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Will LeBron James defend Dirk down stretch?

5/29/2011



DALLAS -- LeBron James stuffed the stat sheet as usual during the Eastern Conference finals, but his most impressive work in the series came on the defensive end.

King James completely took the MVP out of games during crunch time. Chicago’s Derrick Rose shot 6.3 percent when defended by James during the series, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That’s not a typo -- six-point-three.

As the Mavs do with Jason Kidd, the Heat tend to sic James on the opposing superstar during crunch time. Listed at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, and gifted with amazing athletic ability, there might not be a more versatile defensive player in the NBA than James.

LeBron proved he could shut down an elite point guard. How about one of the most productive power forwards to ever play the game?

Dirk Nowitzki will be prepared if Miami decides to assign James to the Mavs’ MVP with the game on the line.

“We’ve got to be ready for whatever,” Dirk said. “If LeBron’s at the 4 (power forward), we’ve got to adjust. But I don’t think that’s anything we haven’t seen all year. We’ve seen small lineups, we’ve seen bigger lineups.”

They saw the Lakers try to defend Dirk with Ron Artest, but only briefly. In fact, that experiment lasted only four possessions, with Dirk going to work on post-ups and producing six points and dishing for an assist when L.A. came with a double-team.

Maybe LeBron, who is taller and quicker than Artest, could have more success defending Dirk. It’s probably more likely that Udonis Haslem, who gave Nowitzki some trouble in the 2006 Finals, will defend Dirk down the stretch. The Heat could then use James to guard Jason Kidd and double Dirk on occasion.

“I think they’re a great five-on-five man team that rotates,” Nowitzki said. “They’re quick on their feet, they’re athletic and long and they go with a lineup where they have no point guards out there with [Mike] Miller and [Dwyane] Wade and LeBron. They cover a lot of ground.

“They have Haslem back, who is one of the best defenders at the 4 position. They’re a very good team defensively, so we have to make sure we’re not playing one-on-one. We have to move the ball and do all the things that got us here.”

One of the things that got the Mavs here was Dirk delivering down the stretch. That has to continue to happen, no matter who defends him.