Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Tyson Chandler

LeBron James and a golden transformation

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A year ago, LeBron James didn’t exist.

After mourning in his house over the loss of the NBA Finals for several weeks, dealing with the way his entire world had been turned upside down, how the public had revolted against him, James was simply absent. He rarely made appearances if ever at the NBA-NBPA meetings in futile efforts to resolve the lockout. He didn’t bring his weight to the negotiation. He didn’t do publicity tours or release cartoons or even commercials. He wasn’t making terrible, facepalm-inducing comments. He was just silent.

He didn’t exist.

Twelve months later, and James’ statements have been made with his actions. And his exposure is not in the form of boneheaded press conference comments or a television special in a plaid shirt, but in the simple step to the podium and a grasp of his legacy.

If the NBA Finals were the rise of James as the undisputed best player in the world and a dramatic shift in his legacy, Sunday’s win over Spain in the gold medal game of the 2012 Olympic games was the cementing of that identity. Draped in the American flag on NBC, when asked about his accomplishments over the past year, James responded with nothing complex, controversial, or self-centered. It was simple.

“This is all about USA.”

In truth, the Olympics showed maybe even more than the NBA season what James’ stature is. On a team of the greatest players in the world, James was the rock. When the offense stalled, James would force his way to the rim with his singular athleticism. When the ball movement became stagnant, James would probe, post, and dish, drawing multiple defenders and leaving players like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony wide open on the perimeter. It was an elite showing of his all-around, every-position skills.

Late in the fourth, Rudy Fernandez foolishly went to challenge a ball-fake from James, leaving the lane wide open when Marc Gasol rotated to cover an off-ball screen. James detonated to the rim and finished with authority. His three-pointer minutes later was the kind of shot he said he was done with, but its satisfying fall through the net a reminder that there is no shot he can’t hit, no ability he does not have in the bag.

James was not the spokesman on the team, nor the emotional leader. That was Kobe Bryant. Similar to Magic Johnson’s role in ’92, Bryant was the player that spoke first and most authoritatively for Team USA. He spoke on the identity, on their goals, on who they were and why they were there. James, Durant, Melo they all deferred to the five-time champion playing in his final Olympics. But on the floor, just like it was with Jordan, it was apparent. James was the best. Kevin Durant’s scoring ability cannot be bested, and it was a collective effort by Team USA to form a cohesive identity. But James’ ability to defend, create the break, pass in transition or in the post, and to attack the rim separated him.

James is the best player in the NBA, in America, on the planet. And if alien life is discovered and they know how to play basketball, you have to like James’ chances there, too.

James will still be hated by many and there is an undercurrent of rumor that James hasn’t changed his personality, that his new identity is simply the result of a new PR team that has focused on shifting how he relates. He’s no longer as candid, and that’s a good thing. He’s no longer as loose-lipped, and that’s a good thing. He’s abandoned his perimeter game by about 80 percent, even in a game with a shortened three like under FIBA rules. He’s somehow taken the vast number of talents he has and made them make more sense together, linked them to one another.

Maybe he’s not more likable. But it’s impossible not to respect what he’s capable of, and how he leads by example.

The 2012 Olympic Gold Medal in basketball will be remembered for the talk of how they match up with the Dream Team (hint: they don’t), for Kobe’s last run, for Kevin Love’s coming out party and Kevin Durant stepping to the stage as the deadliest shooter in the world (if he wasn’t already). But there will also be the knowledge that there is no step back for LeBron, no reconfiguration of his identity, no regression. After three months of the best basketball he could play, he threw another six weeks on, added his gold medal, and left no doubt.

The King has his ring, and the gold to go with it.

Paul George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111

Indiana Pacers forward Paul George reacts after scoring a basket against the Portland Trail Blazers in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/R Brent Smith)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead.

Indiana didn’t even take its first lead until Al Jefferson was fouled on a basket and made the bonus free throw to put the Pacers ahead for the first time 99-98 with 8:34 left in the fourth quarter. Then McCollum scored seven straight points to give the Trail Blazers the lead again before George took over.

The Pacers trailed by 20 points at one point after Portland didn’t waste much time taking a lead right from the start.

Lillard, who scored 28 points in Portland’s 131-109 win over Indiana on Nov. 30, had a big first quarter with 19 points and five 3-pointers.

He made back-to-back 3s to put the Trail Blazers ahead 26-11 with 5:59 remaining in the first and McCollum’s 3-pointer with 8:09 left in the second quarter gave the Trail Blazers a 58-38 lead.

