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The Extra Pass: Kevin Durant’s shot at history

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at Kevin Durant’s chance to make NBA history.

For the last three seasons, Kevin Durant has led the NBA in scoring. That’s no easy task, but doing it again this year is going to be quite the challenge.

Kobe Bryant is the current points per game leader, and if the Lakers do end up out of the playoff hunt, we know exactly what he’ll be gunning for. Out in New York, Carmelo Anthony is having his best year ever and is scoring from all over the court. James Harden lurks as a darkhorse who will get all the shots he can handle, and LeBron James is always a threat to win it — if he feels like it. Point is, the competition for the scoring title this year will be stiff.

Of course, there’s history on the side of the challengers as well. Five players in NBA history have led the league in scoring three straight seasons, but only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have done it four years in a row.

But if Durant can beat out the competition and secure the scoring title, he’ll have a chance to do something no one in NBA history has ever done — not Jordan, not Wilt — no one.

The 180 Shooter

A “180 shooter” is a player whose field goal percentage (at least 50%), 3-point percentage (at least 40%) and free throw percentage (at least 90%) add up to 180 or greater. It’s a term coined by the late, great Rick Majerus, who was full of little nuggets of basketball wisdom.

Since the 3-point line was introduced in the 1979-80 season, the NBA has had seven different players join the 180 club. It’s almost basketball’s equivalent to baseball’s Triple Crown, albeit more common.

Only the best of the best of the best shooters gain this distinction. Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Price, Steve Nash, Steve Kerr and Jose Calderon have all had 50-40-90 years that placed them in the 180 club.

Durant’s résumé

Durant is obviously a great shooter, but he hasn’t so much as sniffed the 180 club in his career. Despite that beautiful jumper, he has never shot over 50 percent from the field, and he’s only eclipsed 40 percent 3-point shooting and 90 percent free throw shooting once, and in different seasons at that. If you were to guess which players were most likely to join the club going into this year, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash or Jose Calderon would have been much better choices given their past performances.

With all that said, it’s pretty easy to forget that Durant is only 24-years-old. He’s still perfecting his shot and finding ways to free himself up for better looks, which is terrifying for the rest of the league, but great for his numbers.

Where Durant stands today

Going into Wednesday night’s games, Durant is shooting 52 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line, and 90 percent from the foul line. If the season ended today, Durant would become the eighth player in NBA history to post percentages of 50-40-90.

What does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Excluding Calderon, the last two members to join the club (Nowitzki and Nash) have won the league MVP. Obviously there are other factors at play, but it doesn’t hurt to solidify yourself as the league’s best shooter when it’s time to tally the votes.

But here’s where Durant can really separate himself from his current peers and past shooting legends. If Durant can manage to win the scoring title and keep these percentages intact, he’ll be the only 180 shooter in NBA history to lead the league in scoring.

All by himself

There are a few reasons why Durant would be the only player to have ever done this. The first is obvious enough: bigger point totals almost always come at the cost of efficiency.

The second reason why this hasn’t happened? Michael Jeffrey Jordan. In the 1987-88 season, Larry Bird averaged a whopping 29.9 points per game, but that was only good for third on the scoring list. Dominique Wilkins, maybe the most underrated player ever, averaged 30.7 points a game that year for the Hawks. But MJ? He averaged a ridiculous 35 points per game. Think about how crazy that is. We make a big deal when a player drops 40, but Jordan nearly averaged that.

That’s part of what makes Durant’s potential accomplishment so impressive. There aren’t many individual feats MJ left unclaimed, but this is one of them. And in what is already shaping up as one of the league’s hottest MVP races of recent memory, with Durant, James, Chris Paul, Anthony, and Tim Duncan all in contention, doing something no one has ever done before may end up tipping the scales in Durant’s favor.

