What LeBron James did at the end of regulation in the All-Star Game — deciding to try and make a pass with 1.9 seconds left rather than make the aggressive play and take a shot over Kobe Bryant (who was yelling at him to take it) — just doesn’t matter.
LeBron has been getting killed Monday by detractors for not taking that shot, for not seizing the moment. They see it as a sign of his passivity in clutch moments that goes back to time immemorial.
Of course, if LeBron had taken that shot and made it, those same people all would be saying, “it’s the All-Star Game, it doesn’t count, it’s an exhibition game not a real clutch moment.”
Which is true. That brings us to the real heart of the matter with LeBron — it just doesn’t matter what he does all through the regular season. All that matters is what he does in the playoffs — and the finals in particular.
LeBron is the clear frontrunner for the MVP right now. Sorry Kevin Durant fans, your man is certainly have a good season, but it’s not close. LeBron is putting up 27.4 points per game on 54.7 percent shooting, plus 8.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. His game has matured — he is taking fewer threes and getting better shots in the post. He’s defending well. He has a Jordan-at-his-peak PER of 32.4. He has been amazing.
He can win the MVP, and it just doesn’t matter.
Only what he and the Heat do in the playoffs will matter.
Only LeBron James earning a ring will matter — and if he doesn’t play a big role in the finals even that will not silence some critics. People have decided LeBron James is not clutch. (Those people should ask Derrick Rose, who LeBron shut down on defense and completely outplayed in fourth quarters of the Eastern Conference finals about that.) It just doesn’t matter.
Right now, LeBron’s legacy has been defined as the guy who could not get it done — he didn’t win a ring in Cleveland, he left for Miami to play with better players and they lost in the finals. Fair or not, that is how the sporting public at large has defined him.
The only way he changes that legacy is to get rings. Multiple. Because of him.
So while some talk about a pass at the end of the All-Star Game and see it as confirmation of the status quo, it just doesn’t matter.
Only the games in May and June are what matter for him.
Three things we learned Monday: Can Warriors, Cavaliers, Rockets all lose on one night? Yes.
Monday morning, a new edition of the PBT NBA Power Rankings come out. Monday night, four of the top five teams in the rankings lose. So, we’re feeling very smart. The only exception was the Spurs, who won despite Kawhi Leonard sitting out with a sore hand. Here’s what happened with the other upsets on a strange Monday in the NBA.
1) Anthony Davis sits, Pelicans still beat slumping Cavaliers, and LeBron James is ticked. At shootaround on Monday, LeBron James said he wasn’t too concerned about the Cavaliers having lost four-of-six because he was about the process and his team improving over the course of the marathon season. He thought they were on the right track overall.
“We’re not better than last year, from a personnel standpoint … we’re a top-heavy team,” James said, adding a few minutes later, “I just hope that we’re not satisfied as an organization. I just hope we not satisfied. How hard it was to do that s—. I just hope we’re not satisfied….
“I don’t got no time to waste,” he said. “I’ll be 33 in the winter and I ain’t got time to waste. That’s what I’m talking about. … When I feel like physically and mentally, me personally, can’t compete for a championship no more or I feel like I can’t do it, then I won’t have this problem. But until that happens, and it don’t seem like no time soon…”
The issue with the Cavaliers Monday was defense — New Orleans hung 124 on them, shot 41 percent from three, Terrence Jones had 36 points on 18 shots, Jrue Holiday finished with 33 points and 10 assists. Jones was getting it done on both ends.
The Cavaliers may need another playmaker thinking ahead to the playoffs and Finals, but Monday night they just needed to defend better, and they let a New Orleans team without its best player get too many shots at the rim. As for that playmaker, it’s not going to be that easy to get one — Cleveland’s trade cupboard is bare. After landing Kyle Korver, the Cavs don’t have a first-round pick to move until 2021, and most of the players they have they would willingly trade — Kay Felder or DeAndre Liggins, for example — aren’t going to get Cleveland a playmaker. The Cavs could dangle Iman Shumpert, but he’s starting right now (until J.R. Smith‘s return) and playing fairly well. And Shumpert may not be enough. I expect the Cavaliers are hoping to find someone on the waiver wire after the trade deadline (or maybe before) that can help them.
LeBron may not like it, but he may need to make it work with the guys in the locker room now.
2) Warriors take a vacation, end up on Waiters Island and pay the price in loss to Heat. The Warriors had won seven in a row — beating Cleveland, OKC, and Houston along the way — and they came into Miami looking for a little relaxation, some good Cuban food, and an easy win. Golden State took Miami (winners of three in a row themselves) a little lightly, let the Heat hang around and then…
If you haven’t been watching a lot of Miami this year, Dion Waiters is still the guy you remember — he can put up points, but don’t expect him to do it efficiently. Especially if he has to create his own shot. Waiters is shooting 40.3 percent for the season with a 47.8 true shooting percentage (the league average is around 52).
But there are a couple of games a year when his poor choice midrange jumpers fall, and Monday night was one. Waiters shot 13-of-20 overall, many on difficult shots, which included 4-of-6 from the midrange and 6-of-8 from three. He finished with 33 points, but it was the pull-up three with the game on the line that was the big one and the game winner.
This was a night the Warriors just could not get the three ball to fall, shooting 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) from deep. Combine that with a suddenly confident Heat team playing better and you get a Warriors loss.
3) Rockets defense has no answers for Giannis Antetokounmpo, so Bucks get win. Houston’s defense has been decent this season — they are ranked 15th in the NBA overall, and in the month of December it was sixth best in the league (when the Rockets went 15-2). Yes, Mike D’Antoni’s team is playing some defense.
