October 24, 2014

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Another day at the zoo

 LeBron, Cavs hoping to cage Spurs

Rick Noland
The Chronicle-Telegram
SAN ANTONIO — The NBA Finals are a zoo. Just ask Cavaliers star LeBron James and San Antonio veteran Robert Horry.
“This is a different beast we’re going against,” James said Friday at the AT&T Center, one day after Cleveland lost 85-76 to the three-time champion Spurs in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series. “We don’t want to go down 2-0.”
If the Spurs make like Crocodile Dundee and get out their machete Sunday at 9 p.m. in Game 2, that’s exactly what’s going to happen before the series comes back to Cleveland for Games 3, 4 and 5.
“LeBron is the head of that snake,” said Horry, who has six championship rings. “We need to cut that head off.”
The Spurs did that in Game 1, when James scored 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting. He missed his first eight shots of the night and had eight points with seven minutes to go in the game.
“There were times when he would just pound, pound, pound, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble and then shoot a three or a leaning shot,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “We have to do a better job as a staff and a team, and he’s got to do a better job for us of making sure we move the ball.”
If his 2007 playoff history is any indication, James will play better and put up more points in Game 2.
In the first round against Washington, he had 23 points in Game 1, then 27 in Game 2 and 30 in Game 3. In the Eastern Conference semifinals against New Jersey, he had 21 points in Game 1, then 36 in Game 2. In the conference finals against Detroit, he had 10 points in the opener, then 19, then 32.
“The first game I kind of feel my way through it,” James said. “I don’t plan on going out there and not playing well.”
That’s what James did in his initial NBA Finals appearance, missing four shots in the first period and three more in the second en route to a four-point first half, all on free throws. He missed another shot in the third period, then finally got his first field goal near the seven-minute mark of that quarter.
“It’s just a matter of time before a player of his magnitude figures out the defense,” Brown said.
Passing the ball quickly or attacking the basket instead of dribbling, dribbling, dribbling in Game 2 would be a good place to start, and James knows it.
“It’s definitely going to be a point of emphasis for me to be more aggressive in Game 2,” he said. “I’m going to have to make the easy pass and rely on my teammates a little more.”
That didn’t happen in Game 1, as James had just four assists to six turnovers. Part of the reason for his low assist total was due to the fact guys like Zydrunas Ilgauskas (1-of-8) and Larry Hughes (1-of-5) did not make shots, but part of it was also due to the fact James was making the wrong pass at the wrong time.
“I’ll be a better player Sunday,” the 22-year-old said.
The Spurs probably won’t change much, as they’ll continue to have Bruce Bowen or Manu Ginobili chase James all over the court, with 7-foot Tim Duncan and another defender always ready to help.
“It’s great insurance when you have a guy like that protecting the lane,” James said.
Truth be told, though, James didn’t attack the rim a great deal in Game 1, as he attempted just the four free throws. He also started passing up what appeared to be open jumpers after his rough start, opting instead to pound the ball into the AT&T Center floor while his teammates stood around and watched.
“He didn’t have a 48-point game,” Bowen said in reference to James’ double-overtime outburst in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit. “I’m happy with that.”
James, of course, was not pleased with his performance in the series opener, so it’s likely the Spurs will see a much more aggressive version of the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder in Game 2.
“LeBron’s a great competitor,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Obviously, he’s very gifted. He’ll do everything he can to be more aggressive both for himself and his teammates. You’ll see someone who’s even more focused.”
James did not dispute that one bit.
“They may have caught some of us off guard in Game 1, including myself,” he said.
“But we’re very confident. That’s why it’s a series. It’s not like the NCAA Tournament where you lose one game and go home.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.

NEXT UP
WHO: Clevelandat San Antonio
WHAT: Game 2, Spurs lead best-of-seven series, 1-0
WHEN: Sunday, 9 p.m.
WHERE: AT&T Center, San Antonio
TV/RADIO: Ch. 5; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM