An odd sight piqued the interests of reporters during the Heat’s practice Tuesday, a day before the Eastern Conference finals. It’s not every day you see LeBron James, one of the most physically imposing players in the NBA, working on floaters in the lane.
“I just dust it off when I need it,” James said.
James might need his floater against the Pacers, which features 7-2 center Roy Hibbert at the heart of its defense. Case in point: Had Carmelo Anthony gone with a floater in Game 7 of the Knicks’ second-round series against the Pacers rather than attempt a dunk over Hibbert, the Heat might be playing New York.
Hibbert, of course, blocked Anthony’s dunk attempt, and the Pacers went on to win the game and the series.
“I thought it was a really good block under the circumstances,” James said. “It was a close game, a big play, especially at home. It was a momentum-changer.”
It’s highly doubtful James will be lofting floaters over Hibbert throughout the series. After all, putting Hibbert in foul trouble early in games is one of the Heat’s main strategies. But going to the floater in specific scenarios, especially late in games, could be an option.
“Whatever the game presents, I’ve got an arsenal of shots that I can take out and bring in depending on the opponents and what the defense is giving me, but I’m prepared mentally and physically and I’ll be ready for [Wednesday] night,” James said.
While James was working on his floater alongside Mario Chalmers on one end of the Heat’s practice gym on Tuesday, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem were working on their pick-and-pop jumpers on the opposite end.
Bosh was rolling away from the basket, and hoisting up pick-and-pop three-pointers, while Haslem was working on his midrange game. Haslem’s pick-and-pop jumper had an impact in last year’s series against the Pacers. Bosh could go to his three-pointer in the Eastern Conference finals to pull Hibbert out of the paint. If Hibbert stays in the lane to protect the rim, Bosh’s could have open looks from distance.
“[Hibbert] won’t just have one look in our series,” James said. “You have to give guys different looks offensively and defensively to kind of keep them off balance, but he does a great job of protecting the rim and we understand that. We have to make sure we … account for him.”
Hibbert’s presence inside benefits the Pacers’ defense in several ways. With the former Georgetown center anchoring the paint, the Pacers’ other defenders are able to spread out and defend against perimeter shooters, who are connecting on 34.3 percent of their three-point attempts against Indiana in the playoffs.
Knicks marksman J.R. Smith shot 23.1 percent against the Pacers in the last round.
Undeterred, Bosh said the Heat’s perimeter game is unstoppable when Miami executes its offense correctly.
“I don’t believe anybody can defend our three when we’re doing what we’re supposed to do,” Bosh said.
A recurring theme of the postseason that has frustrated fans of the Heat is opponents’ overt strategy against James in the open court. Teams would rather foul James than let him get to the rim. Bulls guard Nate Robinson took the tactic to an extreme when he fouled James in the face in the Heat’s second-round series.
James’ plan going forward, keep calm and carry on.
“You never show your opponent, your enemy, what they do bothers you,” Shane Battier explained. “That’s the best way. People hit you in the face, hit you in the head, hit you in the arm, if you don’t react and still do what you do, it’s amazing how dispiriting that can be for an opposing team.”