Cavaliers-Bulls pregame dribbles: LeBron’s dribbling needs to get better, and fast
Tipoff: United Center, Chicago, 8 p.m.
TV: FOX Sports Ohio (Cavaliers Live pre-game at 7:30); ESPN. Radio: WTAM 1100-AM.
Records: Cavaliers 0-1; Bulls 1-0.
Cavaliers: C Anderson Varejao; PF Kevin Love; SF LeBron James; SG Dion Waiters; PG Kyrie Irving.
Bulls: C Joakim Noah; PF Pau Gasol; SF Mike Dunleavy; SG Jimmy Butler; PG Derrick Rose.
Bulls: Butler (thumb) game-time decision.
1. LeBron James looks like a guy who hasn’t spent enough time with a basketball. I know. Sounds ridiculous. But I mean that in a very literal sense. James’ eight turnovers in Friday’s opening loss to the Knicks support my point.
2. Look, I’m not here to make a big deal out of anything. It was one game. Even at his worst … well, LeBron was still bad. I’m not worried about his shooting (despite the fact he clunked his way to 5-of-15 on the night). I’m not worried about his defense (despite the fact Carmelo Anthony hit a biggie right over top of him). And I’m not worried about LeBron’s ball-handling or passing, either. But I think the ball-handling part has suffered since last season, James’ final with the Heat.
3. I’m not basing all of this on one game. LeBron struggled driving to the basket and finishing in the preseason, as well as some practices. Those are two areas in which he’s always excelled. But too often in the preseason and against the Knicks, he lost control of the ball, or had it slapped away. Bulls swingman Mike Dunleavy — never known for quick hands defensively — even stripped LeBron in an exhibition game.
4. The reason for this is weak ball-handling. I don’t know why James is struggling in that area. I haven’t asked, and I bet if I did, he’d feel insulted and agitated. And the truth is, it’s way too soon to ask. Let’s give the guy a month (or more) in his new surroundings.
5. Not being familiar with his new teammates certainly plays a role. Sometimes a guy likes to cut one way, and you expect him to go another. Then your pass ends up in the stands and in the hands of a drunken fan. Sometimes guys aren’t where they are supposed to be, so sometimes, it’s not your fault. But sometimes, it’s because you aren’t handling the ball well enough — and with LeBron, sometimes that’s been the case.
6. Magic Johnson once said if you’re good enough at dribbling, you can go anywhere on the floor you want to go. It automatically makes you a better player. LeBron and basketball players everywhere should also remember this old adage: "The ball is round. The court is flat. Bounce it and it will come straight back up to you." So no need to ever look down while dribbling. LeBron has been doing that too much lately.
7. Ball-handling drills take five minutes a day, tops. You can work on it while watching TV, riding in the car, or talking on the phone. My college coach suggested carrying a ball with you at all times to improve. You didn’t need to bounce it off walls or even dribble it — just carry it. I tried it back in my college-playing days, and it worked. If James’ struggles continue, it may be something he may want to try.
8. With so many assistants and strength coaches and basketball specialists on the payroll, players can sometimes forget a very valuable part of training: Alone time. That means time in the gym, with no one else, working on your game. It worked for Magic, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. It will work today. It’s nice to have all the extra coaches around, for sure. But sometimes the best practice comes when you silence them for a few hours and learn on your own.
9. As for the actual game, the Cavs don’t need to win. They do need to play better and keep the ball moving. Part of their inability to do so was because LeBron and others were absolute butterfingers with the ball. So hey, relax, guys. No need to be all frantic. But part of the reason was alsocoach David Blatt, who suddenly seemed to forget he has some decent veterans on the bench.
10. If those two areas correct themselves tonight, the Cavs will be well on their way. If not, then they have several days to work on things before departing for Portland on Monday afternoon. (They play the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.) Either way, promise not to let yourself get too low or too high until at least the holidays.
11. Enjoy the game and I’ll talk to you after.