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LeBron James not answering the bell in NBA finals

June 11, 2011

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— LeBron James doesn’t think the pressure is getting to him.

No, that’s not correct.

He doesn’t believe the pressure of the NBA finals is getting to him.

No, no. That’s not quite right either.

James knows the pressure isn’t getting to him as the Heat faces losing the world championship after back-to-back losses in Dallas.

After Thursday’s 112-103 loss, one that pushed the Heat to the edge of defeat, James was asked if he thought the pressure of the finals and the pressure of fourth quarters were causing him to struggle. He then proceeded to offer up an interesting three-part answer.

“No, I don’t think so,” James said.

Self-correction.

“I don’t believe so,” James said.

One more try.

“I know I’m not,” James said.

Think, believe and know: There’s a big difference between those words, especially for a basketball world searching for reasons why James, arguably the best and most gifted player in the NBA, has suddenly gone into hibernation in fourth quarters of the NBA finals. In the first five games of the finals, James has scored 11 fourth-quarter points.

Tuesday, James didn’t score in the fourth quarter, and Dallas tied the series at 2. Thursday, James managed one field goal in four attempts. Still not enough. Dallas now holds a 3-2 edge and can clinch the best-of-7 series Sunday.

Another sign of offensive frustration: James has only attempted 16 free throws in the finals.

After Tuesday’s Game 4 loss, James acknowledged that his lack of offense contributed to the defeat. That wasn’t the case Thursday, though. James said the Heat had more than enough offense to defeat the Mavericks in Game 5 despite his two-point contribution in crunch time.

“I don’t think it was a case of offense again,” said James, who filled up the stat sheet with a triple-double, the Heat’s first in a postseason game. “There was enough offensive play. We shot 52 percent; they shot 56 percent. We scored 103 points; they scored 112. The offense wasn’t the problem.”

So, what’s the problem?

According to James, it’s the team’s suddenly sub-par defense.

As the series returns to Miami for the Heat’s last stand, the home team will attempt to return to its roots as well.

If the Heat are to defeat the Mavericks twice in a row at AmericanAirlines Arena, defense will be the reason why, James said.

“It starts defensively,” he said. “We’ve had a few breakdowns late in the games in this series that we didn’t have in the first three series. So, it’s something we know we can do.

“We just got to push through it. At this point, we have no choice, honestly.”

Like James, forward Chris Bosh recognized the Heat’s defensive lapses Thursday and pointed to a new sense of urgency.

“This team has more offensive firepower than any team we’ve played,” Bosh said. “I mean, for the most part, we’ve been doing a good job defensively, especially in the fourth quarter. We had a lapse (Thursday). And you know it won’t happen again. It can’t happen again.”

There’s a big difference between knowing and believing. Just ask James.

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