LeBron on Cavs’ three-game losing streak: “We got to get out of the honeymoon stage”

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James wipes his face as he looks down after guard Kyrie Irving missed a shot during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Chicago. The Bulls won 111-105. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Associated Press
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For a team that is 13-5 and atop the Eastern Conference standings, the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t been their intimidating selves consistently this season. There have been flashes during a 13-2 start, but mostly they win on talent, or when they flip the switch for a half, but they haven’t looked like a tested team working on building good habits through the first quarter of the NBA season. They have an elite offense, but their defense is surrendering 105.1 points per 100 possessions, 20th in the league.

It’s been worse the last four games. The Cavaliers had to come from behind to beat the Sixers, then got blown out by the Bucks and Clippers. Friday night, Cleveland lost to Chicago, giving the Cavs a three-game losing streak, and LeBron James had enough. He sent a message to his team through the media (from the Associated Press):

“We got to get out of the honeymoon stage,” James said. “You got to play the game, the right way. We’ve got to battle every night like we ain’t won nothing. Last year is last year. After ring night is over with, now it’s a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over. It’s time to play some real ball and be physical, especially in the trenches. Giving up 78 points (in the paint) is ridiculous. We’ve got to man up. Everybody.”

The Cavaliers would be far from the first team to have a championship hangover, and considering the five-decade title drought in Cleveland before that win we should have expected one of those “I can’t get off the couch, I’m just going to lay here and watch golf all day” kind of hangovers. As Gregg Popovich has said before, its human nature to let up after a big win.

However, the blowout loss at the hands of the Clippers Thursday — the only title contending team the Cavs have faced this season — should be a wake-up call. The fact is the Cavaliers are still playing well enough to beat everyone in the East, but their real tests come in the form of the Warriors/Clippers/Spurs out West. Right now it’s hard to picture the inconsistent defense of the Cavaliers lifting them past any of those teams in four out of seven games.

LeBron has been to six-straight Finals for a reason — he does not let up. And he’s going to have to shake this team out of its malaise to get them back to an elite standing.

It’s also the first week of December. It’s we’re having this same conversation the last week of March about the Cavaliers then it’s okay to start looking for the panic button in Cleveland. For now, trust LeBron to be the leader this team needs. Calling them out was just step one.

 

James Harden scores 20 in Rockets’ runaway win over Denver 128-110

Houston Rockets guard James Harden brings the ball upcourt against the Denver Nuggets in the first half of an NBA basketball game late Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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DENVER (AP) — James Harden scored 20 points and the Houston Rockets led from start to finish in beating the Denver Nuggets 128-110 on Friday night.

Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson had 18 points each and Sam Dekkar added 17 points for Houston, which completed an impressive road back-to-back sweep that began with its 132-127 win over Golden State in double overtime on Thursday.

Wilson Chandler had 24 points to lead the Nuggets, who saw their three-game winning streak against the Rockets come to an end. The Nuggets have lost four of their last five and fell to 3-7 this season at home, the high-altitude venue they once routinely dominated.

Up by 10 points at halftime, the Rockets took a 99-84 lead into the fourth quarter and kept the pressure on the rest of the way as part of a sharpshooting display that included converting 17 of 37 3-point attempts against a listless Nuggets defense. Denver made 9 of 30 from beyond the arc.

The Rockets took a 73-63 halftime lead over the Nuggets, who allowed a season high in points over the first two quarters by an opponent.

Houston led by as many as 15 points in the first half, hitting nine 3 pointers, including four by Anderson, to gain early separation with its highest scoring output over the first two quarters this season.

The lack of defensive urgency by Denver was epitomized by Gordon’s fastbreak layup at the halftime buzzer as he drove the length of the court virtually uncontested in the final 3 seconds of the period.

TIP-INS

Rockets: F Trevor Ariza left the game in the final minutes with a leg injury, apparently after coming down awkwardly while going for a rebound. … Houston has made at least 10 3-pointers in 19 consecutive games, the longest streak of its kind in league history. … Houston’s previous high for first-half points was 71 against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 26. … Houston is 7-2 on the road since beginning the season 2-3.

Nuggets: C Nikola Jokic missed the game because of a sore left wrist. … G Gary Harris remains sidelined with a right foot injury. … G Will Barton returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the previous two games.

