- Last Updated: 9:08 AM, April 30, 2012
- Posted: 12:50 AM, April 30, 2012
MIAMI — Someone asked LeBron James yesterday if the aggressive pick Tyson Chandler slammed into him with during Saturday’s playoff opener gave the Heat star added inspiration.
“I’m already an inspired basketball player,” James said. “I don’t need a hit to get me inspired.”
That inspiration comes from many levels: the love of competition, the need to be a leader and the desire to be a champion. The ultimate inspiration, of course, is another trip to the NBA Finals, a journey that on paper got easier after a pair of devastating injuries during the opening round of the playoffs.
The Knicks watched in horror as rookie Iman Shumpert blew out his knee during the third quarter of the Heat’s 100-67 victory Saturday in Game 1. Meanwhile, the Bulls lost the reigning MVP Derrick Rose to a season-ending knee injury in Chicago’s Game 1 victory over the Sixers.
The Knicks have lost their best defender and the Bulls have lost their best player, making James and the Heat even bigger favorites to emerge as back-to-back Eastern Conference champions, even though that’s not the way James wanted it.
“As a fan and friend of his you never want to see an injury like that happen, no matter if you’re in competition with them,” James said of Rose. “You never want to see someone lose their season like that. Same with Iman Shumpert. Both weren’t even touched and they’re out of the season. We know how much D-Rose means to this game. To see him get injured really [stinks].”
Truth is, if James and the Heat continue to play as well as they did against the Knicks in Game 1, it wouldn’t have mattered if Rose and Shumpert remained healthy. James seems determined to win his first NBA ring.
He set the tone for his team early, attacking aggressively on both ends of the floor. His defensive pressure unnerved Carmelo Anthony, setting a tone that would lead to 27 Knicks turnovers and numerous easy baskets for the Heat. It’s a blueprint James wants to duplicate tonight in Game 2.
“It was just guys trusting one another defensively, anticipating plays happening and being there for your teammates,” James said. “If we’ve got two guys on the ball and it’s passed to someone who is open, we have to trust somebody is going to be there. When we defend and rebound, we’re a really good team.”
James scored a game-high 32 points, a total helped by making 11 of 14 from the free-throw line. The Knicks had no answers; especially after Shumpert went down, leaving interim coach Mike Woodson with the task of figuring out how to guard James and Dwyane Wade tonight.
What makes that prospect so imposing is much of the Heat’s offensive success was generated by their defense with James having his fingers in nearly every single play. When he wasn’t stealing a pass or altering a shot, he was sprinting out on the break as the Knicks scrambled to defend.
“He never takes plays off,” Knicks point guard Baron Davis said of James. “He dominates games. He dominated Game 1. We’ve got to come back in Game 2, a little bit more relaxed and settled into our offense and our rhythm and attack them. That’s how we’ve got to do it.”
James insists he doesn’t play to prove critics wrong. But great athletes are fueled by those who doubt their ability. James certainly remembers the criticism he took after the NBA Finals last year when he virtually disappeared during crunch time. This year, he looks more comfortable in the Heat’s system and his own skin.
“He’s the best player in the league. Period,” said Greg Anthony, the former Knick now covering the NBA for Turner Sports and Yahoo. “There’s never been a question about his ability. It’s been more about his mindset, and his mindset seems to be in a better place.”
If the Knicks don’t find a way to unsettle James, this series won’t last very long.Follow @NYPostsports