Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
LeBron James may play for the Heat, but he’s also facing the heat on all sides after another dismal fourth-quarter performance.
Yet his high school coach is sticking up for him.
“If the ball goes in the basket, he would’ve had a tremendous game last night,” Keith Dambrot, James’ coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and now the head coach at Akron, told ESPN’s Mike & Mike Friday morning. “By most people’s standards, 17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, that’s a pretty good game.”
Yes, the King posted a triple-double in Miami’s 112-103 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Thursday’s Game 5 loss in Dallas, but he managed just 2 points in the fourth quarter.
In the last four games, James has not scored more than 2 points in the fourth quarter. He has 11 total points in five fourth quarters in this series. That’s six less than his teammate Udonis Haslem.
As a point of comparison, James has had at least 11 total points five times in the fourth quarter this postseason.
“The pressure is getting to LeBron James,” ESPN’s Jon Barry said on air. “This is something we haven’t seen….I think his confidence is shaken.”
James is being heavily criticized for failing to attack the basket and settling for 3-point shots late in the game. His post-up game leaves something to be desired as well.
“He has to get better moving himself so he can be more active in the offense in the fourth quarter,” ESPN’s Magic Johnson said.
Still, Dambrot, who won two consecutive Ohio state championships with LeBron, says pressure isn’t a factor.
“I don’t really buy the pressure part,” he told Mike & Mike. “I do believe that he’s a guy that goes on rolls and sometimes he doesn’t make shots. But I think he’s a good player even when he doesn’t make shots.
“The other thing that you have to look at, and I’m not making excuses for him, is he’s chasing Jason Terry around. He’s not getting a lot of breaks. It’s been a long season. You can’t run around after little guys and then in the fourth quarter expect to have tremendous legs. And so if he doesn’t feel like he has great legs, he’s going to pass the ball.”
Asked to compare James to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant “killer-instinct-wise,” Dambrot said: “I think that remains to be seen. I think a lot of people are judging him on how many points he has. I think most importantly is how many wins is he going to have.
“If he wins this series and then goes on to win a lot of other series, I think all those things will be dispelled. There’s no question he has that kind of ability. I think he’ll surprise people when push comes to shove.”
Still, Dambrot did say he texted James before Game 5 and told him to relax.
“I just told him to let loose and let your talents dictate and have fun,” he said. “I think sometimes he knows that he has to win championships to go down in history as one of the greatest of all times. That’s what he wants. But I think also you have to have fun and relax and not let the pressure get to you, and that’s what I try to talk to him about…
“I just try to be there for him when he has his struggles.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.