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LeBron in bit of a shaky stretch at free-throw line

CLEVELAND -- His royal image is being tarnished with almost
every trip to the foul line. From 15 feet, LeBron James has become
the King of clang.

In his last 10 games, Cleveland's All-Star forward has made just
59 of 98 free throws, Shaq-like statistics that have dropped his
average from the line to 68 percent -- 7 points below his career
average.

"Right now," he said. "I'm in Strugglesville."

This is a disturbing trend for James and the Cavaliers, who have
been the NBA's worst free-throw shooting team (68 percent) most of
the season. Until the team starts making more fouls shots they will
continue to blow leads and give away victories. Not exactly the
stuff of a title contender.

James is determined to fix the biggest flaw in his otherwise
impeccable game.

"I'm just trying to make them," he said. "I've shot in the
high 70s my whole career and in the 80s in high school. It has
never been a problem for me, and it's not going to be a problem
now. I just have to go up there and make them."

Easier said than done.

James, just 20-for-38 in his past five games, has spent extra
time after practice working with Cavaliers assistant coach Chris
Jent on his poor foul shooting. Jent has made some fundamental
adjustments to James' shot, but so far the results aren't showing.

"We're just trying to change how much time he is at the line,
make it more of a rhythm shot," Jent said. "We haven't done much
more than that, it's him trying to find a comfortable routine.

"Free-throw shooting is so much mental that the routine part of
it is important so your body feels comfortable. Right now, we're
trying to find that comfort level and sometimes when that happens,
you regress before you progress. For him, it's kind of a hard time
right now."

James' misses are magnified because of how often he gets to the
line, and when he gets there.

Of the 16 players who had attempted 300 free throws entering
Monday's games, he ranked 13th in free-throw percentage, ahead of
only San Antonio's Tim Duncan (64 percent), Orlando's Dwight Howard
(62) and New York's Eddy Curry (61) -- all big men.

And among the league's superstars and possible MVP candidates,
James ranks far behind Dirk Nowitzki (91), Steve Nash (88), Kobe
Bryant (86), Gilbert Arenas (84) and Dwyane Wade (81). Even
7-foot-6 Yao Ming (87 percent) shoots his free throws better than
James.

If he doesn't improve, teams may be more inclined to foul him
late in games, knowing the pressure might shake his already wobbly
confidence.

When he steps to the line, James said he doesn't think of
anything other than making his shots. There are no meditation or
relaxation techniques.

"I just want to get up there and make them and hurry up and get
off the free-throw line," he said.

Part of James' problem could be that he's spending more time at
the line than might be necessary.

His foul-line ritual is to kiss one wristband, then the other --
a tribute to his mother, Gloria, and girlfriend, Savannah -- before
focusing on the basket and shooting. Lately, more often than not,
he smacks the ball off the rim.

"I'm trying to find a groove," he said. "I just have to stick
with the routine I've been doing lately and get better."

The lack of accuracy has nothing to do with physical
limitations. His hands aren't too big -- an excuse offered for
Shaquille O'Neal -- and he's not coming off an injury like Ohio
State center Greg Oden, who has had to shoot free throws left
handed following surgery on his right wrist.

The problem, James admits, has crept into his mind.

"It can be mental sometimes, and right now it is," he said.
"At practice, I don't miss. I get in the game, and I miss."

In a nationally televised loss last week at Miami, James missed
three free throws in less than 18 seconds during a crucial juncture
of the fourth quarter, including one that would have tied the score
with 44.8 seconds remaining.

He finished 3-for-8 from the line, a bad night made worse
because it came in the same game that Wade made 23 of 24 free
throws, dropping his first 21 in a row.

Jent is confident that once James gets his routine down, his
free throws will go down, too.

"He's got touch. He's got perception and he has the ability to
shoot the ball," he said. "It's just being comfortable at the
line. Right now, he's not comfortable."