LeBron’s post-ups the latest problem for the Pacers to try and solve

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The Miami Heat got whatever they want offensively in Game 3 against the Pacers, racing out to put 70 points on the board by halftime in what would end up being an easy 18-point victory that reasserted the team’s dominance.

LeBron James was especially effective early, and got things going in the first half by attacking Indiana’s defense in the post and the paint to score 18 of his team-high 22 points in the game’s first 24 minutes.

Most impressive was the fact that on three of his first seven made shots, as well as on the final one he made in the game with almost 11 minutes still remaining in the fourth quarter, James backed down his defender and scored easily over him in post-up situations.

These weren’t simply cases of James establishing position on the low block, followed by a teammate dumping it in for him to make a power move to the basket. On each of his four possessions where he scored on post-ups, James received the ball and faced up maybe 17 feet away before backing down his defender (Paul George in all four cases) and scoring inside.

Even more impressive, James turned baseline and finished with his left hand off the glass on three of his four post-up scores. That means that rim protector Roy Hibbert had no chance to come over and help from the weak side; it was George by himself on an island, where James is essentially unstoppable.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra wouldn’t say that James attacking in the post was a specific part of his team’s game plan, but he did mention how LeBron forcing the action helped set the overall tone for his team.

“It wasn’t something we saw against a very good defender,” Spoelstra said. “It was something we wanted to get to, just to help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack. Because Paul George and that defense is a very good ‑‑ he’s a very good defender and he can do it in a lot of different ways. But we wanted to be a little more aggressive, a little more committed to getting into the paint and seeing what would happen. And LeBron was very committed and focused to not settle. That aggressiveness set the tone.”

Hibbert knows that by the time James gets to the low block in a one-on-one situation, it’s too late for the defense. He wants to see the activity much earlier on in order to prevent James from getting to that spot.

“You know, he was in the post putting in a lot of work,” Hibbert said. “I think we have to do a better job of helping Paul out. LeBron can’t get five or six dribbles to get a post move. We have to make adjustments. He’s obviously a low‑post threat, but we have to make adjustments.”

The adjustments to make would be to double James when he gets the ball before he makes his move to the post, but that would go against everything the Pacers have done defensively all season long. Indiana is a team built on containing and helping once guys get into the paint, not leaving guys wide open and putting their defense in a scramble situation just to take away one particular player’s strength. But they can bring a second defender to pressure the ball once James puts it on the floor, as opposed to the way they simply watched him go to work in this one.

“I saw I had a one‑on‑one matchup,” James said, in explaining how he was able to score so easily on these plays. “They didn’t come down in the post all game, so I just tried to take advantage of it. My teammates gave me space. I just tried to sit in the post, not get the ball in the wing as much tonight. Tried to anchor myself down on the block and go to work. I was able to do that.”

The good news for the Pacers is that James only scored on these post-ups four times, and on one of those, he got into the paint for a layup while Hibbert was on the bench. This wasn’t a case of LeBron going off for 40 points on the same play over and over again, but it was a reminder of yet another way James can beat you if he’s allowed to go to work against a single defender, and it’s one more cause for concern for Indiana to deal with now that the Heat have reclaimed control of the series.

Russell Westbrook assists Andre Roberson transition dunk with sweet behind-the-back pass (video)

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Russell Westbrook produced a historic triple-double in the Thunder’s win over the 76ers last night, but merely counting his misses — zero — doesn’t do him justice.

Dunk-assisting behind-the-back passes are nice in any context. Considering how quickly Westbrook pushes the ball up the floor, the degree of difficulty here makes this one even more impressive.

Probably fake Cavaliers fan wears burnt LeBron James jersey (video)

AP Photo/Brett Davis
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Update: As pointed out by several, the Cavs didn’t introduce this jersey until after LeBron left. So, this was probably staged by the Nuggets. Still funny (and still searching for more evidence of Cleveland fans reconciling their about-face on LeBron).

 

Cavaliers fans went overboard when they burned LeBron James jerseys in the street when he left for the Heat in 2010.

Many of those same fans instantly forgot the terrible things they said about LeBron once he returned to Cleveland in 2014.

And then there’s this guy…

Ananth Pandian:

I’d like to believe this guy is publicly repenting for going too far in 2010.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: LeBron says Cavs lack toughness, or are they bored?

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The NCAA Tournament gets back underway Thursday, but the NBA ball just keeps rolling along. Here are the big takeaways from Wednesday.

1) LeBron James says Cavaliers lack toughness. Is there trouble or are they just bored with the regular season?
Here is the unquestioned fact: The Denver Nuggets trounced the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night, 126-113. There are a number of factors in this, starting with Denver is playing better than people think — the Nuggets are the fifth best team in the NBA since the All-Star break, outscoring teams by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. Jamal Murray is emerging as the ball handling guard of the future for this team, Gary Harris is a sniper, and they have solid veterans such as Jameer Nelson and Wilson Chandler. But at the heart of it all is Nikola Jokic, who is for real. Watch what he does to LeBron James here.

