This isn’t 2007 — LeBron, Spurs both very different than last finals meeting

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This isn’t the first time Tim Duncan and the Spurs stood in the way of LeBron James and what he sees as his destiny to be one of the game’s all time greats.

Back in 2007 LeBron dragged his Cavaliers squad to the Finals, only to be just carved up by the Spurs winning their third title of the decade. It was a team and a player in very different places. After it was all over, Duncan said this according to Brian Windhorst at ESPN.

“This is going to be your league in a little while. I appreciate you giving us this year.”

Six years later, it is LeBron’s league (as much as it is anyone’s). But he’s different. And the Spurs are different.

That makes 2013 very, very different than 2007.

LeBron actually scores less now than he did six years ago — 27.3 points a game then to 28.6 now — but he is vastly more efficient. Six years ago he shot 47.6 percent and he got most of that in transition of slashing to the rim. He was a terrible jump shooter and teams (including the Spurs in those Finals) played off him and dared him to shoot.

Do that now and LeBron’s strong jumper will destroy you. He shot 56.5 percent this season and 40.6 percent from three (his true shooting percentage, which includes compensation for threes and free throws, so it’s like points per possession, jumped from a good 55.2 percent back then to a ridiculous 64 percent).

LeBron says it’s not just him that’s better — and he’s right about that.

“I think our team is more experienced, first of all,” LeBron said, speaking in his press conference after Game 7 against the Pacers. “My Cleveland team, we were very young, and we went up against a very experienced team, well-coached team. And they took advantage of everything that we did.”

This is a radically different team around LeBron. Those Cavaliers relied on LeBron for everything and hoped Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden could pitch in enough. These Heat may have struggled some in the playoffs but Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen make up a much more dangerous core.

But this is also a very different Spurs team.

Then it was the big three at their peak — Duncan led the team in scoring and rebounding, 20 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. Tony Parker pitched in 18.6 points a game at age 24, Manu Ginobili was 16.5 points. Then it dropped off the map as there were role players — Michael Finley, Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen among others.

Six years later, this is Tony Parker’s team — he drives the offense scoring 20.6 points a game and adding 7.6 assists a game. As the big three got old Gregg Popovich turned the offense over to Parker and what you got was a better, more balanced attack — six guys average double figures a game. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green get their points in the flow of the offense, but Duncan is still a serious threat (17.6 points a game in a renaissance, healthy year for him).

What changed — and then returned to form — for San Antonio is defense. Back in 2007 they allowed 99.9 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA. At subsequent years they fell back to a pedestrian 11th in the NBA, but this season they allowed a third best 101.6.

Now the question comes: Can they slow the improved and more versatile LeBron? They did it six years ago, but that was a very different LeBron with a very different team around them. Of course, this is a very different Spurs team, too.

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.

Reports: Jazz might trade Rodney Hood before deadline

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Rodney Hood has been a solid shooter for the Jazz this season, averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting 41.3 percent from three. Of course, you remember him better for this.

Hood is in the final year of his rookie contract, and with the rise of Donovan Mitchell it’s not exactly clear what Hood’s role would be for the Jazz going forward.

Which means Utah might trade Hood, according to multiple reports.

Hood isn’t going to net much in return because he’s in the final year of a contract and because he misses time with nagging injuries (he was out the end of Friday’s game against the Knicks with a lower leg contusion), but considering the number of teams who could use another shooter in the mix there will be interest. More than the big name deals — Kemba Walker, DeAndre Jordan — this is the kind of trade likely to get done at the deadline.