By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, April 22 -- Before Monday's game, LeBron James joked that the Washington Wizards have instituted a "Hack-a-Bron" strategy through the first two games of this best-of-seven series. The Wizards' plan isn't just to make James think twice about driving to the basket; they also want James to shoot free throws, which appears to be one of the few weaknesses the superstar forward has displayed in an otherwise dominant all-around performance.
James is shooting a Shaquille O'Neal-like 58.8 percent (18 of 31) from the foul line in this series, which is considerably lower than his season average of 71.2 percent and career average of 72.8 percent.
"I haven't been a good free throw shooter since I got in the NBA," James said, smiling, before making 10 of 17 free throws during Monday's 116-86 win.
James's teammates and coaches are aware of his struggles from the foul line. Coach Mike Brown and guard Wally Szczerbiak have both pleaded with fans at Quicken Loans Arena to stop chanting "MVP! MVP!" when James goes to the foul line.
"I think at home when you're shooting free throws the crowd is great," Szczerbiak said on Tuesday, "but you get so caught up in the emotions of things as a player, that sometimes you've just got to relax, get in your routine and settle in there."
As a team, the Cavaliers are shooting 71.4 percent (50 for 70) from the foul line in this series. They shot 71.7 percent in the regular season, which ranked 28th in the league.
Brown said he wasn't worried about James's problems at the foul line: "He'll make free throws."
James is averaging 31 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists and is shooting 55.1 percent from the field this series, but almost all of his offensive production has come within the paint.
He made two three-pointers in the Cavaliers' win against Washington in Game 2, but he has shot just 2 of 8 (25 percent) from beyond the arc this series. James has made 21 of his 38 field goal attempts in the first two games. But 15 of his field goals have come on layups or dunks, while he has missed 11 of his 17 shots from the perimeter.Cavs Know All About 0-2
Brown said his team won't be overconfident after beating the Wizards by 30 points on Monday.
"Hopefully our playoff experience from the past will kick in a little bit," Brown said on Tuesday. "We have to understand, part of our playoff dinner speech was, 'A series is not won after one win, two wins, three wins, whether we're down 0-3 or down 0-2, like we were last year in the Pistons series.' "
After falling behind 2-0 to Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals last season, the Cavaliers won four in a row to advance to the NBA Finals. "We understand that teams have their backs against the wall in a situation like this," he said. "So they're going to come out and throw the kitchen sink at you. If you go into any contest relaxed or overconfident, you can get your behind kicked."
Brown was asked what kind of sink he is expecting the Wizards to throw at him on Thursday at Game 3. "If it's a Kohler, we're in trouble," Brown joked. "That's a higher-end brand." . . .
Before he knew that Wizards center Brendan Haywood wouldn't be suspended after his hard foul against James on Monday, Brown said he preferred to have Haywood play. "If we want to get to where we think we belong, which is a championship team, we've got to go through the best," he said.