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Witness to a debut (cont'd)

Posted: Sunday April 23, 2006 6:10PM; Updated: Monday April 24, 2006 11:24AM
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4:47: With the Cavs up 62-48, James receives the pass up top and calms the offense. He cradles the ball in his right hand and holds up his left hand like a symphony conductor, setting the play. You can't read his lips on TV, but if it's a typical Mike Brown play, it's taking a while to call out. As Marshall explains of Brown, "He's always drawing long plays. It's funny because if you ever hear the names of our plays, we're always laughing because we're like, first of all, it takes five seconds to even call the play out. Other teams are like, what do you have, football plays? When you get over half-court are you going to call an audible?" On this sequence, two passes lead to James driving middle. He draws Gooden's defender, then whips an overhand pass back to Gooden, with whom James has a unique passing strategy. When describing where his teammates like the ball -- Z wants it hip high, Damon Jones like it in what he calls "his wheelhouse," the shooting pocket -- James says of Gooden, "Drew doesn't give me a target very much, so I just try to throw it to his chest. I try to give him no reason to say, 'Hey, you gave it to me where I couldn't catch it.'" On this play, Gooden makes a nice catch, then gets his shot blocked.

3:12: Damon Jones comes in for the first time. This is remarkable, considering the role predicted for him before the season began. Third in the league in three-pointers made last season, Jones was brought in because he was able to do one thing: spread the defense. Unfortunately, he's spent the season in a prolonged cold streak. Ergo, when your one-trick pony can't even do that trick, you sit him on the bench. It hasn't stopped him from requesting shots, though. "D. Jones is one of the few guys on our team who calls for the ball even if he's not even close to shooting range," James explained. "Sometimes you got to ignore him." James laughed when he said this, but he wasn't really joking. It is the burden of any playmaker to try to make four other men happy when, by necessity, three of them (if not all four) may not shoot on any given possession. It's like having one ice cream cone and four children. James' strategy is to be supportive when it's warranted but to never tolerate poor shot selection. "There ain't no leeway for a bad shot," he explained. "A bad shot is a bad shot and you got to tell them right away. You can't have a guy just jacking up bad shots." James turns the same gaze upon himself. Good friend and management partner Maverick Carter says the two will watch game tape together. "He's self-critical, but also looks at it as a team guy," Carter said. "It's always, 'We didn't do this, we didn't do that,' and he may throw in 'I missed too many shots,' or 'I missed too many free throws.'"


Likewise, James says he is not a numbers guy, but he became quite interested when I told him about 82games.com, the Web site that uses shot charts to break down every player in the league. Told that the Cavs are an average of +16.8 points better per every 100 possessions with James in the lineup, he cracked the tiniest of smiles and said, "That's a dropoff, ain't it?" He then asked about other players in the league (at the time, he was second behind Dwayne Wade, at +17.6), plumbing for more information, and finally requested the name of the Web site again, saying "I'm going to go on there." Two things he would find (this was in March): that the Cavs shoot nearly six percent better with him on the floor than off it, and that despite criticism this season his clutch shooting was actually quite good, at 52.4 percent at the time (measured by production in the fourth quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes remaining, when neither team is ahead by more than five points).

Fourth Quarter

4:44: James, left side. Drives, fouled and finishes with a drop-dunk. The play is reminiscent of how the Pistons played Manu Ginobili in the Finals last year, when they bumped him, but not hard enough, and he was able to finish at the rim. If I'm Eddie Jordan, I might double James at half-court in Game 2. Hell, break out the box and one. Anything to make him give up the ball early. If Eric Snow scores 20 on you, so be it. With a player as strong as James, a forearm isn't going to stop him from scoring; it will only give him an and-one. The Wizards had better make adjustments or we'll be talking about the Pistons-Cavs very soon.

0:00: Cavs win easily. Confetti falls, Kool & the Gang rock the box. A triple double for James. ABC reporter Lisa Salters asks James the same question four different ways: Did you expect to play this well? James defers and offers a genuine smile -- not the posed one he usually proffers -- then heads off the court. Today, at least, the hype was warranted.