LeBron James' physical ability has been documented exhaustively over the years. He stands 6-feet-8 and weighs 250 pounds, and he can outmuscle almost any defender he posts up. He can speed down the court like a locomotive. And he can spin with the grace of a tiny point guard.
Yet, when Orlando Magic youngsters talk about James, they marvel at his brain more than his brawn.
"His IQ is out of this world," said Maurice Harkless, the Magic player who typically guards James. "He's a great player, and that's what I realized the most about him. His IQ is so high it's ridiculous."
James' basketball smarts drove the Miami Heat to a decisive 120-92 win over the Magic on Wednesday night, and his ability to recognize soft spots in an opponent's defense will be a major factor when the teams face each other again Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
On Wednesday night, James made the right play almost every time the Heat possessed the basketball.
When James was on the court, his teammates made 10 of their 15 shot attempts from 3-point range, and the Heat made that high percentage primarily because James created those opportunities. He identified times when the Magic defense overcompensated to guard him and he unselfishly made the right pass every time.
James recorded seven assists on Heat 3-pointers. On two other occasions, he made so-called "hockey" assists; on those plays, he passed the ball to a teammate immediately before that teammate recorded an assist.
Consider what happened with about four minutes remaining in the second quarter. James posted-up Harkless along the right block and started to back down Harkless toward the basket. Recognizing that James outweighs Harkless by 30 pounds, two additional Magic defenders started to converge: Jason Maxiell moved in from James' left, and Arron Afflalo hedged in slightly from James' right.
James could've forced a shot, but he didn't.
He elevated into the air, drifting away from Harkless, and threw a crosscourt pass toward the left sideline, where Shane Battier stood wide-open. Battier took a 3-pointer before Jameer Nelson arrived to adequately contest the shot, and Battier made the jumper.
"A lot of their open 3s stemmed from us trying to react to his post-ups," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said.
The Heat attempted eight 3-pointers on possessions when James posted-up. Miami players made five of those shots for a success rate of almost 63 percent.
The Magic also often double-teamed when James did not post up.
James made Orlando pay in those instances, too.
"He can change the game in so many ways," Magic rookie Victor Oladipo said. "When we were coming over to double he would just make the right play. It wasn't like once or twice. It was every time."
With about 7:50 remaining in the third quarter, James, stationed between the right edge of the paint and the 3-point line, faced-up against Harkless. Nelson, standing beneath the hoop, started to drift toward James.
James hurled a bounce pass toward the left wing to Battier, who immediately swung the ball to the left corner for wide-open James Jones. Jones took the shot just as Nelson arrived to contest it.
Swish. A hockey assist for James, an assist for Battier, a trey for Jones and a 68-57 lead for the Heat.
"When he's on the floor, we've got to use his best attributes," James said of Jones. "He can shoot the ball lights-out."
LeBron's sense of court dynamics astounds the Magic's youngsters.
"He picks apart the defense," Harkless said. "He gets everybody else open shots. I think that's the best part of his game, really. He makes everyone else better."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun