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Has ref Ken Mauer marked the start of a foul stint for LeBron James at the free-throw line?

LeBron James, Lakers

LeBron James’ acumen at the free-throw line hasn’t been much to write home about, one of the very few aspects of his dominant career that could use some refinement at this stage of his game. Yet the recent struggles at the charity stripe have been dumbfounding after seeming to recover gracefully from an early-season slump. This latest run of the “yips” can be attributed to one man: referee Ken Mauer.

To recapitulate the chain of recent events, James has had his share of mixed experiences at the line, even with a well-detailed report that suggested he changed his free-throw routine a whopping 18 times throughout the 2016-17 season to shake off what eventually became his worst career numbers at the foul line (shot 67.4 percent).

The 2017-18 season saw him get back to his previous mark of 73.1 percent — the same exact one as 2015-16 with the same ratio of makes and attempts (4.7 free throws made out of 6.5 attempts per game). Yet his constant habit of leaning forward right after his release had gotten him in trouble for repeated lane violations, as evidenced during this year’s NBA Finals:

That trend has repeated this season — and NBA Twitter extraordinaire Rob Perez of The Action Network quickly took notice of it once again, pointing out his flaws in a recent matchup against his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers:

Despite hitting 75 percent from the line at that point in the season, he had committed 11 lane violations in 12 attempts from the foul line (including the one that was actually called and repeated).

Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden was called for back-to-back lane violations in a recent game, which only stirred the conversation as to why James was rarely called for them:

That was until longtime referee Ken Mauer stepped in.

Yes, literally stepped in.

In the video below, Mauer can be seen stomping his shoes inside the free-throw line, likely warning LeBron James of his constant flaw when shooting his foul shots:

James shot a woeful 6-of-11 from the stripe, and things just didn’t get much better from there.

Since, he has shot a mere 44-of-74 (59.4 percent) from the foul line in his last 10 games, dipping from a decent 75 percent mark to 68.9 percent on the season.

It’s still unclear what Mauer said to him when signaling the spot at the foul line back then, as James seemed to bark back at the official after he interrupted his second attempt — but LeBron hasn’t been the same since, likely thinking about his process at the line once again.

It’s worthy to note that LeBron James has only dipped below the 70 percent mark for the season twice in his career. First in his fourth year in the league (69.8 percent) and then in 2015-16, when the yips came heavy for him.