- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

When you read the statistics from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 100-97 win over the Washington Wizards yesterday, you will see points, assists and rebounds.

What you will not see is FOL — Fear of LeBron — points, the scoring by his Cavaliers teammates that results from an opponent’s terror when LeBron James has the ball.

James is so good at creating fear that it may be impossible to quantify, but we’ll try. The Cavaliers scored 20 second-chance points yesterday off offensive rebounds, so let’s say none of them were a result of Washington’s FOL.

That reduces the Cavaliers’ point total to 80. James scored 34 points and had seven assists, including assists on three 3-pointers. That’s 51 points on which he was directly involved.

That means the Cavaliers scored close to 29 FOL points scored yesterday — beyond the assists like the one he dished at the end of the game to Delonte West, who knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer.

“I’ve seen every defense alive,” James said after the game. “I’ve seen every last one of them — from a double-team to a box-and-one, to a tilt. They all focus on me. I always see more than a pair of eyes every time I’m driving or penetrating or looking for a teammate. … We are going to get great looks because I attract so much attention.”

West doesn’t get his 21, including the game-winner from the corner with five seconds left, if the Wizards are not obsessed — and rightfully so — with James. Same with Daniel Gibson and his 12, all scored on 3-pointers.

“When we take LeBron away, the next priority is to take the rim away to make sure they don’t get layups and tips at the rim when you’re trapping,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “The third priority is to get out to the 3-point shooters. When Delonte West and Daniel Gibson make those shots, it puts too much strain on you.”

The “strain” is the FOL — concentrating so much effort on James that the defense is in trouble at other points on the court. James can find those points.

“That is why he is going to go down as the best player in this game,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “Not only can he score and rebound, he has the ultimate trust in his teammates.”

Who the best player was or is in any sport is difficult to measure. But you could make the case that, because of FOL, James is the best in the game today, better than the other contender for the crown in Los Angeles.

There have been better scorers. There have been better passers. Magic Johnson was the best of both to date. But when all is said and done, we may never see anyone better than James at the combination, which makes his team difficult to defend.

That means, of course, that the Cavaliers live and die with James, and that might not be good enough for them to win a championship.

But it certainly is enough to cause a strain on any team the Cavaliers face. Even if you think you are stopping James — and the Wizards likely believe they did yesterday, even though he scored 34 points — you may not be taking into consideration Fear of LeBron points. Those points laid waste to the Wizards’ defense yesterday.

“That is why he is LeBron James,” Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said. “He demands so much attention. We did a great job of boxing him out and not letting him have the opportunity to drive to the basket. It’s just unfortunate for us that Daniel Gibson and Delonte West were really feeling it.

“When you have a talent like LeBron, it’s going to cause you to double-team him and leave certain guys open. He is excellent at finding the open guy, and he makes it tough for you to rotate because he is always looking for the open guy.”

By the way, teams may fear LeBron, but James appears to have no FOW — Fear of Washington.

James was asked yesterday whether he thought the Wizards, down 3-1 and going back to Cleveland for Game 5, still had a chance in this series.

“Do I think they can do it?” he mused. “No.”

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