Miami Heat's James passes against the Detroit Pistons in a preseason NBA basketball game in Miami

LeBron James: “If I wanted to, I could lead the league in scoring.”

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LeBron James has been great this season, but he’s not leading the league in scoring. That title currently belongs to Kobe Bryant; a guy who has more buckets than someone in Seattle with a leaky roof. LeBron is actually 5th in the NBA in scoring right now (behind Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and James Harden), and he’s also averaging his lowest points per game total since his rookie season.

Now, before you go searching for explanations and blame the championship hangover or whatever else, allow LeBron to clear things up for you. He doesn’t want to lead the league in scoring. He can, but he doesn’t want to.

That seems like a weird thing not to want, but let’s let LeBron explain himself:

“If I wanted to, I could lead the league in scoring, but that’s not my job here,” James said.

“My job is to do a lot of everything — rebounding, passing and defending so that takes away from my scoring. I’ve done (the scoring title) before. I’m capable of doing it, but my game sometimes doesn’t allow me to have those big nights.”

“I’m shooting 54 percent from the field right now, so if I shoot 54 percent at 25 shots a game? Pff, that’s like … doing my math … that’s 27 points right there. That’s without shooting free throws and shooting 42 percent from the 3-point line.”

“I could do it if I wanted to,” James reiterated.

Via Heat Index | Tom Haberstroh

Remember when Sasha Vujacic said he could score 20 or 30 points anytime he wanted to? This is just like that, except the exact opposite. The natural inclination may be to scoff at LeBron’s comments, to want to call him on his bluff, but James really could lead the league in scoring if he felt like it.

Remember, he’s done it before. LeBron led the league in scoring in the 2007-08 season, when he scored exactly 30 points a game.

And as LeBron so astutely pointed out, he’s shooting 54 percent from the field and a ridiculous 44 percent from the 3-point line. He could easily stand to chuck up about 7 or 8 more shots a game, still have great percentages, and lead the league in scoring.

You know what? You almost wish LeBron would gun for it, just so he could start an arms race with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. Who would be more shameless in their attempt to lock down the title at the end of the year? Bryant shot the ball 41 times last night against Golden State, and the part of me that hates good basketball kind of wants to see that every night. It would be everything the ABA was, minus the pastels and the afros.

For now though, we’ll have to take LeBron’s word for it, and hope that he chases another stat achievement entirely. He’s not particularly close right now, but LeBron probably has the best shot to average a triple-double over an entire season. That’s only been done only once in NBA history — way back in 1961 when Oscar Robertson averaged 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists a game. Mind you, Robertson also played 44 minutes a night, something Erik Spoelstra wouldn’t dream of doing with his star, but we can still dream. James is currently averaging 25.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists a game, so unless the scorekeepers in Miami start being really friendly with the assists, it’s highly unlikely.

But 82 games is a long time, and the tales of Michael Jordan’s trash talk would lead you to believe that players crave any sort of extra motivation they can get to make things more interesting for themselves over a long season.

Someone just needs to tell LeBron he can’t average a triple-double for a full season, and then maybe he would.

Someone bigger and scarier than I am, preferably.

‘It’s eating me alive:’ DeMarcus Cousins again leading Kings’ longshot playoff push

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, right, drives against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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When the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins, he named his rookie goals: “Get to the playoffs, go for the championship.” But the NBA humbled the young player, as Sacramento went just 24-58 and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Cousins emerged for his second season resolute on a more-modest goal: “Playoffs. We’ve got to make the playoffs this year. It’s not even a goal. It’s basically in our contract, I believe. So, we’ve got to make the playoffs this year.”

Five seasons later, Cousins is still chasing that elusive postseason trip.

“It’s eating me alive,” Cousins said. “Every loss or every time another team wins in battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive. Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

A depressing chase for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, where every team in the race is at least seven games under .500, has opened the door for the 17-27 Kings. They’re 1.5 games and three teams out of playoff position – a more daunting challenge than often realized. Not only must they play better, they must hope a couple teams ahead of them don’t also heat up. 538 gives Sacramento just a 5% chance of reaching the postseason, and ESPN is even more pessimistic at 3.8%.

Beginning his career with seven straight lottery trips would be another crushing blow to Cousins, who has built a credible case as the NBA’s best center. Greg Monroe is the only current player with more win shares who hasn’t reached the playoffs:

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Nobody nears Cousins besides Monroe, and the next-closest player, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, likely makes the playoffs this year. Monroe leads in win shares, because he entered the league more polished than Cousins and built a head start (and because this stat probably inflates’ Monroe’s contributions relative to Cousins’.) Monroe has never neared Cousins’ peak, and Monroe is now a backup for the Bucks. The only thing second-team about Cousins is his two All-NBA appearances.

