If this year's version of LeBron James would have shown up in last year's NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks might have had one less championship banner hanging in the American Airlines Center rafters.
Unlike last year when the Mavericks put the defensive clamps on James and turned him into a mere mortal en route to defeating the Miami Heat in six games, James has taken his game to extraordinary levels during this year's Finals against Oklahoma City.
Against the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, James averaged 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 60 percent from the free-throw line. So far in this year's Finals against Oklahoma City, James is averaging 30.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists while converting 46.4 percent of his field goals and 86.2 percent of his free throws.
Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd put it so eloquently Monday when he said of the new King James: "Like I've been telling people, he's playing on a different planet right now. When you talk about a guy who's scoring 30-8-6, those numbers are just unheard of. And he's doing it on a nightly basis and it's fun to watch."
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It's certainly fun for the Heat, who lead the Thunder 2-1 in this best-of-seven series that continues at 8 tonight in Miami.
"For me I just try to be a leader out on the floor, in the locker room, and do whatever it takes for us to win basketball games," James said Monday. "At the end of the day they look at me to make plays, they look at me to lead them."
James has evolved into such a high impact player that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra refuses to define him by any particularly position. Spoelstra has even nicknamed James "one-through-five," because he can effectively play all five positions on the court.
"He's obviously special in that sense and I think it's an accurate nickname for him," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
"There haven't been many players over the course of NBA history that's been able to guard one-though-five and be comfortable doing it."
Obviously, James has reached a point where he's comfortable and has overlooked the heavy criticism that's always coming his way. That includes being able to rise to the challenge despite what position he's playing on the court.
"Think of him as a great basketball player -- that's what I tell him," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You're a player. Make plays for us -- one-through-five.
"Whatever it takes right now. Don't overthink it. He has that ability to make plays and have an impact on every single possession -- and that can be the block, the deflection, the rebound, and obviously the big offensive load that he has."
James has been in attack mode every since that 2011 loss to the Mavericks.
In six games against the Mavericks in last year's Finals, James went to the free-throw line just 20 times. In three games this year he's already made 29 appearances at the free-throw line.
"He's just a totally different player [from last year]," Wade said. "When he puts his head down to go to the rim, you have no other choice but to foul him or he's going to finish.
"I love when he's attacking the basket because good things happen for us. He's playing aggressive, and that's the difference obviously from last year to this year, and the difference in our team."
NBA analyst Steve Kerr also has noticed that James has used his 6-foot-8, 250-pound frame to punish defenders. And that's what players of James' ilk -- he has won three of the past four Most Valuable Player awards -- are supposed to do.
"LeBron at this point looks totally different from what he did a year ago when Jason [Kidd] and his teammates kind of took control of that series and LeBron looked confused out there," Kerr said. "But in this one he's just been so determined and physical and dominant that I would expect that to continue."
James certainly expects his dominance to continue.
"Last year I didn't make enough game-changing plays, and that's what I kind of pride myself on," he said. "I didn't do that last year in the Finals.
"I'm just trying to make game changing plays -- and whatever it takes for our team to win -- just trying to step up in key moments and be there for my teammates."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760