I’m not going to compare Miami’s LeBron James with Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan. They play different positions and, more importantly, they played at different times. And no matter how insightful I pretend to be, I’m guessing.
Michael, 51, had his time. LeBron, 29, is having his. He led the Heat this season in minutes, scoring, field goal percentage, free throws attempted and made, rebounds, assists, steals and dunks.
Although LeBron led both teams with 27 points in Sunday’s victory against Charlotte, he eased into the playoffs. He took only three shots from the field in quarters one and two. He simmered, waiting until his services were required.
“I did go to the line,” LeBron says in a monotone Tuesday after practice. “I was 5 of 8. I could have been more aggressive. But … Game 1 is always a feel-out game for me.”
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He felt the Bobcats open the third quarter with 10 straight points to take a 3-point lead. The score was tied with 4 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the quarter. Then LeBron made the game his, scoring eight points in the final 2:53 to push Miami’s lead to seven.
In the playoffs, he says, “There’s adversity in the first, second, third and fourth quarter. Adversity really only hits in the fourth quarter in the regular season and it comes every maybe two or three weeks. Adversity hits every single quarter at some point in time. And that’s what the playoffs are all about.”
Although some fans resent LeBron’s move to Miami to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and gang up on opponents, he’s great for his sport. When was the last time a superstar (who did not play point guard) came into the league so willing to pass?
Yes, LeBron scored 61 points March 3 against the Bobcats. He took 33 shots and hit 22. He also added five assists.
He averages 6.4. Kemba Walker leads Charlotte with 6.1
When the best player in basketball looks for less gifted teammates, how do those teammates do anything less than look for the open man? It’s how basketball ought to work.
“He thinks as a coach,” says forward Shane Battier, in his third season with the Heat. “Obviously his physical skills are unmatched. And when you put the mind of a coach with his physical talents, you get one of the top five players of all time.”
How did he learn to pass the way he does?
“He’s always understood the game,” says Battier. “He’s always understood the time to score. He has a feel for how games flow, and that’s not something you can teach. You either have it or you don’t have it.”
No defender can consistently stop a great scorer. But Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played outstanding defense against LeBron the first four minutes of the third quarter Sunday before he picked up his fourth foul.
At halftime, Charlotte coach Steve Clifford told Kidd-Gilchrist to give LeBron less room. James was scoreless when Kidd-Gilchrist guarded him, missing from 21 and 25 feet.
“I think he’s very active, athletic, long arms,” LeBron says about Kidd-Gilchrist’s defense. “He’ll continue to get better and better. He’s very good.”
We’ve seen LeBron’s numbers, seen him on TV, seen him at Time Warner Cable Arena during his two regular-season visits to Charlotte.
What don’t we see?
“His work ethic is outstanding,” says Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “I think people see that and hear about it. But oftentimes his work ethic is similar to that of a role player.”
Can you offer an example?
“Weight-lifting and conditioning and corrective stretching and extra shooting,” Spolestra says, quickly counting them off. “He is so enthusiastic about the game and competition. He controls the things he can control, and that’s his training.”
So LeBron leads the Heat in minutes, scoring, field goal percentage, free throws attempted and made, rebounds, assists, steals, dunks and jumping jacks.
The problem with some of the people who work out relentlessly is that they talk about their workouts relentlessly. They take you through a workout the way a golfer takes you through his round. You’d rather do jumping jacks than listen to them. They’re joyless.
LeBron appears to have a good time. He jokes with teammates as practice ends. After a media session in which, as always, he answers every question he’s asked, he begins to walk off the court. He passes a ball rack and grabs a basketball.
LeBron is so far left of the basket that his back foot is on a metal strip that separates the court from the black floor next to it.
What do you think, 27 feet?
“At least,” a Heat employee says.
How about 30? Thirty sounds better.
LeBron shoots and the ball bounces hard off the rim.
The best player in the world is like every kid who refuses to go home until he makes his last shot. There’s something right about that.
LeBron grabs a second ball. He’s on his way to the locker room when the ball passes through the net.