LeBron tweets he’s not MJ, but he’s playing in that air now

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That we are even having this conversation speaks to how well LeBron James is playing.

As a sports culture have mythologized Michael Jordan to the point he’s superhuman and unassailable. Nike deserves some credit for that. To mention anyone playing at a Jordan-like level is to bring out MJ’s defenders (does he really need defenders?) to point out his stats, or how he never lost in the finals, or how he played at this level for so long, or whatever line of defense they are offering. Even though nobody is questioning Jordan’s greatness.

But the fact remains that right now LeBron is playing at a Jordanesque level — six games in a row scoring 30 points and shooting better than 60 percent in each of those wins. Nobody has ever done that before. Combine it with his LeBron’s run of winning the NBA MVP last season, the finals MVP, a ring with the Heat then an Olympic gold medal — a one-year combo only accomplished by Jordan — and it’s hard not to make comparisons.

Because Jordan is the measuring stick and LeBron has started to come closer than anyone else ever has.

LeBron doesn’t want the comparisons.

That’s fair. He wants to be his own man. LeBron isn’t Jordan; they are different players in both style and temperament. They played in different eras (with different rules about defending on the perimeter).

Jordan is the measuring stick for a reason. While I would argue LeBron has played at a Jordan level the last year and a half, Jordan played at that peak level for six or seven years and has six rings to show for it. Jordan has 10 scoring titles, 5 MVPs and 6 glittering rings. LeBron isn’t there yet. In a long-view historical context Jordan is the better player. Of course, when you get into the historical context you have to bring in how Wilt Chamberlain dominated the league (he led the league in assists one season, just for fun), or Bill Russell (11 rings and as fierce a competitor as there has been), or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s ridiculous career numbers (six time MVP, six rings, most points scored in NBA history), or a number of other guys that should be in that conversation.

But Jordan is the most recent guy in that historical conversation, the guy we all saw play and dazzle us, the guy imprinted in our minds, and he’s the guy we measure all the great players of today against. Fair or not.

And the way LeBron is playing right now, we have to compare him in a historical context because he is unquestionably the best in the game right now.

LeBron is playing closer to Jordan’s level than anyone since Jordan himself retired from Chicago (I have blocked the Washington years out of my mind). In the past season and a half LeBron has been beter and more efficient than peak Kobe Bryant, than anyone since MJ himself.

Jordan is the historical measuring stick and while LeBron may not want out of that shadow the comparisons are unavoidable.

The question is how will we view those comparisons when LeBron retires someday?

Thunder’s Taj Gibson providing scoring help for Westbrook

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Taj Gibson often describes his role for the Thunder as doing whatever the team needs.

For now, scoring is playing a bigger part than usual. The versatile 6-foot-9 power forward has found his way since being traded from Chicago and has emerged one of Oklahoma City’s few consistent offensive weapons alongside Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. He may need to keep it up to give the Thunder a chance of winning the first-round series with Houston – Oklahoma City trails 2-1 heading into Game 4 Sunday at home.

Gibson built a sterling reputation in Chicago, but the Brooklyn, New York native is more concerned with the respect he’s earned since his arrival.

“They see I’m in here late nights, early mornings, just constantly working with my teammates, constantly putting work in,” he said. “The confidence is going to be there because they understand you do the work, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team.”

Gibson has done a little bit of everything since coming to the Thunder. He has provided experience and versatility to an already stacked frontline that includes emerging young players Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. He also has added toughness, and at times, scoring punch. His athleticism and ability to guard on the perimeter against outside-shooting big men and on switches fills some of the void created when the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka on draft night this past offseason.

“Great vet,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “Great man, first and foremost. Very positive and does what it takes to win. It was a great pickup for us.”

Domantas Sabonis was the starting power forward when Gibson arrived in Oklahoma City, but once he got settled and began to understand coach Billy Donovan’s system, the Thunder improved. Gibson replaced Sabonis for the first time March 9 against San Antonio, and the Thunder went 11-5 with him in the starting lineup. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 regular-season games for the Thunder.

He is averaging 11 points on 65 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was effective on offense in Game 2, establishing himself early and helping put the Thunder in position to win. Oklahoma City went away from him late, and Houston rallied for the victory.

In Game 3, the Thunder went back to him consistently. a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/dab4b99c496a4450906c11a9c72132d1/Westbrook’s-triple-double-leads-Thunder-past-Rockets-115-113?utm-campaign=SocialFlow&utm-source=Twitter&utm-medium=AP-Sports’He finished with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Oklahoma City’s 115-113 win/a on Friday night.

“Taj is a great post player,” Westbrook said. “He does a great job of getting in great position down low. When we see a matchup that we like we are going to keep going to him. Whether it is a miss or a make, it gives us the opportunity to score the basketball in the paint.”

Gibson did damage inside and out and punished the Rockets with his mid-range jumper.

“It’s no shock to me, just because that mid-range is automatic for him,” Thunder forward Doug McDermott, who also joined the Thunder in the trade with Chicago, said. “He’s tough to guard on that block too.”

Gibson also had a fast start in Game 2, but once the Thunder began to struggle, they went away from him. Gibson knew he didn’t need to change much going into Game 3.

“Just continue to be aggressive,” he said. “I felt like I had good shots in Game 2. Just got to stay with it and play the game as it flows to me.”

On defense, Gibson has been a better option than Kanter and Adams, who have struggled to keep up with the more athletic Rockets. Gibson performed well in all facets in Game 3, and Donovan needs more of that in Game 4.

“I was happy for him last night,” Donovan said Saturday. “I thought he gave us a great lift in both the first and second half. He’s professional, he’s a man, and he’s a reliable guy.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Watch Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley in epic playoff duel Saturday (VIDEO)

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Kawhi Leonard scored 16 straight points for the Spurs at the end of regulation to give San Antonio the lead and a chance. Then Mike Conley hit a floater in the lane forced overtime.

There Mike Conley hit a floating bank shot that had the Grizzlies up three with :47 seconds left, only to have Leonard answer with a three to tie the game. Marc Gasol would break that tie and get Memphis the series-evening win.

Conley and Leonard traded blows through the clutch parts of Saturday’s epic Game 4 between Memphis and San Antonio. It’s worth checking out the highlights again.

John Wall goes coast-to-coast, behind-the-back for lefty dunk (VIDEO)

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There’s not going to be many plays better than this in the entire playoffs.

There wasn’t a lot for Wizards’ fans to cheer in Game 3, the Hawks took control early and routed Washington, making it a 2-1 series. But there was this, John Wall going coast-to-coast with the ball, going around-the-back and throwing it down left handed.

Wall is just so fast end to end.

Warriors take 3-0 series lead over Blazers with 119-113 win

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 34 points, Klay Thompson added 24 and the short-handed Golden State Warriors overcame a slow start to take a 3-0 lead in their playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers with a 119-113 victory on Saturday night.

The Blazers led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but couldn’t hold off the Warriors, who can clinch the series with a win Monday night in Game 4 at the Moda Center.

Golden State was without Kevin Durant, who was sitting for a second straight game cause of a left calf strain, and coach Steve Kerr stayed back at the team hotel because of illness.

The Warriors took a 108-100 lead after Andre Iguodala‘s dunk with 4:05 to go.

Noah Vonleh‘s dunk got Portland within four at 110-106 with 1:29 left, but Curry answered with a 3-pointer that all but sealed it, sending fans streaming for the exits.

CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 32 points, while Damian Lillard added 31.