Except not Monday night. The Bucks shot 58.8 percent as a team, and 11-of-23 from beyond the arc, dropping 127 on the Rockets and getting the win. Antetokounmpo had 31 points on 18 shots (nine of his points came in the final five minutes), while Jabari Parker added 24 points.
Turnovers also were an issue for the Rockets, with one-in-five trips down the court ending in one — including some bad live-ball turnovers that helped the Bucks at key points in the game.
Houston is not 3-5 in its last eight. Fortunately for them the Clippers are banged up and stumbling worse, so the Rockets will likely be able to hold on to the three seed. Just don’t dream of catching the Spurs (now three games up on Houston), especially if the Rockets don’t get this slump turned around soon.
• Bonus thing that made us laugh: Joakim Noah with worst free throw you may ever see. The best part of this video is how he knows it’s bad the second it leaves his hand.
Westbrook hits game-winner as Thunder beat Jazz 97-95 (VIDEO)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) —Russell Westbrook hit a pull-up jumper with 1.4 seconds left, and the Oklahoma City Thunder stopped Utah’s six-game win streak with a 97-95 victory over the Jazz on Monday night.
Westbrook took over down the stretch and scored 11 of the Thunder’s final 13 points after going cold in the third quarter. He finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his 22nd triple-double of the season.
Alec Burks missed the final shot for the Jazz as time expired.
The Jazz rallied in the third quarter with a 13-0 run to take a 66-60 lead, but the Thunder pulled within three early in the fourth thanks to five straight points from Oladipo.
The Thunder took a 56-53 lead into halftime after Westbrook dominated the second, The dynamic point guard scored 14 in the quarter to give him 22 at the break.
Thunder: Steven Adams returned from a two-game absence due to a concussion. … Reserve Enes Kanter scored 14 against his former team.
Jazz: Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan sat with his Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton during the game.
The Jazz announced Monday that ownership of the team and Vivint SmartHome Arena has been transferred from Gail Miller to a legacy trust in a move that ensures the team will remain in the family for generations. Miller said the primary reason for the transfer is to make sure the team stays in the state.
Rodney Hood missed his fourth consecutive game with a right knee hyperextension and bone bruise.
“The original timeline was 2-4 weeks and, as far as I know, he’s on track with that,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s been in getting treatment and starting to do some work on the court. They’re doing all the different measurements and balance tests and all those things.
“He’s making good progress. But I don’t know if that means we’re going to see him later this week or next week. There’s another phase there to clear him for some more competitive stuff … and see how he’s feeling. But right now he’s feeling good.”
Terrence Jones scores 36, leads Pelicans past Cavaliers 124-122
NEW ORLEANS (AP) —Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James‘ dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.
Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James’ drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.
Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
Two of Cleveland’s recent losses came against Western Conference leaders Golden State and San Antonio, but two others have come against teams currently outside the playoff picture in the West: New Orleans and Portland.
Kevin Love had 22 points for Cleveland, which could not quite keep pace with a Pelicans squad that tied a season high for 3-pointers with 16 and shot 49.4 percent (43 of 87).
Donatas Moteijunas scored 14 for New Orleans, while Dante Cunningham scored 11. Each hit a pair of 3s.
The Cavs drained 15 3s, eight by Irving, whose step-back jumper from long range had Cleveland within three with 21 seconds to go, but the Cavs got no closer until Love’s anticlimactic 3 in the final second.
Embarrassed in a 29-point loss to NBA-worst Brooklyn at home on Friday, the Pelicans were eager for a chance to redeem themselves with a competitive showing against the defending champs. That did not appear likely when New Orleans announced less than an hour before tip-off that Davis would be unable to play because of his right leg bruise lingering from a collision with the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie.
Coach Alvin Gentry inserted Jones for Davis as the starting center, and he responded with arguably the most dynamic half of play in the fifth-year veteran’s career. He hit all eight of his shots in the first half, scoring 22 points on an array of jumpers – including two 3s – weaving drives and feisty put-backs.
Holiday, meanwhile, got into an equally prolific rhythm, hitting three 3s and highlighting several impressive drives to the hoop with a two-handed dunk. Holiday’s pullup jumper from just inside the 3-point line with 6 seconds left in the second quarter gave him 22 points and New Orleans a 22-point lead, and Holiday pumped his fist while one of the biggest crowds of the season went wild.
In the last second of the half, James executed a long inbound pass to Love, who converted a quick-release layup to make it 70-50.
Cavaliers: Coach Tyronn Lue was assessed a technical foul by official Leroy Richardson after the coach chastised Richardson for a late whistle giving Moteijunas free throws following a missed layup. … The Cavs won the teams’ only other meeting this season, 90-82 in Cleveland on Jan. 2. … Irving slung in what would have been a sensational, off-balance, one-handed shot from about 30 feet, but it didn’t count because it came too late after Irving was fouled by Tyreke Evans as the pair pursued a loose ball near mid-court.
Pelicans: New Orleans improved to 2-2 without Davis in the lineup. … G E'Twaun Moore, who is 6-foot-4, delighted the crowd by rejecting the 6-8 James near the basket in the first half. … New Orleans shot 60.5 percent (26 of 43) in the first half.=
Heat’s Dion Waiters drains game-winning three to knock off Warriors (VIDEO)
The final three of Waiters’ 33 points came on a deep pull-up three with 0.6 seconds left to give Miami a 105-102 upset of the Warriors. Waiters shot 13-of-20 overall and 6-of-8 from three.
This was a night the Warriors just could not get the three ball to fall, shooting 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) from deep. This ended Golden State’s seven-game win streak and extended the Miami win streak to four.