EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns face daunting task of trying to limit Lakers’ LeBron James in playoffs

May 22, 2021, 1:41 PM
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the NBA preseason game against t...
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the NBA preseason game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams said it best on Saturday. LeBron James’ playoff career has shown how it’s still a mystery as to how to slow him down.

“Nobody’s been able to limit much when it comes to LeBron for a long, long time,” he said.

The last time James was eliminated in the postseason before the NBA Finals was 2010, the last year the Suns made the playoffs.

“There’s a reason why he’s been in all the Finals he’s been in,” point guard Chris Paul said Saturday, saying he thinks at times his long-time friend can even be underappreciated.

James is averaging 28.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game on 49.6% shooting over 260 career playoff games. He has 1,500 more playoff points than anybody else.

And while Williams on Friday went as far as to say James may be the greatest athlete sports has ever seen, all of that undersells what could be James’ best weapon: his mind.

Let Williams explain.

“Having coached against him a number of times, you’re always, at least for me, you’re trying to guess what he’s going to see in a certain play or certain environment if you take this away or if you take that away,” he said. “You know he’s thinking two-to-three steps ahead and that’s a task for us as a staff, for me in general when we put our guys in certain situations.

“He’s one of the more unique players we’ve ever seen in the NBA. You can’t take everything away from him because he has counters to a counter.”

The Suns will use a number of defenders on James, but the guy expected to be the primary cover is wing Mikal Bridges.

In his third year, Bridges has solidified himself as one of the best defenders in the NBA, having a real shot at making an All-Defense team.

But even with everything Bridges does well, he’s proof of why marking James is nearly impossible.

James’ combination of size, speed, strength and court vision all with that mind means he’s always going to have a pretty substantial impact on the game.

The biggest concern in the matchup with Bridges is strength, as Bridges is listed as 41 pounds lighter than James.

It’s a matchup the wing has seen a few times, and while he said his individual mentality is the same going into every game, he noted the challenges James presents.

“No matter who I defend, just gotta lock in at all times,” Bridges said Saturday. “The thing is LeBron’s so smart, his IQ. So he’s gonna know a lot of things we’re gonna do … He’s seen everything. From getting blitzed, to 1-on-1, to getting on a hit, to blitzing the post — he’s seen everything. He’s just so smart, he’s seen every coverage. So I think it’s just going out there, listen to what we have to do, play hard and make it tough.”

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