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Marla Ridenour on Sports

Is Tom Thibodeau LeBron James real nemesis?

By Marla Published: May 16, 2011

While Miami Heat star LeBron James experienced a cathartic moment last week after getting past the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals, James' reaction  may have been a bit premature.

James' opponent in the Conference finals is the Chicago Bulls, coached by former Celtics' defensive guru Tom Thibodeau. So was it any coincidence that James hit 5 for 15 from the field and committed four turnovers in the Bulls' 103-82 victory Sunday night in Game 1?

James and Dwyane Wade combined to shoot 12 of 32 from the field and commit half of the Heat's 18 turnovers. James finished with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists.

His numbers were strangely reminiscent of his mysterious performance in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 120-88 loss to the Boston Celticsc in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semis in 2010. In that one, James finished with 15 points (on 3 of 14 shooting), six rebounds and seven assists. He committed three turnovers and missed his first seven attempts from the field.

Before Thibodeau coached from 2007-10 in Boston, he spent 2003-07 with the Houston Rockets. James' Cavs went 2-6 against the Rockets when Thibodeau was an assistant there, with one of the victories coming in overtime.

While Sunday's game set the tone for the Bulls, who outhustled the Heat for a 19-6 edge on the offensive boards, it's not going to mean the Heat are going to go meekly. But it made me wonder if it is Thibodeau who has James' number, not the Celtics.

(And if the Heat-Bulls series comes down to a Game 7, I'll take Thibodeau over Erik Spoelstra any day.)

More thoughts from the weekend:

  • K.J. Choi is a vastly underrated golfer, as Sunday's victory in the Players Championship attested. But considering the withdrawal of Tiger Woods after nine holes and the uncertainty of Woods' immediate future, it would have served the PGA Tour better if one of its young guns had captured the title in its unofficial fifth major. (There were plenty of candidates, including Luke Donald, Nick Watney (both of whom tied for fourth) and most of the group that tied for sixth -- Jason Day,  Hunter Mahan, Alvaro Quiros and J.B. Holmes.

  • I'll be shocked if Woods plays in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village June 2-5, even if "Mr. Ohio'' has won there four times. That would seem too soon for Woods' right knee and Achilles injuries to calm down, although he certainly would want a tuneup if he's going to try to play in the U.S. Open June 16-19 at Congressional.

  • Tonight's 31st Akron Browns Banquet at Tangier restaurant expects a crowd of about 500, the smallest in the event's history. I presume that's because of the absence of the Pro Football Writers' award winners -- Joe Thomas (Dino Lucareli Good Guy) and Peyton Hillis (player of the year). But I also wonder if it's a byproduct of the NFL lockout, the first sign that fans in Northeast Ohio are fed up with the lack of progess in labor talks. It will be the first Akron appearance for coach Pat Shurmur. Tickets ($50) are available at the door, with cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m. and dinner at 7:30.

  • Everyone expected Ohio State coach Jim Tressel to vigorously defend in his Aug. 12 hearing before the NCAA in Indianapolis. Tressel showed he's not going down without a fight by hiring former NCAA Committee on Infractions chairman Gene Marsh to represent him.



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