Without Chris Bosh, LeBron is being forced to take on a larger load. And not just figuratively. When he plays power forward, he will at times have to guard David West. Physically, this isn’t really a mismatch. Almost nothing is for LeBron. But West has spent the last decade figuring out hundreds of nuanced ways to exert his will on anyone who has the misfortune of trying to cover him in the lane. The man is simply and ox, and his strength and physicality are a burden for any NBA big man to put up, let alone someone like LeBron who is accustomed to the spacious perimeter.
“It’s definitely a lot more taxing wrestling with the bigger guys,” James said Tuesday before Game 2. “But I’m ready for the challenge.”
… With backup power forward Udonis Haslem playing only 12 minutes, James was asked to body up West on the block on several occasions. At 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds, James has the size to pull it off, but he’s also responsible for running the Heat’s offense and leading the fast break. In essence, James has to play like a big man on one end and like a point guard on the other.
Defensively, James says, is where he burns the most energy.
“That’s the biggest difference,” he said. “When you’re on the perimeter, there’s more space. In the interior it’s more cramped and physical than the perimeter. You have to prepare for it.”
The Pacers are also acutely aware of this potential advantage, that will likely swing even more their way the longer this series continues and the more LeBron has to play defense in the paint. Frank Vogel went on 1070 The Fan radio in Indiana this morning and discussed the topic.
“We definitely recognize that trying to guard David West is a physical drain,” said Vogel. “The challenge is that [LeBron] does such a good job not letting David get the ball that it’s tough to go at him without the risk of stagnating your offense.”
That’s the risk. You want to use this as an advantage but not take yourself out of what has gotten you this far: moving the ball around the offense and relying on no one player much more than the others.
Furthermore, Vogel has reservations that anything he does will have an effect. “You look at those two guys play and the thought of actually doing anything that could fatigue them is a little bit comical,” said Vogel on 1070. “They’re almost superhuman with their body types and their athleticism. They just seem like they could play the game forever.”
It seems possible that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra might test out that theory. LeBron has now played 86 of a possible 96 minutes in the first two games. Wade’s minutes have been managed better as he has only played 78, which is only a tick above his career regular season average of 37 minutes per game.
LeBron would never admit that fatigue would impact his ability to win this series. He did note that “hopefully I can get a few minutes here, a few minutes there” to rest, but it certainly won’t be an excuse the team will use if it loses this series against the Pacers.
Still, looking at the two clips below, it’s hard to say that it isn’t having some effect.
No offense to Danny Granger, but I haven’t seen him blow by LeBron this easily many times during the regular season.
And here we see LeBron battling all over the half-court with West, who eventually puts James on his back near the “Dirk Zone.” West makes a good move and takes a shot quicker than LeBron was likely expecting, but it is odd to see James not even get off his feet to challenge the shot.
Ultimately, we probably won’t ever know whether or not fatigue and playing down low will affect LeBron in this series. But there is one thing I’m certain of: the mere idea of defending David West exhausts me.