Archive for Tuesday, February 6, 2007

LeBron in ‘Strugglesville’ at stripe

James’ woeful free-throw percentage drops below Yao Ming’s

February 6, 2007

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— CHis royal image is being tarnished with almost every trip to the foul line. From 15 feet, LeBron James has become the King of Clang.

In his last 10 games, Cleveland's All-Star forward has made just 59 of 98 free throws, Shaq-like statistics that have dropped his average from the line to 68 percent - seven points below his career average.

"Right now," he said. "I'm in Strugglesville."

This is a disturbing trend for James and the Cavaliers, who have been the NBA's worst free-throw-shooting team (68 percent) most of the season. Until the team starts making more fouls shots, it will continue to blow leads and give away victories. Not exactly the stuff of a title contender.

James is determined to fix the biggest flaw in his otherwise impeccable game.

"I'm just trying to make them," he said. "I've shot in the high 70s my whole career and in the 80s in high school. It has never been a problem for me, and it's not going to be a problem now. I just have to go up there and make them."

Easier said than done.

James, just 20-for-38 in his past five games, has spent extra time after practice working with Cavaliers assistant coach Chris Jent on his poor foul shooting. Jent has made some fundamental adjustments to James' shot, but so far the results aren't showing.

"We're just trying to change how much time he is at the line, make it more of a rhythm shot," Jent said. "We haven't done much more than that, it's him trying to find a comfortable routine.

"Free-throw shooting is so much mental that the routine part of it is important so your body feels comfortable. Right now, we're trying to find that comfort level and sometimes when that happens, you regress before you progress. For him, it's kind of a hard time right now."

Cleveland's lebron james shoots a free throw Dec. 30, 2006. James' foul-line ritual is to kiss one wrist, then the other, before focusing on the rim and shooting. Lately, the routine has ended with the ball smacking the rim.

Cleveland's lebron james shoots a free throw Dec. 30, 2006. James' foul-line ritual is to kiss one wrist, then the other, before focusing on the rim and shooting. Lately, the routine has ended with the ball smacking the rim.

James' misses are magnified because of how often he gets to the line, and when he gets there.

Of the 16 players who had attempted 300 free throws entering Monday's games, he ranked 13th in free-throw percentage, ahead of only San Antonio's Tim Duncan (64 percent), Orlando's Dwight Howard (62) and New York's Eddy Curry (61) - all big men.

And among the league's superstars and possible MVP candidates, James ranks far behind Dirk Nowitzki (91), Steve Nash (88), Kobe Bryant (86), Gilbert Arenas (84) and Dwyane Wade (81). Even 7-foot-6 Yao Ming (87 percent) shoots his free throws better than James.

If he doesn't improve, teams may be more inclined to foul him late in games, knowing the pressure might shake his already wobbly confidence.

When he steps to the line, James said he doesn't think of anything other than making his shots. There are no meditation or relaxation techniques.

"I just want to get up there and make them and hurry up and get off the free-throw line," he said.

Part of James' problem could be that he's spending more time at the line than might be necessary.

His foul-line ritual is to kiss one wristband, then the other - a tribute to his mother, Gloria, and girlfriend, Savannah - before focusing on the basket and shooting. Lately, more often than not, he smacks the ball off the rim.

"I'm trying to find a groove," he said. "I just have to stick with the routine I've been doing lately and get better."

The lack of accuracy has nothing to do with physical limitations. His hands aren't too big - an excuse offered for Shaquille O'Neal - and he's not coming off an injury like Ohio State center Greg Oden, who has had to shoot free throws left-handed following surgery on his right wrist.

The problem, James admits, has crept into his mind.

"It can be mental sometimes, and right now it is," he said. "At practice, I don't miss. I get in the game, and I miss."

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