Exhausting LeBron

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.

LeBron has admitted as much himself.

“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.

Tags: Strategy

  • Loren

    I don’t live near a NBA city so I’m mostly a League Pass fan, but I did get to see West play a couple years ago in New Orleans. Before that I thought of him as mostly a jump shooter off CP3 pick and rolls. But in person “ox” is 100% correct. Even in a league of giants who work out every day, he totally overpowers people. Trying to box him out or push him off the block would be like trying to throw a block on a NFL linebacker. Without pads.

  • Party at the Field House

    Jared, you are putting out some awesome articles. Very fun to check this site and get some good reading in. Liked this article, especially liked the other article about defending the perimeter 3 ball and nullifying the role players. Hope you make it out to the hoosier state to see this stuff in person before the series is over.

  • poot

    i live in Cali and have teams i like to watch. The list includes Nuggets, Spurs, Twolves (prior to Rubio injury,) Pacers, Thunder, Grizzlies, NY (with Lin,) Utah. People are shocked to hear Lakers (Kobe, championships) and Clippers (Cp3, Blake) are not on the list. teams like Miami at the bottom. like first their is a big space on the list. then Miami. everything i need to see from their games will be on sportscenter (anything that is not is truly painful to watch.)
    I like teams that play good team basketball. Where the effort of one player inspires the others. Where there is true desire, intensity, yet balance and execution of strategy. As the year has gone on, Pacers have become my favorite because they have stuck with their identity and are winning. Well Spurs are good too, and OKC, but they are both loaded with studs.

  • Joe B

    Someone who covers the Heat on The Herd mentioned Lebron’s fatigue as a factor at the end of last season. The combination of a shortened regular season, the extra burden of guarding people equally or stronger than you, and playing nearly every minute equals late game fatigue, which equals shaky free throws and short jumpers…but that would never happen to Lebron….oh wait. That is not a slam on Lebron, but it is a slam on Spoelstra. Wade and Lebron can beat the Pacers, but I do not know if they can do it 3 out of the next 5 games. First meaningless prediction: Pacers in six.

  • Chris D.

    I think fatigue matters a lot. The margins are so slim in the league in general and in the playoff particularly, that a little fatigue can make the difference between human play and superhuman. D-Wade missed a late layup in game 2. That might have been fatigue at play. Also, I think Vogel is back-handedly pointing out not that LBJ and D-Wade could play forever but that they will have to play forever in order to win out. Late in the season when the Rose-less Bulls were humiliating the Heat in OT, I recall Sir Charles declaring that LBJ and D-Wade were tired. They have to carry that team day-in and day-out. The Pacers have to capitalize more when one of the big two is sitting. That’s what will get them back up and on the floor.

  • rick

    I mentioned LBJ getting fatigues last year as well before the Dallas series. When a player plays that many minutes all season long to keep his team good because they are complete garbage when not on the floor.

    On the other hand the Pacers had ONE player average over 30 minutes this season (granger). Are boys are fresh and sticking with my original pick of Pacers in 6.

    @poot – I hope you had league pass or something because you wouldn’t have gotten to see the Pacers play too often if not

  • rick

    meant “our” not “are” boys haha

  • poot

    @rick – of course, i live on league pass, spent at least 5 hrs per day watching during the season!
    If Lin and Rubio hadn’t gone down with injuries this season I may have gotten fired from my job!

  • Mike

    See you all tonight at BLF!

  • Tommy

    I think the pacers are going to take game 3! i wrote all about game 2 and how to bet game 3 on my blog and why so come chekc it out and enjoy! http://nbawagers.com/2012/05/indiana-pacers-look-to-continue-momentum-against-miami-heat/

  • CB

    good call on the Pacers +7.5 in game 2, I made about 3grand off of that one
    but no tip for game 3? “consider” the Pacers? seems like a safe way of saying you’re not sure. Take the under? i think both teams are way overdue for some good shooting, i think it will be over by a wide margin.