Basketball / Sports

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade calls timeout after grabbing a loose ball in front of Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett during the first in Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs at the Barclays Center in New York on Monday, May 12, 2014. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/MCT)

Mind game: LeBron outthinking and outscoring Nets

MIAMI -- As the cadence of his dribble increases, as he emerges off a screen or perhaps simply in full flight in transition, the mind games begin.

For the opposition there is apprehension, anxiety, often dread.

Because they fear what might be coming.

And therein lies the difference.

LeBron James knows what's coming.

The Miami Heat are in control of this best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Brooklyn Nets, with a 3-1 lead going into Wednesday's 7 p.m. Game 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena, because James is in control.

It is a hegemony that transcends his 49-point performance in Monday's 102-96 victory at Barclays Center.

While all playoff series are chess matches, with the Heat awaiting the latest adjustments from Jason Kidd and the Nets, the difference is that James is playing speed chess.

"There's a lot that goes through my mind in a basketball game, and sometimes it gets me in trouble," he said. "I see a lot going on in a game that I'm not sure everyone sees."

At the finish Monday, there was premonition at pace that gave him a read on where Nets center Kevin Garnett couldn't be, due to the Heat's alignment. So he whipped a pass to teammate Mario Chalmers, already knowing that Chalmers would complete the tic-tac-toe sequences to center Chris Bosh for what would prove to be an open and decisive 3-pointer in the final minute.

Yet moments earlier, James' intuition transcended the anticipated cohesion, with a slick kick-out pass to Bosh going off the center's hands and out of bounds.

To James, it is blessing and curse, his innate instinct.

"I'm able to calibrate what is going on throughout the game no matter what situation that I am in," he had said before Monday's playoff career-best scoring total, a total that put him at the top of the Heat's single-game postseason list. "To know who has it going on our team, what position they are all in, and if something will work again, I don't know where it came from. My coaches, even when I was younger, they'd say I could memorize a play from a few tournaments ago."

At times Monday, James mesmerized teammates into a passivity that almost proved costly, the Heat playing the entire third quarter without an assist amid James' scoring binge.

But it was what Brooklyn saw coming in the opposition direction that was truly frightening, at least from a Nets perspective.

"It's a tough position to be in, when you're backpedaling against him, and he's coming at you full speed," guard Deron Williams said.

"He's one of the strongest guys in the league once he gets going," Nets guard Shaun Livingston said. "He's a bull. Everybody knows it."

"He just really forced his way to the hole," Nets forward Paul Pierce said, "and we didn't get in his way and he got a lot of layups."

This was full-throttle LeBron. All the time.

According to the NBA's SportVU tracking software, James had 105 touches Monday, compared to 59, 66 and 70 in the series' first three games.

It was a night when teammates recognized it was foolish to do anything but defer.

"In basketball," guard Dwyane Wade said, "it's one of the best feelings you can have besides yourself getting in that mode, watching him do it."

The goal now for the Nets is to get the ball back out of James' hands, the traps, blitzes, double- and triple-teams expected to come with greater ferocity Wednesday night.

"At the end of the day," Pierce said, "he's tough to guard one-on-one. You gotta try to slow him down, you gotta try to send multiple guys at him, make him kick the ball."

The question is whether James had added incentive, with Pierce insisting at the open of the series that the Nets feared neither James nor the Heat.

"We don't need bulletin-board things," Wade said. "We know Paul. For us, he said something, didn't say nothing, our goal and our focus is still the same and that's to come out here and win."

Amid all the talk of friction, there also is respect.

"He's a great player," Pierce said Monday of James. "You can't take nothing away from him."

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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