Indiana center Roy Hibbert was more than a few NBA observers’ pick for Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, and he’s certainly the most important feature of a Pacers defense that ranked tops in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season. That stingy streak has carried to the postseason, where Hibbert is once again averaging around two and a half blocks per game, in a defense that prefers contested shots to outright throwbacks.
This is probably why LeBron James was seen working on floaters Tuesday on Miami's practice court. It's a move that the NBA’s MVP rarely breaks out on account of him bein’ all LeBron James an’ all. LeBron was spied perfecting the evasive maneuver during the post-practice shootaround on Tuesday that was available to the media, and he explained the added attention at the press scrum following, as documented by Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:
“I just dust it off when I need it,” James said.
“Whatever the game presents, I’ve got an arsenal of shots that I can take out and bring in depending on the opponents and what the defense is giving me, but I’m prepared mentally and physically and I’ll be ready for [Wednesday] night,” James said.
Hibbert’s length and ability to toss back the work of some of the NBA’s stronger scorers was further emphasized on the national stage on Saturday evening, when in the heat of a New York Knicks run in Game 6 against the Pacers, Roy met Carmelo Anthony at the rim on a dunk attempt, and completely annihilated the NBA’s top scorer.
The move completely changed the tone of a game that Indiana went on to win. Watch:
LeBron, when asked about Hibbert’s denial on Tuesday, offered the veritable shrug of the shoulders:
“I thought it was a really good block under the circumstances,” James said. “It was a close game, a big play, especially at home. It was a momentum-changer.”
You know, “under the circumstances.”
Circumstances will change in Miami. Not only will the Heat be attempting to send Hibbert to the bench with two fouls by the time the jump ball hits its peak, but Hibbert will be facing a far, far superior offense spearheaded by a rested (and clearly well-practiced) LeBron James.
Wednesday’s Game 1 will be just the 14th game LeBron has played in seven and a half weeks. And while rhythm is a major concern for a Heat team that dropped Game 1 to Chicago in the previous round, the Heat spent most of Tuesday telling anyone that would listen that they wanted no part in replicated that deficit versus Indiana.
And when the rhythm picks up? Even if Hibbert stays on the court, LeBron shot a ridiculous percentage in the lane this season, something that wasn’t just trumpeted up by transition dunk opportunities. The work he’s done in just 12 months’ time since an uneasy victory over Indiana in last season’s second round has been nothing short of remarkable, as James has found his touch and confidence both in the post, and with the in-between game.
This is why Hibbert will be wearing a target, throughout this series. Even if it only serves as a starting point to eventually float above.