"You think about it a lot and it eats away at you," LeBron said Saturday. "But at the same time it allows you to really pinpoint ways you can get better."
LeBron is a pinpointer. He's a nitpicker. He's a thinker and a dweller, and all of it together makes for a natural born leader who does things like this on Saturday, when the first three Heat players to walk onto the court for practice started chucking 50-footers. Ray Allen threw a set-shot off the rim. Mario Chalmers underhanded a ball off the glass. Norris Cole missed everything. LeBron, thinker and dweller and leader that he is, had seen enough.
"We gotta shoot free throws," he said, walking onto the court and grabbing Chalmers' long rebound. His teammates were on the sideline, watching the media watch them. Maybe his teammates didn't hear LeBron. Maybe they didn't know he was being serious.
"Guys!" LeBron bellowed. "Free throws."
Within seconds, 15 players were shooting free throws.
Within a few more seconds, 15 players were shooting free throws ... and being silly. Now LeBron was getting angry.
"Hey, c'mon man," he said to nobody and everybody. "Stop f---ing around."
Within seconds, 15 players were shooting free throws. Nobody was f---ing around.
LeBron won, but he's always going to win these things. He's the best player on the team. He's the leader, and not just in theory. In the Heat's glorious locker room at American Airlines Arena, a circular room with a thick carpet and what feels like a 2-inch pad below that, just one player has a locker for himself and an empty one next to that for storage space. Just one player. And that player is not Dwyane Wade.
This is LeBron's team, it's his locker room, it's his franchise. Which means this 1-0 deficit in the NBA Finals is his problem. And he knows it. So he has been thinking about the best way to attack the problem -- a problem that is partly the San Antonio Spurs, and partly the head cases on his own team.
LeBron talks bluntly, possibly not knowing -- probably not caring -- that he's insulting the players he wants so badly to prop up. He tells the media that he needs to get Dwyane Wade an easy bucket early in Game 2, more than anyone else on the team, because Wade is a guy who needs to see the ball go through the basket ... or else. He says Wade gets "that face" when he's into the game, and for the Heat to beat a team as good as the Spurs, Wade's going to need it.
"That's what I told him," LeBron said. "Even if sometimes you're not in the rhythm, I need to see your face that you're in tune and you're ready for the next possession and ready to move on from whatever is going on."
Chris Bosh? He won't go to the lane enough. This is what LeBron said after Game 1, when Bosh tried four 3-pointers and missed them all, including a poorly chosen attempt early in the shot clock with 1:01 left and the Heat trailing 90-86.
"Wherever [Bosh] demands the ball in the post, we'll give it to him," LeBron said Thursday night. "We need that paint attack from him."
Wade might not get into the game if he doesn't get a bucket early, and Bosh plays too far from the rim. Got it. And the rest of his teammates? They're like the Cleveland Cavaliers, the franchise LeBron divorced after seven years for lack of support. He came to Miami to win with superior talent, but earlier this postseason he said the Heat would be best served by a return to "my Cleveland days" when he was dominating the ball and demanding his team follow along.
These are things LeBron has said, and they're things that make sense to me. But LeBron doesn't like to be reminded of things he has said, which I found out Saturday when I reminded him of one such thing and he started smiling halfway through my question, prompting me to smile and say, "Stop smiling at me," which prompted him to keep smiling and say:
"I was waiting for one of you guys this year -- the 'literal' journalists," he said.
My question was a fair one, I thought. Before Game 1, LeBron had said the Spurs wouldn't do to him again what they had done to him in the 2007 NBA Finals, when they denied him the lane and dared him to shoot shots he didn't want to shoot. He shot them anyway -- and shot 14.8 percent on midrange jumpers, 20 percent on 3-pointers -- and the Cavaliers were swept in four games.
Won't happen this year, LeBron had said Wednesday:
"I'm a better player," he said. "You can't dare me to do anything I don't want to do in 2013."
But then came Game 1 on Thursday, and the Spurs did just that. They denied him the lane, left teammates alone on the perimeter and dared him to give up the ball. LeBron gave up the ball, attacking the rim so rarely that he shot just four free throws, nearly half his season average. Meanwhile Bosh tied for a team-high 16 shots and missed 10 of them, and when the game spiraled out of control in the fourth quarter James took just four shots (and made two) while his teammates were 3 for 14.
On the first off-day on Friday, LeBron said he liked his course of action in Game 1 -- "I don't take away from any plays I made [Thursday] night," he said -- while also suggesting that, yes, the Spurs had dictated some of his decisions.
"I had some more opportunities where I could have maybe been a little more aggressive or look for my shot," he said.
Which brings me to my question on Saturday: Did the Spurs make you do something maybe you didn't want to do?
LeBron's response, after the "literal journalists" comment:
"Offensively I attract so much attention that if a guy is open on my team, I will pass the ball," he said. "And the Spurs did a good job of shrinking the floor ... but I've seen guys that were open. So if that's their game plan, we're going to continue to exploit that. And I believe our guys will be there to knock those shots down."
"But it's also a few plays I could have been more aggressive as well."
Wait. So I'm right? So he's right? Is he going to attack the rim in Game 2, or is he going to pass it? LeBron has a decision to make, and even with two days to think about it, it sounds like he hasn't made it yet. Maybe I can help:
Go shoot some free throws, LeBron. Stop f---ing around.