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Scout's Take (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday June 6, 2007 11:04AM; Updated: Wednesday June 6, 2007 12:29PM
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Working against Bruce Bowen (right), and the Spurs' solid team defense will be a revealing test for LeBron James.
Working against Bruce Bowen (right), and the Spurs' solid team defense will be a revealing test for LeBron James.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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"Against LeBron the Spurs will use the guy I think should have been Defensive Player of the Year for at least four of the past six years -- Bowen. It won't just be Bowen's responsibility either. They'll give LeBron some different looks and provide Bowen with a lot of help, but then the Spurs always play solid team defense. They'll practically double-team LeBron by sending another guy whenever he puts the ball on the floor.

"Bowen is the best perimeter defender in the league because he does his work early. I'd say 95 percent of his job is done before the guy catches it and in the first three seconds that he has the ball. Bowen gets great position with his hands over the ball. He's so physical that everybody complains. I think he uses every single trick he can. There's a lot of talking about how he puts his foot underneath the shooters so they have to worry about spraining an ankle when landing, and a lot of people I respect think it's a dirty play. But I think he's just getting as close as he can to get a hand up -- and sometimes it happens that his foot winds up underneath the shooter and sometimes it doesn't. People will argue with me, but I don't think he's doing it on purpose. I just think he's being smart and trying to win with effort.

"Everything you're supposed to do defensively, he does. He's into the guy's body, he keeps his hand over the ball, he sends the guy where he wants to send him with the result that his opponent can't get comfortable, he can't catch it where he wants it. Bowen gets more blame for being dirty than he gets credit for his preparation -- he knows his opponent's strengths and weaknesses and he comes up with a plan of how to take the strengths away.

"All of that being said, LeBron is still going to play great in this series, though I'll bet you anything he'll get frustrated at some point and something will happen between him and Bowen. The goal will be forcing him to settle for his jump shot, and the Spurs can accomplish that by putting other guys in early help position so he sees you there, and that will motivate him not to penetrate right away if you're there before he begins his move. If he sees you where he wants to go, he'll be more likely to pass it or shoot it. I would think he'll wind up taking a number of bad shots.

"A series like this is going to help LeBron to get his game to the next level. All of this talk that Cleveland didn't even need LeBron in the clinching Eastern finals game because Gibson was scoring his 31 points -- that's a joke. What LeBron did in Game 5 by scoring the last 25 points for his team, that was a sign of what might become his consistent level of play over the next few years. Which is scary to everybody else in the league. Then you look at his passing ability: When people say he should take it to the basket strong even with three guys hanging on him, that's one of the dumbest things I've ever heard.

"As for this talk that LeBron will be able to use his superior strength against Bowen, I don't think it will help. After all, the Spurs put Bowen on Dirk Nowitzki, who has trouble using his size and strength to his advantage. I think what LeBron is going to learn in this series is that he has to become better in the low post, as opposed to a guy who settles for jumpers. Bowen will dissuade LeBron from going down low because LeBron doesn't feel comfortable doing that to begin with. Plus Bowen is a wiry-strong guy himself, he does a great job of keeping his center of gravity low, and again he does his work early.

"LeBron will go for 30 a couple of nights, and overall he'll average 25 a game, but it's going to be so much harder for him and he'll have to take more shots to get his points.

"There isn't one sleeper for Cleveland whom I expect to have a good series. They have all got to feel so confident in every shot they take, like Golden State felt in that first-round series against Dallas. If Marshall misses his first attempt, he has got to put it up the next time like he's made his last 15. All of those guys have got to make shots because they're going to get shots -- and they'll get those open looks because of the defense on LeBron.

"Overall it's going to be a low-scoring series and everybody will be complaining about the style of play again because it will end up being a lot of isolations and controlling the tempo from both teams.''

Scout's pick: "I'm picking the Spurs in five games. I wouldn't be shocked if they sweep it in four, and it will be a good series for Cleveland if it goes six.''

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