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LeBron James’ talents go south in Game 1

LeBrJames Miami Hequestions referee about foul call fourth period against Bulls Game 1 Eastern Conference Finals United Center Sunday May

LeBron James of the Miami Heat questions the referee about a foul call in the fourth period against the Bulls in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the United Center Sunday, May 15, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 14, 2011 12:21AM



Let’s say this, folks. LeBron James would be an amazing free safety.

He’s the best, most freakish athlete in basketball, maybe any sport.

But, uh, this is basketball. And the question is still out there: Is LBJ the best team basketball player in the world?

In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, he was not even the most dynamic player on his team, with that honor going to Chris Bosh (30 points, nine rebounds) and Dwyane Wade (18 points, three steals). And for hustle and attack, maybe you even go with sub guard Mario Chalmers (nine points, lots of facial expressions).

The Heat got its butt whipped by the Bulls 103-82, and after his first dunk and subsequent multiple clankers off the rim, James looked like a muscleman who had somehow stumbled into an aerobics class full of speed freaks.

This is the guy who had to hold a TV show to tell us he was deserting Cleveland?

A man carrying his “talent’’ around like a silver chalice on a bejeweled tray should come to life when the mere mortals are trying their hardest.

He doesn’t score two points in the third quarter and three points in the fourth quarter. He doesn’t turn in modest numbers like 15 points on lousy 5-for-15 shooting, six rebounds, six assists, and four turnovers.

If James is a point guard, he’s the biggest since Magic Johnson, and he has about a tenth of Magic’s court awareness.

The Heat dressed only a small lineup, making inactive as a trio for the first time this season Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Dexter Pittman. Those three average slightly more than 7 feet in height.

So if that’s the deal — we’re bringing our quick athletes to attack and out-hustle you — then it’s up to a 6-8, 250-pound bundle of fast-twitch fibers like James to lead the way.

Instead, he wandered around at the point like a giant dribbler, and did the work that little Mike Bibby could have done were he not a midseason pickup and over-the-hill 33.

The Bulls’ skinny, 6-9 Luol Deng — a pencil to James’ Magic Marker — draped himself over the man like a shadow. Deng has never even been an All-Star, let alone All-Universe, but his savvy and desire earned him 21 points, seven boards, and four steals. And he was ratcheted way up in the second half, when the Bulls stifled the Heat, and James seemed confused and dispirited.

It didn’t start like that.

Indeed, James blocked Deng’s first shot, passed to a streaking Wade for a big dunk. Then he snared Derrick Rose’s cross-court pass with a deft move and jammed the ball through on a breakaway slam that was almost frightening with its force and velocity. Such is James’ power and — as noted — athleticism.

There were 40 seconds gone, the Heat led 4-0, and the Bulls’ passing game was nothing but interceptions.

But, again, this is not football.

“I missed a number of shots I normally make,’’ James said. “It’s just one of those nights that individually I didn’t have it going.’’

Thing is, he can’t afford not to have it going. The Heat is now 0-4 against the Bulls this season.

This is what is known as the playoffs. If Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is going to go small and concede height to the Bulls, then the little guys better hit the boards.

But the Bulls killed the Heat with 19 offensive rebounds to Miami’s six.

Some of that is skill and long arms, but some, for sure, is desire.

How much did James want this, or even know how to want it? He shot only four free throws, and seemed content to sluff off the ball on drives to lesser players, and then just chuck up the ball in sheer hope at other times.

There’s no question the King was excited and nervous and eager before the game. He said he did not sleep the night before, and he was tweeting at 5 a.m.

He admitted he was edgy and in a bad mood. After his afternoon pre-game nap, he tried to be as focused and in control as possible.

But if Miami went after the Big Three and got them, and the Big three are convinced they are the greatest assemblage of talent ever on a hardwood, then do it. Don’t think it.

With a little more than three minutes left in the third quarter and the game starting to slip away at 67-61, Bulls, James seemed to come apart at the seams.

He got fancy on his dribble, and Deng slapped the ball off him and out of bounds for a turnover.

Then James tried to take on the entire Bulls team and had his layup blocked — or at least altered — by the fired-up Taj Gibson.

Then James held the ball in the dumb-ass superstar way and jacked up a three-pointer as the clock expired.

The Bulls were ahead 72-63, and the face-washing was on.

James will play better. He can’t play much worse.

The question is, does his talent know how?



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