|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2013||[Print without images]|
SAN ANTONIO -- LeBron James issued a guarantee Wednesday entering Game 4 of the NBA Finals: Don't expect his series-long struggles to continue against the San Antonio Spurs.
Coming off one of the worst postseason performances of his career in Tuesday's 36-point loss to San Antonio in Game 3, James vowed to be far more aggressive amid suggestions the Spurs have knocked him off his game.
James missed 14-of-21 shots and didn't attempt a free throw for only the second time in his playoff career as the Heat suffered their worst postseason loss in franchise history, a 113-77 mauling to fall into a 2-1 series hole.
"As dark as it was last night, it can't get no darker than that, especially for me," James said Wednesday before the Heat's practice at the AT&T Center. "So I guarantee I'll be better for tomorrow (Game 4) for sure. I have to do whatever it takes. I mean, 7 for 21 isn't going to cut it. It's impossible for me to go 7 for 21, shoot 33 percent from the field and not have free throws. You have to figure out ways offensively that you can make an impact."
As dark as it was last night, it can't get no darker than that, especially for me. So I guarantee I'll be better for tomorrow (Game 4) for sure. I have to do whatever it takes.” -- Heat forward LeBron James on Game 4
James acknowledged the Spurs' defensive scheme is far more complicated than it looks, and has contributed to his relative struggles throughout the series. But he also said he needs to be more aggressive and attack instead of reading the defense and waiting for openings. The 50 total points James has scored through three games against the Spurs represents his lowest point total over three straight playoff games since Miami lost to Dallas in the 2011 Finals.
Through three games against San Antonio, James is shooting just 38.9 percent from the field and is averaging 16.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.0 turnovers. James has gotten off to sluggish starts in each of the past two games against a Spurs defense committed to packing the paint and giving him as many open jumpers as he wants. He scored four points in the first half of the past two games.
James spent the initial stages of Wednesday's practice working on shots from some of the same mid-range areas where many of his open looks have come against San Antonio. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the team has to do a better job of speeding up the game and getting in transition to avoid repeatedly facing a halfcourt defense.
Although James placed much of the blame for Miami's offensive woes on his shoulders, Heat players and coaches said there's been enough ineptness throughout the roster.
Heat teammate Dwyane Wade insisted that James shouldn't be the focal point of criticism for Miami's offensive meltdowns in the series. Wade and Chris Bosh have also had a rough time finding a rhythm against the Spurs, with their respective struggles dating to a brutal seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana.
Neither James, Wade nor Bosh has scored 20 or more points against the Spurs and have combined to average just 43.3 points on 42.1 percent shooting in the Finals.
"We have to try to do our best to make more of our opportunities," Wade said. "We're getting some shots that we want. You know, it's everybody. Obviously, it starts with us three. We have to do a better job of being that quote, unquote, Big Three and leading our team."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took exception to questions Wednesday about his team's success at defending James. Throughout the series, he typically has avoided addressing James specifically when speaking about San Antonio's schemes. After repeated questions Wednesday, Popovich said containing James is just one facet of the defense.
"Our team defense is just not (about) LeBron," Popovich said. "You all keep bringing up LeBron, but we're guarding other people with the same team defense that we're guarding LeBron. It doesn't change with every single individual every time down the court. Team D is team D."
We're guarding him with five guys. We understand what kind of player he is. He's the best player in the world, so we're respecting him as that. We're trying to make his life as difficult as possible every time he touches the ball.” -- Spurs forward Tim Duncan on defending LeBron James
Spurs forward Tim Duncan suggested the process is a bit more intricate, with multiple players assigned to the task.
"We're guarding him with five guys," Duncan said of James. "We understand what kind of player he is. He's the best player in the world, so we're respecting him as that. We're trying to make his life as difficult as possible every time he touches the ball."
Indiana had a similar scheme for James in the conference finals and executed it with longer, bigger or more athletic players. The Pacers used 6-foot-8 Paul George as the primary defender and 7-2 center Roy Hibbert to patrol the lane when James drove into the paint. The Spurs have smaller, quicker players who bait James into settling for jumpers.
After studying game film after Tuesday's loss, James said he identified some areas where he can improve Thursday.
"Getting the ball on the move, get some early offense, not playing against their set defense as much," James said Wednesday. "They're doing a good job when I come off pick-and-rolls, they have a guy shrink the floor at the elbow and getting a big in front of my body, and a guy guarding to pressure the ball as well. They're are putting me in a position where they can crowd me a lot. I'm going to … do a better job of attacking their defense (Thursday)."
Spoelstra said it would be unwise to believe James won't bounce back. The Heat are 5-0 in the playoffs this season after a loss and have not dropped consecutive games since the middle of January. But they also have split their last 10 posteseason games since the start of the series against Indiana three weeks ago.
"Look, we have great confidence in our guys and their ability to bounce back and respond in a big way," Spoelstra said. "That's all our focus in the next 24 hours: How do we prepare ourselves to play our best game of the series (Thursday) night? That's the only thing that matters. L.J. Has proven himself enough in this league and on the biggest stage. He is going to (again). He'll be better."