DALLAS — For more than 11 months, LeBron James has been perhaps the most scrutinized player in the history of American sports, every sentence parsed, every movement deconstructed. Now, as he enters the final days of his year under the microscope, the focus is improbably growing even more acute than it was before.

The 2011 Finals, which started as a coronation for James, are ending as a crucible. The scoring surges that came so easily for him against Chicago and Boston — the two best defenses in the NBA outside of Miami — have dried up in Dallas. When James made only one field goal in the fourth quarter of Game 3, it wasn’t an insurmountable problem for the Heat, because his playmaking allowed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to act as closers. This was why James joined the Heat last July, so he could become a modern Magic Johnson, so he could win even without filling the final line on the box score.

Game 4 was an extension of Game 3, Wade scoring 32 points, Bosh adding 24, James reduced again to facilitator. He pitched in nine rebounds and seven assists, but the Heat did not sign James to be another Jason Kidd. They need his rugged drives, his furious breakaways, or they will let a championship that looked to be theirs slip away.

James scored eight points on 3-of-11 shooting in Game 4, often marooned on the perimeter, an afterthought on the final play. He was held to single digits for the first time in 90 career playoff games. This was a flashback to the first month of the season, when James and Wade took turns with the ball, while the other stood and watched. For most of Tuesday night, it was Wade’s turn, James looking on from afar.

“If I had eight points and we won, I wouldn’t really care about that,” James said. “The fact that I could have done more offensively to help the team, that’s the anger.”

The James/Wade dynamic has completely flipped from the Eastern Conference finals, when Wade sputtered, and James saved him. There are reasons for the shift. Wade is enjoying a more favorable matchup this series against Kidd than James against Shawn Marion. Also, with the way Dallas packs its defense inside, a slithery driver like Wade can slip through cracks, while a steamroller like James rushes headlong into defenders. Because of all the attention on James, the narrative around him tends to swing wildly: One week, he’s the best player since Michael Jordan; the next, he’s a fourth-quarter wallflower. As reckless as it may be to compare James to Jordan, it’s even more so to suggest that he won’t respond, as he has in every other round of these playoffs.

To view video recap of Game 4 click here.

Courtesy of: SI.com