It's the line that has the sports world buzzing and the Cleveland Cavaliers mulling a potentially horrible mistake: Putting LeBron James on Rajon Rondo.
"If the opportunity presents itself, I would take the challenge," Cleveland's star said, according to The News-Herald, after Sunday's 97-87 loss in Beantown, a game in which Rondo added two steals to his ridiculous numbers above. "I would love to. Maybe it's something we should explore. He's dominating the series. I have no problem with taking Rondo for the entire game."
Seems to make sense. Rondo, as he so confidently told ABC's Lisa Salters at halftime of Game 4, is getting into the paint "whenever I want." James, with his 6-foot-8 frame, elk-like speed and freakishly long arms, might be able to plug that hole.
He did it to the Bulls' Derrick Rose in Round 1, with some success. Like Rose for Chicago, Rondo has been the difference-maker for Boston in this postseason.
"I think it starts with Rondo," James said on Sunday. "He's kind of the engine that really gets them going. He does everything for them."
Here's the problem with the approach of putting James on Rondo. Better yet, here are the many problems, if indeed Mike Brown opts for a LeBron-Rondo matchup (and let's face it — Brown is James' puppet at this point).
1. Rondo, unlike Rose, is not the only scoring threat on his team. LeBron himself addressed precisely that disparity at Sunday's postgame news conference. In fact, there are three guys who come to mind that would have no problem picking up the scoring load: Ray Allen's averaging 18 points this postseason, Kevin Garnett 17, and Paul Pierce 16.
Plus, Pierce has been silenced in the semifinals (12 points per game on just 32 percent shooting) largely because James has been glued to him. Take LeBron off Paul, and he might erupt, a la the 2008 semifinals.
If I'm Pierce, Ray or KG, I'm begging Brown to make the switch.
2. Where will Mo go? Cleveland's point guard has been sharing Rondo duties with Anthony Parker. Putting James in that position leaves the 6-foot-1 Mo Williams on either the 6-foot-7 Pierce or the 6-foot-5 Allen. Can you say mismatch?
Again, LeBron, despite his eagerness to get after Rondo, raised this concern Sunday, saying, "Sometimes it's difficult when Mo's on the court and [Delonte West]'s on the court for me to switch off onto Rondo because Paul's in the game. We can't put Delonte or Mo on Paul because of the size advantage."
3. Foul trouble could become a problem for LeBron. Rondo's game relies on fast breaks and getting to the paint. Stopping him will occasionally require fouls. That's fine when Williams or Parker are giving them up, but not when it's LeBron.
4. Rondo's quickness is dangerous. There is, finally, the slight possibility that LeBron's simply not up to the task. Perhaps the best way of differentiating James' and Rondo's athletic qualities is this: The former is faster, the latter is quicker. Even with his length and speed, there's no guarantee LeBron will be able to stay in front of Rondo, in which case all of the above would be for naught.
And even if the King can match Rondo's quickness, the effort would no doubt subtract from his ability to perform on offense. James is averaging 31 points a game this postseason. With Game 4 as tight as it was, Cleveland can't afford to shave much off that number.
Tuesday night will provide the answer to so many of these questions: Does Mike Brown have a mind of his own?
Will the Cavs make a desperate switch at a not-so-desperate time?
If they do, can Rondo outdo the NBA's Most Valuable Player?
And if he can't, will Pierce step to the plate and deliver to Boston yet again its Truth?
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