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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.

Kawhi Leonard is smiling, and that confuses Manu Ginobili (PHOTO)

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Much like Kevin Durant, it appears that Kawhi Leonard is having a great summer.

In fact, this appears to be the Summer of Kawhi Smiling. Which, according to one of his longtime teammates, is a bit confusing.

When the Spurs posted a photo of Leonard with a big old grin on his face to their Twitter feed recently, San Antonio legend Manu Ginobili responded asking the team whether something was up.

Specifically, Ginobili said that he had seen more photos of Leonard smiling in the past two days then he had in six seasons as a teammate.

Via Twitter:

You can leave an anonymous tip about why Kawhi Leonard is smiling so much by contacting the produce manager at your local H-E-B.