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If he was a half-hearted leader before, he’s fully in charge now. On Monday morning he delivered an inspirational address to his teammates, urging them to lay everything on the line to make sure the season didn’t end early. He and Wade also met to plan strategy for the deciding game, and James told Wade he would take defensive responsibility for Indiana’s Paul George, who averaged 21.5 points in the first six games.

It turned out to be a pivotal decision, with George getting just 7 points on 2 of 9 shooting before fouling out.

“Ever since I lost in the finals to Dallas my mind frame changed that offseason,” James said. “I just wanted to get back playing the game I love and have fun and play at a high level.”

He’s doing that and more, and his ability to take over a game makes him even more dangerous in a short series. The Spurs have their Big Three just like the Heat, but Miami will be favored to win a second straight championship because there is only one LeBron James.

It’s a far cry from six years ago, when James was on a Cleveland team that was swept in four straight by the Spurs for the title.

“I’m a much better player now,” James said. “I’m 20, 40, 50 times better than I was in those finals.”

An exaggeration, perhaps, but maybe it’s time to start giving James a break.

Because on this night he looked that good _ and even better.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or