Cavaliers counting on James to rebound Print
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Friday, 08 June 2007 21:48
NBA Headline News

 SAN ANTONIO (AP) -Extraordinary in almost every way imaginable, LeBron James appears to have one major flaw in his splendid game: he's a slow starter.
During the regular season, and now in the playoffs, James has developed a pattern of bad beginnings. In Cleveland's past three series, James has followed up a subpar Game 1 with a solid Game 2.
And, the Cavaliers' forward, who shot 4-of-16 from the field and scored just 14 points in his ballyhooed NBA finals debut, has every intention of doing it against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 on Sunday night.
``The first game I kind of feel my way through it and kind of make an adjustment,'' he said, explaining his sluggish opening games. ``I don't plan to go out there and not shoot the ball well or not score.''
Including Thursday night's dud, James is averaging just 15 points on 33 percent shooting (17-of-52) in his last three series openers. But he has bounced back each time, scoring 36 in Game 2 against the Nets.
Cavs coach Mike Brown is confident his 22-year-old star will come through again.
``It was great for him to go through what he went through,'' Brown said. ``He struggled a little bit in the first game against Detroit. It's just a matter of time, I think, when you have a player of his magnitude, until he can figure out the defense and get himself going.''
The Spurs, defending every grain of hardwood on their floor, kept Cleveland's star under control and rolled to an easy 85-76 win.
James had encountered gadget defenses designed to stop him before, but the Spurs were all over the place, popping up in front of him like wild Texas sunflowers.
``This is definitely a different beast,'' he said. ``We don't want to go down 0-2 against this team.''
With two days to make adjustments before Sunday's Game 2, both teams spent time on Friday breaking down videotape of the series opener, which was sometimes tough to watch as the clubs struggled offensively.
Apparently TV viewers tuned out early as the game received the lowest national rating ever for a Game 1 shown in prime time.
For the Cavaliers, the critical challenge is to figure out how to get their marquee player free of Spurs forward Bruce Bowen, one of the league's premier shutdown defenders, who led San Antonio's posse.
A seven-time All-Defensive team selection, Bowen seemed attached to James. Wherever No. 23 went, No. 12 was right alongside, pestering him, pushing him, bumping him and never allowing James to get comfortable.
James, who averaged 25.7 points in the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, was unable to get loose for any powerhouse dunks, and any time he managed to slither past Bowen, the Spurs were lined up waiting.
``It's all a team effort,'' Spurs forward Michael Finely said. ``It started out with Bruce lining up on him and just making his looks and his drives and such difficult. But at the same time, Bruce knew he had his teammates behind him. We just wanted to make it tough for LeBron, make him have to take tough shots and make them.
``Fortunately for us, they didn't go down.''
James has described himself as a ``quick learner.'' He'll need to cram for his next test against the Spurs.
Following Thursday's loss, the 22-year-old star went back to his hotel room and watched a replay of the game. He plans to view it again, hoping another look will help him find cracks in San Antonio's complex schemes.
``Sometimes it's about being more aggressive,'' he said, ``and then sometimes it's about reading things and mentally trying to prepare yourself the best way to try to counter some of the things they do defensively.''
While the Pistons were certainly a handful to conquer, the Spurs, seeking a fourth NBA title in eight years and third in five, are a superior obstacle. And what might be scariest of all for Cleveland, is that San Antonio can play better than it did in Game 1.
The Spurs had been idle for a week since winning the Western Conference title, and there were times when the rust showed. After building an 18-point lead, they relaxed and allowed the Cavaliers to get within eight points in the final minutes.
``We kind of let them back into the game,'' said Tim Duncan, who finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. ``LeBron hit a couple 3s, they got a layup or two, they got a wide-open shot or two. Those are just things we've got to clean up. I think they started to figure some stuff out.''
At times, James was way too slow in attacking San Antonio's defense. His passivity enabled Bowen to get up under his chin, and it allowed the other Spurs to settle back with one eye on their man - and the other on James.
James' other problem is that he tends to try and make the perfect pass, the one that makes the fans ooh and ahh and the kind that ends up on the late-night TV highlight reels.
He's realizing the simpler, the better.
``I'm going to have to make the easy pass and rely on my teammates a little bit more, which I'm going to do and have done throughout the postseason,'' said James, who had four assists and six turnovers. ``I do a great job of adjusting from game to game and I think my teammates do the same.''
 

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