Mavs trio stifling LeBron James
MIAMI -- Dallas Mavericks defensive specialist DeShawn Stevenson believes LeBron James is spending a lot of time thinking about the Mavs' trio of defenders that have limited him to less than 20 points in three consecutive games for the first time in his playoff career.
"Yeah, I think he is," Stevenson said prior to Dallas' Sunday morning shootaround. "At the same time it's taken a lot of effort from me, Shawn [Marion] and even Jason Kidd. He's a great player but I think we've done it as a unit, as a team in trying to make things happen."
The Mavs, seeking to put away the Miami Heat in Sunday night's Game 6 and earn the franchise its first NBA championship, have employed Stevenson, starting small forward Marion and point guard Kidd, plus stints of zone defense, in an attempt to control James. James is averaging a playoff-low 17.2 points in the NBA Finals and 14.0 points on 17-of-44 shooting (38.6 percent) in the last three games.
"Me, D-Steve, J-Kidd, it's good," Marion said. "We're all [feeding] off each other."
When Mavs coach Rick Carlisle inserted diminutive backup point guard J.J. Barea into the starting lineup and moved Stevenson to the bench, the move was made as much for defensive purposes as it was to add another playmaker to the starting five.
Before the lineup switch for Game 4, Stevenson had started all 18 playoff games at shooting guard. But Carlisle wanted to ease Marion's minutes and his defensive burden. His answer was to convert the rugged, 6-foot-5 Stevenson to a reserve small forward.
"I believe in it a lot," Stevenson said of his defensive ability on James. "That's my niche in the league, and whenever you have a niche you're real confident about it."
Marion and Stevenson have handled the bulk of the defensive duty on James, who is averaging 44.2 minutes a game and 45.3-percent shooting -- and just 30.4 percent from 3-point range.
After James hit 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in Miami's Game 1 victory, he is 3-of-18 and 0-of-7 in the last two games.
James' dangerous penetrations have been virtually nonexistent in the series and it's kept him off the free throw line. One of the unexpected statistical oddities in this series is that James' 18 fouls outnumber his 16 free throw attempts. Dallas has been particularly tough on James in the fourth quarter. He has just 11 fourth-quarter points and none in crunch-time situations (last five minutes with the score within five points).
"I just think the whole team with team defense, loading up on him, Tyson Chandler's at the screen on the pick-and-rolls and we're just making him shoot jump shots," Stevenson said. "Sometimes he makes them, but his strength is getting to the basket and putting pressure on you."
Dallas, 2-0 since Carlisle made the lineup change, isn't expected to change anything going into Sunday's elimination game, and Marion said he doesn't expect James or the Heat to stop thinking about a Dallas defense that has consistently trapped James on the perimeter and kept him out of the paint.
"They're supposed to [think about us] because we're giving them different looks," Marion said. "You can't just do the same thing against the same person. You've got different kind of guys to play different kinds of ways. You've got to make adjustments, so that's the difference."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.