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LeBron James at center? Get used to it.

Jan 11, 2011, 12:01 PM EDT

Miami Heat v Milwaukee Bucks Getty Images

LeBron James has played plenty of power forward over the years. He’s played point guard (or de facto point guard, anyway), shooting guard and small forward, too. He’s done everything.

Except play center.

That was until Sunday, when he played it late in the Heat’s overtime victory against the Trail Blazers — and Miami outscored Portland 25-11 with him at the five. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told our man Ira Winderman, writing for the Sun Sentinel, there will be more of it.

“We’ve talked about it all season,” Spoelstra said of the team’s internal deliberations. “This certainly now is a good sign that we can start to do that. That might be a way we could use our versatility more.”

In practice, there was not much of a difference with James at center on offense — he got the ball in his hands on the perimeter and attacked. He pulled down rebounds then raced out to lead the break. He took a pull-up three. The offense looked like the Heat’s normal small-ball, up-tempo offense, save that they could be even more versatile because Zydrunas Ilgauskas or some other big didn’t need to be out there.

The difference is was on defense, where James had to defend Marcus Camby. That may ultimately define when Miami can put LeBron at the five — when there is an opposing center James can guard. It won’t fly against Boston; but while Camby is a good rebounder he is not a huge, back-to-the-basket center who will overpower James. That was not the matchup the Blazers were trying to exploit anyway, they wanted to isolate LaMarcus Aldridge on Chris Bosh.

Miami has been winning a variety of ways on their current streak, and up-tempo is one of them. James at the five is just a more versatile way to do that. And it’s going to give some opposing coaches some headaches.

  1. chris woolford - Jan 11, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    LeBron did play some centre for the Cavs. In 08-09 both Z and Ben Wallace were hurt (possibly Andy V as well) so LeBron had to fill in at C when the Cavs went small. Think he had Mo, Boobie, Wally and Pavs playing 1-4. Can’t remember which game it was but it happend.

  2. leearmon - Jan 11, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    This has to be the most frightening story I’ve read in a long time. No matter how much people want to hate Lebron and the Heat for this past offseason, there is no disputing they are one of the most scary, versatile and potentially dominating teams we’ve seen in years. I honestly think only two teams can stop them this year, Boston & L.A. The problem for the rest of the league is Miami, theoretically will only get better, while those other two teams are starting to decline. Looks like we’ve got another dynasty on our hands….

    • torotrigger - Jan 11, 2011 at 4:57 PM

      i would agree that the long term of this current Heat team [ie also including the return of Miller’s form] will show in the next 5yrs not next 5 months…although they seem to have hit the ground running this season already – but if you roll Bron out there at center? that may just be too much for 70-80% of the league to handle…unless you are going to exclusively run some zone variation he’ll just pull you out of the paint and shoot over or on top of you….

  3. zblott - Jan 11, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    Let’s not get carried away with LeBron playing center as a sign of him doing something he really didn’t. Yes, he technically guarded Camby. Who touched the ball exactly zero times in overtime and was slated to touch the ball exactly zero times. Really LeBron was playing a zone in the paint to get steals and weakside rebounds when Aldridge missed shots.

  4. thestudiokida - Jan 11, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    When you think about it, there aren’t a lot of centers in the league that cause problems for the defense. Miami could get away with this fairly often.

  5. hnirobert3 - Jan 11, 2011 at 4:28 PM

    This is what I’ve been saying for months: the Heat’s speed and athleticism will outweigh their lack of size because the NBA is not what it was in the 90’s, when you had a lot of legit centers. Once Mike Miller is up and running and Haslem gets back, your crunch time five will be Wade, LBJ, Bosh, Miller and Haslem. Even without Miller and Haslem, they’re dominating teams.

    How many legit, back to the basket, dominant centers are there? How many PF’s can even pull this off? There’s a handful, if that. Howard, Gasol come to mind. Al Jefferson, Zack Randolph and Andrew Bynum have the size as well. You’re crazy to think that LBJ’s athleticism and strength can’t make up for his lack of height on MOST of the NBA’s other centers.

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