LeBron James faces embarrassment with non-closeout, missed dunk

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  • LeBron James
    LeBron James
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  • Kobe Bryant
    Kobe Bryant
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Cleveland Cavaliers star-savior LeBron James has come under a fair amount of criticism this season (including from Yahoo's own Adrian Wojnarowski) for perceived lapses in effort compared to his best works of the past. LeBron is partially to blame for that impression — any reference to being in "chill mode" is probably a bad idea — but it's also been fairly evident in his play. That's particularly the case at the defensive end, where he has not been the chasedown-blocking, guard-anything force of the past.

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James also didn't do himself any favors in a brief moment in the first quarter of Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. A little more than five minutes into the contest, Kobe Bryant found Wesley Johnson in transition for an open look at a corner three. LeBron was relatively close to Johnson, but he clearly decided that a close-out wasn't worth the effort. Take a look:

There could be a lot of reasons for LeBron's laziness here, but it's certainly not the best look when his every move becomes a source of media discussion. People remember this stuff when the stakes are high. Just look at James Harden, who still can't shake those epic highlight videos of his worst defense even as he has improved considerably at that end of the floor.

Things got even worse for James in the second quarter on a play that seemed like much more of a sure thing for the four-time MVP. Kyrie Irving teed up a perfect alley-oop, but LeBron flubbed the finish:

As you can see, Kobe had a good laugh at that one. I suppose a superstar in trouble has to have a bit of a sense of humor about his situation.

If LeBron does receive criticism for these plays, then it won't be because of his performance in the game as a whole. James finished with 36 points (12-of-24 FG), five boards, five assists, two steals, and one turnover in a 109-102 win. Kobe was excellent, as well, dishing out an amazing 17 assists and scoring 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting.

The Cavs' victory gets them back to .500 at 20-20 and ends their losing streak at six games. They will try to continue their winning form in the same venue on Friday night vs. the Los Angeles Clippers.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!