Kevin Love is the only other player since the NBA-ABA merger to make multiple All-NBA teams before his first playoff season. He, of course, left the Timberwolves for the Cavaliers to escape lists like these.

On the other hand, there have been indications from both sides Cousins will soon sign a veteran-designated-player contract extension projected to be worth more than $219 million over five years. Staying in Sacramento and playing for owner Vivek Ranadive seems like the surest bet to keep Cousins’ postseason drought active.

Cousins already ranks in the top 25 all-time in win shares before a player’s first playoff season (which doesn’t count this season, because playoff teams aren’t yet determined):

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Cousins has 5.2 win shares this season and counting. Missing the playoffs again would launch him into the top 10 of this dubious list – and he could keep climbing.

Not only do the Kings face daunting odds to reach the postseason this year, it’s difficult to project them into the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Years of roster mismanagement have taken a toll.

Since drafting Cousins, Sacramento has held top-10 picks every year. Those have netted on draft night: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic – who’ve combined for a measly 2.2 win shares this season. And most of those win shares come from Stauskas and Robinson, who no longer play for the Kings.

In fact, Stauskas was sent out in a disastrous trade that gives the 76ers swap rights on Sacramento’s 2017 first-rounder* and Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 first-rounder.

*The Kings’ first-round pick must fall in the top to be swap-eligible. Otherwise, it goes to the Bulls, the result of another botched trade.

Sacramento has also recently struck out on major free agents and then settled for Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. That adds up to one mediocre supporting cast.

Meanwhile, Cousins is better than ever. He has taken a larger offensive burden, including as a distributor and suddenly dangerous 3-point shooter, while cutting down his turnover rate. Defenders are often overmatched, and they foul him more than anyone in the league. And while Cousins’ defense comes and goes, it can be quite impressive while he’s locked in.

The result is a team that plays at a 41-win pace with Cousins on the floor and a 17-win pace when he sits, continuing a disparity seen over the last few years. Hera are the Kings win paces over 82 games with Cousins on (purple) and off (black):

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Obviously, teams generally play better with their stars and starters on the court, and Cousins is a star who usually shares the court with other starters. But this gap is particularly egregious, and Cousins’ fellow starters have underwhelmed.

So, more and more falls on Cousins’ shoulders.

Playing for his sixth head coach and third general manager in seven seasons, Cousins sets the tone for the Kings, for better or worse. He plays with a unique rage, sneering resentfully at anyone who gets in his way on the court – like players trying to defend him or referees, gasp, calling a foul on him. He leads the league with 12 technical fouls and is on pace to get (at least) 16 and an automatic suspension, which he also triggered last year.

His highs are incredibly high and his lows are unnecessarily low.

That moodiness has frustrated coaches and teammates, but it also sometimes works himself and his teammates into a productive frenzy. Sacramento usually plays passionately, which is both to its credit and a sign of a talent scarcity considering the team still loses so frequently.

“I’m still confident,” Cousins said, “and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

For the last few years, Cousins has looked unstoppable while the Kings have been quite easily stoppable. He’s trying to drag the franchise up with him, but optimism and desire might not be enough. At a certain point we must ask: What more can Cousins do?

Russell Westbrook keeps trying to show up Rudy Gobert

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the second quarter during a NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Jazz center Rudy Gobert is having an awesome season, credibly putting himself in the mix with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol as the NBA’s best big men.

But that doesn’t mean Russell Westbrook respects him.

Before the Thunder’s win over Utah yesterday, Westbrook was asked how Oklahoma City would contain Gobert. Westbrook just laughed and walked off.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

Then, in the game, Westbrook tried to jump right over the 7-foot-1 Gobert and dunk on him:

I would say Gobert proved his ability by successfully protecting the paint, but I’m just too astounded by Westbrook’s leap.

Zaza Pachulia, running up court, turns back to smack Luke Babbitt in face (video)

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Is Zaza Pachulia a dirty player?

That debate can be rekindled after the Warriors center earned this flagrant foul for smacking Heat forward Luke Babbitt.

Just don’t forget: Pachulia is more than an unskilled enforcer. He brings plenty to the table as Golden State’s fifth starter, and his ability was on display earlier in the game:

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.