George made back-to-back 3-pointers with under a minute to go in the first half. His 3 with 25.3 second remaining put the Pacers within seven to trail 71-64 at the half.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Their 44 points in the first quarter were the most Portland has scored in a quarter this season. … Portland finished with 16 3-pointers. … Lillard had nine assists. … Mason Plumlee had eight points and nine rebounds.

Pacers: Jefferson finished with 10 points off the bench. … Monta Ellis had 10 points and five assists.

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Monday they travel to Los Angeles to play the Clippers.

Pacers: Monday they host Charlotte and try to snap a four-game losing streak to the Hornets.

Stephen Curry says the Warriors “sucked” but his Christmas light necklace is cool (VIDEO)

curry christmas light necklace
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Stephen Curry had one message after the Golden State Warriors lost to the Memphis Grizzlies, 110-89, on Saturday night.

Well, maybe he had two.

  1. “We sucked tonight.”
  2. Check out this sweet Christmas light necklace.

I’ll show you what I mean.

Via Twitter:

That’s a pretty sweet postgame fashion choice, even while the Warriors had an abysmal 88.5 offensive rating in the loss and Curry himself scored just 17 points on 4-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-11 from deep.

Memphis found a way to stifle Curry all night, including forcing him into airballs and rejecting his attempts at the rim with thunderous blocks.

Golden State was without center Zaza Pachulia, who missed the game with a right wrist injury. Anderson Varejao started in his place, but there wasn’t a Warriors starter who finished the game with a positive +/- despite Memphis playing somewhat pedestrian.

Cool necklace, bummer for Golden State fans as the team drops to 20-4. That makes them, uh, well still No. 1 in the Western Conference I guess. No need to panic in the middle of a road trip that ends with New Orleans, Minnesota, then back home for New York and Portland.

Gallinari, Faried lead Nuggets to 121-113 win over Magic

Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Danilo Gallinari scored 21 points, Kenneth Faried had 19 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, and the Denver Nuggets defeated the Orlando Magic 121-113 on Saturday night.

Jusuf Nurkic added 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds for the Nuggets, who lost their previous two games. Will Barton scored 16.

Faried was 9 of 10 from the field and Denver shot 57 percent in sending the Magic to their third straight loss.

The Nuggets outscored short-handed Orlando 64-34 in the paint. Magic center Nikola Vucevic did not suit up because of an injury.

Evan Fournier led Orlando with 24 points. Serge Ibaka had 22 points and four blocked shots.

After trailing by four in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets bounced back with big baskets from Nikola Jokic and Faried. Denver, which led by as many as 11 in the third, went ahead 109-106 on a 3-pointer by Gallinari with 4 minutes left and never trailed again.

Sparked by Ibaka’s block on Nurkic and 3-pointer at the other end midway through the third quarter, the Magic fought back from an 11-point deficit to take a 95-92 lead going into the fourth.

Taking advantage of numerous defensive breakdowns by Orlando, the Nuggets took a double-digit lead during the second quarter before settling for a 65-58 lead at halftime. Gallinari had 12 points while Faried and rookie Juancho Hernangomez both scored 12 off the bench for Denver.

The Nuggets, who led by 11 in the second period, shot 55 percent from the field and nearly 56 percent from 3-point range in the first two quarters. Coming off a loss to Charlotte on Friday night and playing their fourth game in five nights, the Magic seemed a step slow as Denver was allowed to drive the lane at ease in the first half.

Led by big men Jokic and Nurkic, the Nuggets scored 36 points in the paint compared to just 20 for Orlando and won the rebounding battle 25-16 in the first 24 minutes.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Hernangomez shot 4 of 5 on 3-pointers in the second quarter. … Denver’s bench outscored the Magic’s reserves 34-16 in the first half.

Magic: Vucevic (sore shoulder) and fellow center Bismack Biyombo (sore back) were game-time decisions after coming out of Friday night’s loss at Charlotte banged up. Biyombo started and had 12 points in 34 minutes. … The Magic recalled rookie center Stephen Zimmerman from the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League.

UP NEXT

Nuggets: Their six-game road swing ends Monday in Dallas. The Mavericks have won five of the last six regular-season matchups.

Magic: Orlando visits Atlanta on Tuesday night. The Magic have lost 17 of their last 22 games against the Hawks.

Pistons send Stanley Johnson, 2 others to D-League

Stanley Johnson
AP
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Pistons assigned forwards Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson and guard Michael Gbinije to the team’s D-League affiliate in Grand Rapids.

The moves came before Grand Rapids hosted Delaware on Saturday night. The Pistons were off Saturday. Detroit hosts the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

Johnson, a first-round draft pick in 2015, has averaged only 3.3 points in 21 games this season after showing potential as a rookie. Ellenson, who was drafted in the first round this year, has appeared in only six games this season.