Mark Cuban divulges thinking behind Dallas Mavericks slowing LeBron James down in 2011 Finals'
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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently revealed some details about the team’s zone defense that it used in the 2011 NBA Finals to slow down the Miami Heat and LeBron James.

“The year we won, way back when, I remember it was a preseason game against Chicago,” Cuban said. “And I’m like, ‘Rick [Carlisle], can we just play zone the whole game?’ The thing about back then, nobody practiced against the zone.

“And so, if you ran a zone, it always caught ’em off guard. And you can always get back in a game, expand the lead. He was like, ‘That’s a good idea. Let’s try it.’ So we ran it. And over the course of that season, we had a great season, get to the Finals against Miami, throw a zone against Bron. All you had to do was to get him to hesitate because Bron’s always going to make the right play. He always wants to make the right basketball play. And when you’re facing a zone and you have to read what they’re doing – is it matchup? Whatever it may be, that slowed him down. That gave us an edge.”

It’s really impressive that Cuban and Carlisle were able to slow down James that season, especially since Miami’s Big 3 won game 1 of the NBA Finals against Dallas.

The Mavericks actually fell behind 2-1 in that series, but the team battled back to win Games 4, 5 and 6 to take the title.

That was the first season that James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade played together, and they went on to make three more NBA Finals appearances together, winning two of them.

In the 2011 NBA Finals, James did not play his best basketball. The four-time champion averaged just 17.8 points per game in the series. He did chip in 7.2 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game, but the scoring was well below his season average.

James really struggled in the fourth quarter in the series with Dallas, failing to score in the fourth quarter in Game 4 and putting up just two fourth-quarter points in Games 2, 3 and 5.

Cuban is right about James’ mentality, as the future Hall of Famer is great at making the right decisions on the basketball court. It seems like Dallas wanted to stop James from being an aggressor by playing a zone defense and making him find the open man.

It certainly worked, as the team captured its only NBA title in the Dirk Nowitzki era.

While that series wasn’t the best performance of James’ career, he’s certainly redeemed himself in the playoffs since. That 2011 NBA Finals started an eight-season stretch where James made the Finals in every campaign.

He has now won four titles – two with Miami, one with Cleveland and one with the Los Angeles Lakers – showing his greatness in the postseason on countless occasions.

James is hoping to add to the resume in the 2023-24 season with the Lakers, especially since the team made the Western Conference Finals in the 2022-23 campaign.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.