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Defenders are laying off James

LOS ANGELES -- After LeBron James' first five exhibition games, the word "Hype" could stand for: "Hey, You Practicing Enough?"

James can't shoot -- that's the early word around the NBA.

The Cleveland Cavaliers' No. 1 draft pick is a great passer and
tremendous athlete, but he needs to work on his jumper.

"His shot has a little of what we call 'play' in it,"
Cavaliers coach Paul Silas said. "When he brings it up and locks
it in, he's fine, but sometimes he doesn't lock it in right away,
and that's the reason you get the waver in it.

"He flips it up there sometimes."

James is shooting a mere 29.8 percent from the field, and
opposing defenders are already backing off.

When he shoots, the ball leaves his hand with a nice rotation
and plenty of arc, but it's not a soft shot. If it is slightly
off-target, the collision of rubber and rim is a violent one.

"When I first started, it was elbows out and all," James said.
"So it's evolved a lot. It gets better every year."

Part of the problem is James' tendency to fade away as he jumps
-- a habit he developed in high school and resolved to correct over
the summer. The transformation remains incomplete, however, with
James still stuck somewhere between his old technique and the new.

Until he works out the kinks, defenders will dare him to let
fly.

"I'd do the same thing," Silas said. "That's part of pro
ball. They did that to Baron Davis his first year, and he stayed
three weeks (after his rookie season) and worked on his shot and
became more proficient the next year, and they couldn't back off."

James enters the NBA as the most hyped prep-to-pro rookie in
league history, and like all No. 1 picks, he'll be a marked man in
every arena he enters.

"It's not like this is going to be an easy thing," Minnesota's
Kevin Garnett said. "He should have an endorsement with Target,
because he has a bull's-eye on his back."

Opponents have been pressuring James in the backcourt when he
brings the ball up, getting a measure of his ballhandling skills.

Marcus Banks of the Celtics overplayed him to the right during
summer league, daring James to show whether he could drive to his
left. Tayshaun Prince of the Pistons blanketed him on the
perimeter, forcing James to dribble and create. Devean George of
the Lakers was the first to back way off.

"He's going to be scrutinized probably more than any rookie in
the league, but right now they're going to step back and see what
he has," Pistons director of scouting George David said. "I think
everyone realizes one of his main assets is his body. He doesn't
have a body for a kid his age, and that allows him to be explosive,
to be quicker than a lot of people his age. The main thing now is
to see how well he can shoot the basketball."

James says his daily practice routine includes making 100 jump
shots, even if it takes 500 attempts to do it.

But shooting hasn't been a big part of his pregame routine.
James typically hangs back in the locker room, stretching and
listening to music on headphones while the rest of the Cavaliers
are out on the court shooting an hour before tipoff.

He insists his jump shot will be fine, citing his 3-point
prowess over the final three years of high school at St.
Vincent-St. Mary's in Akron, Ohio.

But the 3-point line in those gyms is almost five feet shorter
than the NBA line, and James does not have the type of pure natural
stroke that will allow him to easily adjust to the long-range
nature of shooting in the pros.

"When Michael (Jordan) first came in, he was not a real good
shooter. Kobe (Bryant) was not a real good shooter, and both those
guys worked and worked and worked, and with the confidence and the
hard work they put in, became excellent shooters," Silas said.

"The expectations are way, way, way too high. LeBron has the
potential to be great, but it will take a while.