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.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.