 

Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade lead Bulls to 111-105 win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, front left, talks with Chicago Bulls' Dwyane Wade before an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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CHICAGO (AP) — LeBron James wasn’t holding back.

Cleveland’s superstar had plenty to say after the Cavaliers gave up 78 points in the paint on the way to another loss. The condensed version was this: It’s time to start playing like a championship team again.

Jimmy Butler scored 26 points, Dwyane Wade had 24 and the Chicago Bulls beat James and the slumping Cavaliers 111-105 on Friday night.

Taj Gibson added a season-high 23 points and 11 rebounds for Chicago. Rajon Rondo had 15 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds as the balanced Bulls handed the Cavaliers their third straight loss.

“We got to get out of the honeymoon stage,” James said. “You got to play the game, the right way. We’ve got to battle every night like we ain’t won nothing. Last year is last year. After ring night is over with, now it’s a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over. It’s time to play some real ball and be physical, especially in the trenches. Giving up 78 points (in the paint) is ridiculous. We’ve got to man up. Everybody.”

James manned up to the tune of 27 points and 13 assists, a championship-level performance on a night when he showed up dressed as a World Series champion: He arrived at the arena in a Cubs uniform to honor a World Series bet with buddy Wade.

Kyrie Irving added 20 points and eight assists, but the Cavaliers matched their longest losing streak in a year.

Chicago dominated Cleveland 78-60 in the paint, outrebounded the Cavaliers 49-33 and came out on top despite shooting 3 of 18 on 3-pointers. It was a big turnaround for the Bulls coming off a loss to the Lakers.

“I think we know what we’re capable of if we play basketball the right way and do what we’re supposed to do,” Butler said.

DOWN THE STRETCH

The Bulls used a strong third quarter to turn a one-point halftime deficit into an 88-80 lead. And they withstood several pushes in the fourth to knock off the defending NBA champions.

Kevin Love nailed a 3 to cut the lead to 103-99 with about 4 minutes left, but the Bulls hung on.

Wade drove for a layup to make it 107-101 with 2:39 remaining. Nikola Mirotic then stole the ball from James, leading to a putback basket for Wade.

Mirotic came up with another big play when he blocked a 3 by Irving with 1:11 left to cause a shot-clock violation.

KING CUB

James clearly wasn’t thrilled about having to wear a Chicago Cubs uniform after he rooted hard for his hometown Cleveland Indians in the World Series. But he was a man of his word, honoring the wager he made with Wade, his good friend and former Miami Heat teammate.

James wore a No. 23 Cubs jersey with his last name stitched across the back, a Cubs hat partially covered by a Cubbie-blue hoodie, pinstripe pants and long baseball socks. James’ uniform even had the 2016 World Series champions shoulder patch.

“I actually thought he looked good,” said Wade, who was waiting for James when he arrived at the arena and took a picture of his ex-teammate. “He actually did look like a baseball player.”

The two hugged before tipoff and had some playful moments during the game.

James patted Wade on the backside as they ran down the court together after he hit a tough fadeaway jumper over his pal in the third quarter. Wade returned the favor after burying a 3 in James’ face moments later.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: G/F Mike Dunleavy Jr. missed his second consecutive game because of a concussion.

Bulls: Rondo’s triple-double was his first with the Bulls and the 29th of his career. … Butler has 12 straight games with 20 or more points. … With the Bulls playing four times in five days, coach Fred Hoiberg said Wade won’t travel to Dallas for Saturday’s game. … Hoiberg said F Doug McDermott (concussion) could be cleared for contact shortly and might practice with the D-League’s Windy City Bulls.

 

Watch Kawhi Leonard sink game winner to lift Spurs past Wizards

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Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: the Spurs ramped up their defense and execution in the third quarter, with their bench sparking a run that gave them the lead, then they held on and got the game-winning shot from their star on a clever play.

LaMarcus Aldridge set the screen that freed up Manu Ginobili to be the playmaker, then set another that got Kawhi Leonard a clean look at the game winner. Aldridge had 19 points on the night, but it’s those things that do not show up in the box score that gets the Spurs wins.

Plus, they just make shots under pressure.