The Big Picture: It's not really an argument anymore that LeBron James is the best player in basketball right now. Perhaps he hasn't achieved as much, careerwise, as Kobe Bryant, and perhaps he doesn't have the same social skills less-insulated people do, but right now, on the court, there is no other player who affects a game more and who I would expect to carry a team, by himself, to the Finals.
What's particularly frightening for Heat opponents now -- and the Bobcats will almost certainly see this tonight -- is that James is being used more and more like a high post Big on offense. Time and again against the Magic last night, James got the ball on the elbow, pivoted to face up Hedo Turkoglu, and found himself with either a seventeen-foot jumper as Hedo backed off, respecting the drive, or found himself with room to get to the rim as Hedo came up on him, or found himself with teammates open for passes when he got doubled.
Previously, James got the ball on the perimeter, and teams tried to goad him into shooting from three, but now, when he gets to ball so close to the rim to begin with, it's nearly impossible to guard him. Put a smaller cover on him (like, say, the Magic had put Jason Richardson on him, or if the Cats put Stephen Jackson on him), and he's finally willing to back his man down, something he rarely did before this season.
But as has been the case against other teams with two top-end wings, the Cats are as well-positioned to counter them as any other team in the league, since they have two defensive bulldogs in Gerald Wallace and Jackson. Ideally, they'd have a true shot-blocker behind them to bolster the defense, but we can't have every nice thing we want. I'm thinking any path to victory involves playing great team defense and great individual defense on James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, and playing just well enough on offense to get the win. Note that Orlando did all three things last night, and still lost because James's shots were simply falling, even though they did everything they possibly could to stop him once he got the ball in good position. The Cats have the pieces to do it, but everyone will have to be in tip-top form to pull it off.
Musical Interlude: The Cardigans -- "Been It"
Key to Victory: Keep James and Wade outside the three-point line. While LBJ is shooting over 36% from three this year, he's actually down from last year and shooting far better from inside. Furthermore, his ability to create for teammates is severely hampered when he gets the ball outside and doesn't take it to the paint. For his part, Wade is simply not a good three-point shooter, and any time the Cats force him to settle, that's a small victory.
Detail That May Interest .08% of You: Mario Chalmers's given name is actually Almario. While going by "Mario" makes him sound more like a superhero, "Almario" is a pretty sweet construction, by itself, and makes his name sound more regal.