The Heat’s Counter: LeBron as the Screener


May 30, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) draws a foul on Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson (1) in the fourth quarter of game five of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 90-79. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James is the most versatile weapon in sports and Miami has once again found ways to open up their offense by utilizing one of his innumerable skills. In game three it was his post up game and after Indiana made the right adjustments to combat that in game four, the Heat have switched it up and have now used LeBron in screening actions to help crack Indiana’s defense.

The Pacers will avoid switching George Hill on LeBron in the pick and roll at all costs, doing everything they can to avoid a repeat of this or this. Miami knows this and have taken full advantage. After LeBron sets the screen on Hill, throwing him out of position to defend Chalmers, and instead of switching, Hill spends precious amounts of time trying to get back to Rio as George makes his way back to LeBron.

This takes too much time and a lane to the basket quickly opens up while Indiana is in the flux of repositioning. Lance Stephenson has to play way off his man (Wade) to try to seal off this opening channel.

Chalmers swings the ball to the now open Wade, who cuts through the path Lance has ceded to him by helping on Chalmers. Wade gets to the rim and draws the foul, a sequence that has been sorely missing from the Heat’s offense this series. All this stems from LeBron’s screen on Hill and the panic it inspires to the scrambling Pacers’ defense.

This pick-and-roll is a direct result of the previous play. LeBron gives the ball to Norris Cole and quickly sets the screen on Hill, but this time Paul George wants to avoid the disastrous flux that cost them the last time they avoided switching, and decides to switch onto Cole. George Hill was apparently not in on this change in the defensive scheme and immediately tries to get back to Cole coming off the screen.

Hill realizes his mistake too late as he is already facing the wrong direction when LeBron begins his assault into the lane. David West cannot leave Ray Allen open behind the line and is powerless to impede LeBron.

Both Hibbert and Stephenson know what is coming and are about to close in around the rim, in an attempt to cut LeBron off. Cole gets the ball to LeBron on the move and the defense collapses around him. This once again leaves Wade unaccounted for.

By the time Wade receives the ball, all it takes is one dribble to get by a scrambling Stephenson and the baseline is open for the reverse layup. Once again the screening action from LeBron creates breakdowns across the court and the usually impenetrable Indiana defense starts leaking and ceding open lanes to the basket.

In addition to forcing mismatches and impossible decisions for Indiana’s defense to make (to switch or not to switch?), LeBron as the screener is also effective in a very rudimentary sense, as he happens to be extremely adept at setting screens. His quickness, size, and strength, which enhances so much of his game, is used to set crushing screens on even the quickest and longest of point guards.

LeBron’s screen on poor George Hill here is so engulfing, that you can’t even see him in the picture.

The entire series has been made up of subsequent chess moves made by each coach to counter moves made from the other. Game three saw LeBron dominate the post in response to the no help scheme Indiana threw out there in games one and two. Vogel countered that with excellent adjustments to how to deny James the ball with post position and a stunting scheme that completely nullified a Miami strategy that seemed unsolvable just one game ago.

There is little doubt that this LeBron screening action will be the main thing of focus for Indiana going into next game and their track record so far says they will be more than prepared for how to counter it. How they do it will be fascinating to see, whether they choose to double James off the screen and let either Chalmers or Cole beat them at the rim or if they continue to funnel the ball to Udonis Haslem and hope he doesn’t burn them again. However they do it, it is sure to be as fun to watch as this chess match of a series has been so far.