NBA Finals: Three things to get LeBron James going

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There’s a lot of scrutiny on LeBron James’ intangibles. How much effort he’s put in during these Finals. How much patience. How much intensity. How much focus. Is his head right? It goes on and on and on, ignoring the fact that the Mavericks have game-planned for James about as well as you can. They’ve been aggressive in their double once he puts the ball on the floor, challenged him with charge opportunities, attacked his dribble, and forced him away from his tendencies. Here’s a 3-step plan to get James back into the zone he’s been in during these playoffs.

Step 1: Off is better than on

The Mavericks start to salivate when James runs point. That’s supposed to be the terrifying super-option for Miami, having the former MVP running point with Wade and Bosh. But James too often gets frozen coming up the floor, wasting seconds trying to find a play developing. He waits too long to figure out what he’s going to do, and doesn’t have the improvisational skills to adjust when the defense shuts off his options. In short, him running point is a bad plan.

In Game 5, the Heat started by running James off-ball, having him work to catch and shoot. Their opening possessions was a post play for James on the right side. When the defense adjusted, he kicked it out… and then reposted. It was the last time we saw it from James in that game, despite the tremendous amount of pressure it puts on the defense. James also caught a fair number of passes off the cut beneath the rim. Hmm. 6-8, 285 lb. freak of nature, underneath a basketball rim getting the ball. I wonder if this is going to work? The Heat completely abandoned this plan by the third quarter, despite its success, opting instead for hero ball with James going back to watching defenders on the perimeter and running into doubles. Stubbornness is ugly.

Step 2: Make the daring pass

James is the best athlete on the floor, so why not give him a few opportunities to just go up and get the ball and take care of business? The Heat all season long tried too many highlight plays going for alley-oops. Abandoning those in the playoffs and especially the Finals is a sound strategy, it’s better to work for a quality shot. But the Mavericks have attacked all the sound sets the Heat have tried running, especially the pick and roll. So why not get James a few daring alley-oop plays? You want the defense to back off of Wade and James running the pick and roll. The lob is the best way to do this. It’s risky in terms of turnovers and a chance for the Mavericks to pick it off, but it’s also the best way to punish the Mavs for the defensive strategy they’ve settled on.

Game 3: Pretty simple…. make shots.

All of this changes if the jumper starts falling for James. All of it. That’s been the only real difference between the Celtics’ and Bulls’ series and the Finals. His jumper was hitting, then. Now, it’s not. To his credit James has tried to adjust to it, but the result makes it seem like he lacks confidence. He’s got to get the jumper going. I’m never an advocate for high-usage chucking, especially not in such a drastic situation. But the importance of James getting it going offensively and being able to beat the double and zone is so big, James should have a license to gun in the first half in order to get his jumper going. Without it, it’s hard to see how the Heat are going to be able to force a Game 7.

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.

Clippers win likely playoff preview 108-95 over Jazz

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jamal Crawford scored 28 points off the bench, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 108-95 on Saturday to clinch a playoff berth for the sixth straight year.

The Clippers trail the Jazz by a half-game in their race for the No. 4 playoff seed in the West. The teams are likely to face in the first round of the postseason.

Blake Griffin added 15 points and DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert had 26 points and 14 rebounds for Utah, and reserve Joe Johnson added 17 points. The Jazz have dropped four of five.

Utah rallied in the third, putting together a 20-6 spurt to trim Los Angeles’ lead to 72-70 heading into the final period. Gobert had nine points and Johnson scored seven during the run that included 10 straight points for the Jazz over one stretch.

Chris Paul and Crawford both got technicals while the Clippers struggled to score and defend.

But Los Angeles turned things around in the fourth, scoring the first eight points for an 80-70 lead. Crawford had 17 points in the quarter, scoring six in a row to push the Clippers’ lead to 103-84. He was 9 of 9 at the free-throw line for the game.

The Clippers grabbed control early on, shooting 52 percent in the first quarter while building a 15-point lead.

The Jazz got within seven to start the second before the Clippers restored their 15-point margin and eventually led 49-41 at halftime.

Utah’s top two scorers, Gordon Hayward and George Hill, struggled. Hayward, who averages 22 points, had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Hill, who averages 17.1, had nine points while shooting 4 of 11.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Gobert was coming off a career-high 35-point, 15-rebound performance against the Knicks on Tuesday. … G Sheldon Mack missed his 11th straight game with a left ankle sprain. … F/C Derrick Favors remains out with a left knee bone contusion.

Clippers: Their six-year playoff run is the longest in franchise history. … They have won 18 of 20 against the Jazz dating to Feb. 1, 2012. … They won the season series 3-1.

 

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Sixers’ Joel Embiid officially has knee surgery, expected to be back on court in summer

Associated Press
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“The… follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid‘s left knee appears to reveal… the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

When Philadelphia’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said that in a statement announcing Joel Embiid was being shut down for the season, the chance of knee surgery to clean up that meniscus was possible. Friday it became a reality, the team announced.

CSNPhilly.com had the details.

The team expects Embiid to resume basketball activities during this summer, according to Sixers director of performance research and development Dr. David T. Martin. Embiid will begin his rehab in Los Angeles with specialists and Sixers medical and training staff members.

“The overall status of Joel’s lateral meniscus and his cartilage is very good,” surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache, M.D., who performed the surgery, said in a statement. “Today’s procedure focused on removing a small portion of the meniscus that was responsible for his symptoms.

“The recovery program that has been established targets Joel transitioning back to full weight-bearing in approximately two weeks, at which point a conservative approach to his rehabilitation will be introduced.”

After Embiid missed two seasons with foot issues, there is a tendency to lump everything together and call him injury prone. This, however, was a minor surgery with a relatively short recovery period, even as the Sixers bring him along slowly. There is reason for concern, but this shouldn’t be an issue by next training camp.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.