Marty Burns
Thursday June 14th, 2007

CLEVELAND -- For LeBron James, the goal is simple heading into Game 4 of the NBA Finals: Make the Spurs put away their LeBrooms. And find a way to get Cleveland back in the series.

"We don't want to get swept, of course," James said. "We're not even thinking about that. We're thinking about winning a game and continuing to try to win a championship."

A Cavs victory Thursday night might not change the ultimate outcome of the series, but it sure would be a boost for LeBron, the Cavs and the NBA.

So far all three games have been a bigger dud than The Sopranos ending.

Dismal TV ratings. Low-scoring games. No "wow'' factor from the King.

A Game 4 victory -- particularly if James can put on a show -- might spark the Cavs to get back in the series. At the very least it would give LeBron and the Cavs a little something to smile about over the summer.

What do we remember so far about LeBron's first trip to the Finals?

Tim Duncan sending the ball back in his face in Game 1. LeBron recording as many turnovers (17) as assists over the first three games. The startled look on Anderson Varejao's face when LeBron dished him the ball on a key possession late in Game 3.

Meanwhile, James has just one dunk the entire Finals.

"They're doing a great job," James said of a Spurs defense that has limited him to a modest (at least for him) 21.3 points per game on 36.7 percent shooting. "San Antonio is not allowing me to come off screens without seeing another body, simple as that."

James hardly deserves the blame for his team's lackluster showing in these Finals. His stat line in Game 3 was impressive: 25 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals -- though he did miss all five of his three-point attempts and commit five turnovers.

But he also rallied the Cavs from 10 down in the fourth quarter to nearly steal the game. Had a couple of his layups not danced off the rim, or he'd been given the call when he was fouled by Bruce Bowen on his last desperation three-pointer, Cleveland might well have walked off a winner.

"A couple of layups he had going back and watching the tape," Cavs coach Mike Brown mused, "boy, oh, boy, I'd almost bet my whole paycheck that those shots would go in."

For James, it's been typical of the frustration he's felt in these Finals. He knows he is up against a great team, but he also knows he needs some help.

"They have probably the greatest team in the world, and that's what this sport is all about," he said. "It's not about an individual. It's not like tennis. It's not like golf."

It's also not what the NBA hoped for when LeBron hoisted the Cavs on his shoulders and carried them over the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals. David Stern & Co. no doubt at least thought the 22-year-old phenom would make it interesting. Maybe he wouldn't be able to win it all, but James would surely have a 40-point explosion or two just to keep the TV viewing public interested, no?

The problem for James is that his supporting cast has looked like The Not Ready For Primetime Players.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Sasha Pavlovic, Daniel Gibson, Donyell Marshall and Larry Hughes have not been able to consistently knock down shots. For the series the Cavs are shooting just 40 percent as a team, including 28.3 percent from three-point range. They hit 3-of-19 from downtown in Game 3.

It hasn't helped that Cleveland's offense has often looked like something one might see at a high school game. Too often the Cavs' attack has consisted of James holding the ball on top and surveying the defense while his teammates stand around and wait for him to shoot or pass. Brown and his staff have to continue to find ways to get the ball to LeBron more on the move or in the post.

"If they're going to put two guys on me, we have to be able to do something on the backside," James said. "And if I [give up] the ball, I have to be even more aggressive in trying to get it back when we're swinging from one side to another."

Win or lose, the Cavs have reason to feel good about their season. They really weren't supposed to be here. They are in many ways ahead of schedule. This experience will only serve to help them in the future.

But the bottom line is that Cleveland has been a bust in these Finals, and it's clear that LeBron needs more help if he's going to usher in that spectacular new era.

Going into this year's championship round, many were comparing LeBron to Michael Jordan. Now Shaquille O'Neal looks like the more apt comparison.

O'Neal, after all, was just 23 in 1995 when he made it to the Finals for the first time. Like LeBron, he was unable to dominate on the big stage right away. Shaq's Magic were swept in four games by a veteran Rockets team led by Hakeem Olajuwon and featuring a roster full of players with championship rings.

Shaq eventually learned from the experience and went on to win multiple titles. LeBron will probably do the same, but it wouldn't hurt to speed the process and show his team what it takes to win a Finals game or two.

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