LeBron James ready as power forward
MIAMI -- LeBron James said he spent considerable time during free agency last summer working on his low-post game in case his team needed him at power forward.
Apparently, that time is now.
With Miami Heat teammate Chris Bosh still hobbled by an ankle injury and likely to miss his second straight game Saturday, James is contemplating taking his game inside to provide a post-up scoring option when the Toronto Raptors visit AmericanAirlines Arena.
I spent a lot of time on it this offseason. Once I made the decision to come here and realized we had a low-post threat, I kind of backed off a little bit. ... With [Chris Bosh] being out, I can go back to it. I just have to dust it off a little bit. It's no problem.” -- LeBron James, on playing power forward
The Heat (30-13) have been decimated by injuries at power forward, with Bosh listed as doubtful for Saturday's game and backup Udonis Haslem still out indefinitely as he recovers from November foot surgery. With none of the Heat's four available centers considered a legitimate scoring threat in the post, the next logical stop-gap option for a replacement might be James.
At 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds, James has the size and muscle to be effective down low. But after declaring following Tuesday's 93-89 loss to the Atlanta Hawks that "I'm not a [power forward]," James sounded open to the possibility of shifting his game inside, at least temporarily.
"If I'm going to be playing an extensive [power forward], I'll start getting down there and getting us some more paint points," James said after Friday's practice. "I spent a lot of time on it this offseason. Once I made the decision to come here and realized we had a low-post threat, I kind of backed off a little bit. With [Bosh], he's been our outlet. With him being out, I can go back to it. I just have to dust it off a little bit. It's no problem."
James has been used at all five positions over the course of this season. He leads the Heat in scoring (25.6 points per game) and assists (7.2 per game) and is third in rebounding (7.1 per game) behind Bosh and Haslem. James has been reluctant to play with his back to the basket while creating offense out of the post.
But his latest potential assignment would be one born out of desperation for the Heat, who are trying to snap a season-long, four-game losing streak. Injuries have forced Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to scramble his rotation recently, which has led to the use of smaller lineups for extended stretches.
James has played point guard on offense and defended power forwards and smaller centers on defense. Some of the combinations have shifted Dwyane Wade from shooting guard to small forward, with Eddie House and Mario Chalmers playing in the backcourt.
Even with Bosh, the Heat have been among the league's least-productive teams in low-post scoring. Miami ranks 29th among the league's 30 teams in points in the paint, averaging just 34.9 points a game. Accounting for the absence of Bosh's 18.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game has been a challenge.
Wade, at 6-4, is open to helping to fill the void.
"You miss that big component with what we do offensively," Wade said. "We have to figure out a way with [Bosh] being out to try to have someone step into -- not the same role -- but to have the same production in a way that Chris has on our team. It could be a good thing for us. Sometimes, we get into a comfort zone ... and the pick-and-roll game is what we're comfortable with. We might do too much of it. So hopefully, we'll try to mix it up a little bit."
Still, it will be a work in progress for the Heat.
"We haven't done it much," James said of trying to adjust to Bosh's absence. "One or two games isn't enough to get into a rhythm. Guys are ready to step up if he's not ready. We're going to deal with some adversity throughout the season, and this is one [of those times] right now."
Bosh was on the practice court with his teammates and shot free throws at the end of Friday's workout. He said he is tempted to test the ankle and play against his former team Saturday, but also said he was limited to only stationary jogging at this stage of his rehabilitation.
After Saturday, the Heat don't play again until Thursday's game in New York, which would give Bosh a total of 11 days of rest and recovery since he injured the ankle in Saturday's loss at Chicago. Spoelstra said Friday that Bosh was the most important player on the Heat's roster because of his impact on both ends of the court.
"That was really nice of him," Bosh said of Spoelstra's compliment. "I'm just taking it day by day. I'm still battling back and forth with it. Some days I wake up and feel great. Every day I go to the doctor and see what they say, get their opinions and go from there."