Warriors rely on strength in numbers to contain James 

click to enlarge The Warriors are going to have to count on a teamwide approach on defense to slow down LeBron James in the NBA Finals. - TONY DEJAK/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Tony Dejak/ap file photo
  • The Warriors are going to have to count on a teamwide approach on defense to slow down LeBron James in the NBA Finals.

It is among the most daunting tasks in all of team sports, one that will likely determine whether the Warriors bow to the King or become ones themselves.

How does a defense contain LeBron James, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound human diesel who not only can drive to the basket, post up and shoot for distance, but also distribute the ball to his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates when the situation calls for it?

In some ways, this is Rocket science.

Many of the same basic principles will apply to James in the NBA Finals as they did to the Houston Rockets' James Harden in the conference finals. Which is to say, stay in front of him, be patient, trust teammates to provide help and avoid unnecessary fouls.

"It's going to be Andre [Iguodala], Harrison [Barnes], Klay [Thompson], Draymond [Green] just like the matchups with James Harden," Stephen Curry said. "He's such a dynamic scorer, it's not just the one-on-one defenders (who have to be aware of him). You've got to have multiple guys ready to collapse and rotate and be on the same page. So whatever our game plan is, we don't really know yet, but we have to be locked in and focused, all five guys on the floor.

"You can't let LeBron get off and let everybody else get off. That's when they're at their best. So we got (a few) days to figure that out."

Yet, at the same time, there are some obvious differences between two of the most lethal weapons in the game.

For one, James has shot only 18 percent (12 of 68) from 3-point range this season. Expect the Warriors to back off and dare him to shoot the longball until he makes a few of them.

Physically, James is a much different animal than Harden, who is three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter. In that regard, the man who would be King presents a more difficult challenge.

"We're well aware that, no matter what we do, LeBron is going to get his points and make his impact," said Kerr, who devised the defensive game plan with his staff on Sunday, when the team did not practice. "But we've got to do as much as we can to make things difficult and slow him a little bit."

If any team is equipped to give James all he can handle, then the Warriors appear to be the one. They have numerous long, athletic types who Kerr can mix and match against in any situation.

"I do like the versatility we have defensively," Kerr said. "That's one of the strengths of our team. We do have good rim protection with Bogues and Festus (Ezeli), but that doesn't mean anything unless you go do it."

If the Warriors are to pass their biggest test yet, these are the ones who will have to get it done:

Igouda: As the most experienced candidate of the group, he knows James better than anyone. He had some success against him in the past. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound veteran has the length to contest shots and enough strength and agility to limit drives to the basket. He also is disciplined enough to avoid the kind of unnecessary fouls that can be detrimental especially late in quarters.

Green: He has the most size and strength of the group, which makes him the best option close to the basket. While confined mostly to the paint area because of his duties as a rebounder, he could serve as second defender near the basket. The goal will be to stay out of foul trouble, something that has plagued him this postseason.

Barnes: At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, the combo forward has the physical attributes for the assignment. His size and length can pose a challenge at the perimeter. At the same time, the savvy James has been known to take advantage of his kind of inexperience in the playoffs.

Thompson: He struggled to contain Harden even before a concussion left his status for the NBA Finals in doubt. He will want to avoid heavy contact at all costs, which puts him at a distinct disadvantage against James, who certainly will want to drive on him often. His greater value may be at the other end of the court in this series.

Shaun Livingston: The then Brooklyn Net held his own against James last season, most notably when he drew a key offensive foul in an overtime victory. He stands 6-foot-7 but has the wingspan of someone four inches taller, which can disrupt his rhythm.

"It's tough," Bogut said of the matchup. "But our defense was the best in the league. We looking forward to the challenge."

pladewski@sfexaminer.com

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