the Heat, and it’s a theory Magic Johnson has trashed. He said it’s possible for great players to excel on the floor at the same time because, after all, he did so with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.

“All you have to do is play,” Magic said, and Spoelstra said something similar Wednesday about James.

“He doesn’t need to over-think it,” Spoelstra said.

But maybe Spoelstra has been under-thinking. For one, he continues to play James the entire second halves of playoff games.

James is only 26, and he is a physical freak. But ask any player. Rest helps.

It’s what happened when Rick Carlisle rested Shawn Marion, however, that mattered more. Marion, usually assigned to James, played only 16 seconds in the fourth quarter.

In his place came Jason Terry, whose defense is so laughable that the Dallas coaches kid him about it. He’s shorter, older and thinner than James. Yet there he was Tuesday, often left alone with James.

Blame James for not demanding the ball. Once, he briefly tried to post Terry before giving up and vacating the area when he didn’t get a pass. The Chosen One should have chosen to go back to the spot, over and over again, no matter what kind of game Wade was having.

And credit Carlisle. He not only juggled his rotation, he also mixed in some zones to confuse the Heat.

But point, too, at Spoelstra. He’s gotten his stars to play defense, which is often the toughest job an NBA coach has. Still, this awkward dance the Heat continue to do on offense is as much about coaching as it is about Wade slumping against Chicago or James shutting down against Dallas.

The end of Game 2 showed that, when the Heat couldn’t run a play. The fourth quarter on Tuesday was just as glaring; most other NBA coaches would have made sure Dallas paid for leaving Terry on James.

San Antonio knows how this works. When Matt Bonner enters a game, isn’t his man usually the one who gets the basketball?

Spoelstra says he has to do “a better job” of putting James in scoring positions. But, as it was in Game 4, he often lets his stars determine who should shoot.

And who should be Bowen.


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