Yes, Cleveland had to go play at altitude in the middle of a long road trip. Still…

What is going on with the Cavaliers?

Opponents have outscored them by 0.9 points per 100 since the All-Star break, and the Cavs are playing terrible defense (second worst in the NBA since the break). Asked in Denver after the loss what is wrong with the Cavs, LeBron said the team lacked toughness, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It ain’t about a group. It’s about individuals,” James said… “We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it.”

“Personally? I had opportunities where I could have been better,” James said before firing back with a rebuttal. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”

LeBron is clearly challenging his team to get serious on both ends and to start getting in playoff mode.

To me, the Cavaliers look bored. As in the real season starts in a couple of weeks with the playoffs, and they feel they can flip the switch then, but right now the regular season feels like a tedious slog. That’s what it looked like in Denver. Before that, I watched the Cavaliers in person against the Lakers Sunday, and LeBron James played well enough all game, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were getting theirs, but the team lacked any urgency, and it showed on defense. The tanking Lakers hung around. Then, LeBron seemed to say “screw this” and for a five-minute span took charge of the game, looking every bit the best player on the planet, the rest of the Cavaliers quickly fell in line, Cleveland took control of the game, and they coasted from there to the win.

That was against the Lakers, the worst team in the NBA since the All-Star break and a team playing youth everywhere. Denver is legit right now, they are playing well, and the Cavs couldn’t just flip the switch on Wednesday. Jokic and Mason Plumlee led the way as the Nuggets scored 70 points in the paint.

It’s still hard to picture any team in the East beating Cleveland. However, they have not spent the regular season building good habits to fall back on when the eventual challenge comes in the playoffs. There’s been a lot of comparisons to the 2000-01 Lakers, a defending championship team that battled injuries and didn’t impress in the regular season, looked bored on defense, then flipped the switch in the playoffs and went 16-1 on the way to the title. Maybe. But teams that flip the switch are the exception, not the rule.

The bored Cavaliers are playing a dangerous game, but will it haunt them before June? Can any team in the East make them pay?

2) The Knicks have no answer for Rudy Gobert, Jazz thump Knicks. Rudy Gobert is a defensive powerhouse of a big man, the best rim protector in the game and a man on his way to winning Defensive Player of the Year. That was a problem for the Knicks on Wednesday night. A bigger problem — they couldn’t stop him on offense around the rim. Gobert at 35 points on 13-of-14 shooting, with 11 offensive rebounds. The Knicks went small for stretches (with Kristaps Porzingis, but he isn’t strong enough to handle Gobert), other times Willy Hernangomez tried but could not slow Gobert, and the French big man feasted. Check out Gobert’s shot chart.

Or, just watch what he did to the Knicks.

The Knicks started hot in this game behind vintage Derrick Rose for a quarter, but they can’t sustain that kind of play against a quality team. Utah is a quality team (I think they can beat the Clippers in the first round), and the foundation of that is in the middle.

3) Russell Westbrook notches 35th triple-double with perfect shooting, Thunder attack the rim and get the win. Let us formally acknowledge that Russell Westbrook is very, very good at basketball. He had 18 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds, and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field. That would be the first perfect shooting triple-double in NBA history. How’s that for adding to the MVP resume.

As for the game, the Thunder attacked the paint and the Sixers had no answers. OKC won 122–97, scoring 76 points while knocking down just four 3-pointers.

Report: Hawks’ Paul Millsap to opt out, explore free agency

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Before the season, Paul Millsap said he was undecided on opting out.

We’re one step closer to completely dismissing that shaky pretense.

Adam Schefter of ESPN:

There’s no question Millsap can earn more than his $21,472,407 option-year salary. He might even earn the max, which projects to be north of $36 million. The 32-year-old will also have a chance to lock into a long-term contract.

Opting out is an easy call.

The only question is whether anyone will offer a max starting salary and max years.

That’s a risky proposition for a player his age, but for a team ready to win now, the short-term gains might outweigh the long-term risk. (And it’s not really a “risk.” Millsap is extremely likely to be overpaid by the end of a full max deal.) Millsap is an elite defender with an efficient offensive game.

How much would the Hawks pay? They called re-signing Millsap their priority, but they’ve also sent mixed messages about their desire to win now (signing Dwight Howard, keeping Millsap past the trade deadline) vs. rebuilding (trading Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver).

And it’s not unilaterally up to Atlanta. Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent, and if he plans to explore the market, you never know what he’ll find.