LeBron’s heroic end spoiled by standard (for him) start and Tony Parker

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LeBron James looked loose during his post-game news conference – smiling as he described the Spurs’ final play as “the longest 24 seconds that I’ve been a part of,” repeatedly asking reporters how the box score could give the Spurs 21 second-chance points on six offensive rebounds, admitting the third quarter had taken so much out of him that he request to rest early in the fourth quarter.

I’m not one to criticize LeBron for lacking a killer instinct, and I won’t start now, but LeBron can be prone to spurts of passiveness, and he had one tonight.

In the first 8:30 of the fourth quarter, LeBron scored zero points. To be fair, he spent the first three minutes on the bench, but he should have asserted himself sooner once he hit the court. LeBron knows his talent allows to him to make plays his teammates can’t and plays accordingly, but he doesn’t always recognize how wide the gap is – especially when Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren’t performing at even an All-Star, let alone superstar, levels.

Finally, Erik Spoelstra demanded his Most Valuable Player to play like one. With 3:30 left, Spoelstra pulled Miami’s other point guards, forcing LeBron to dominate the ball even more, and had LeBron guard Tony Parker, who had been giving the Heat fits.

In his new roles, LeBron immediately stepped up.

He ran a pick-and-roll with Chis Bosh, setting up Bosh for a quality look in the paint. Bosh missed, but LeBron converted the putback. On the ensuing defensive possession, Parker missed a jumper over LeBron. The play before Spoelstra pulled Mario Chalmers, Parker made a similar look over Chalmers.

LeBron then drew a foul on Parker, though it wasn’t a shooting foul, and LeBron missed a 3-pointer later in the possession.  A Parker-Tim Duncan pick-and-roll went nowhere with LeBron defending, but Danny Green made a 3-pointer as Mike Miller was slow to close.

LeBron drove for a left-handed layup and grabbed a defensive rebound on San Antonio’s next possession. He pushed the ball upcourt and passed to Ray Allen, who was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer and made all three free throws. Back on defense, LeBron provided excellent help on a rolling Duncan, but Bosh, after falling badly for a pump fake, fouled Duncan.

LeBron then penetrated and kicked to a wide open Bosh, who missed a 3-pointer. LeBron grabbed the defensive rebound on the next possession, took the ball all the way himself, drew a foul and made both free throws.

Finally, Parker scored his only points in the final 3:30 on a circus shot made even more ridiculous by how closely LeBron defended it.

In all, LeBron had six points and three rebounds during the final 3:30 – numbers that would project to 72 points and 36 rebounds in the 42 minutes he played tonight. Obviously, those numbers are unsustainable in a larger sample, but they speak to how dominant he was in those crucial moments.

In that closing stretch, the Heat outscored the Spurs by two points, but it was all for naught. Miami was down by six before it even began.

Parker was too good, and LeBron wasn’t quite good enough before that. Keep in mind, LeBron had a triple-double before his dominant final minutes began. We’re talking about one of the all-time greats playing a great game in the NBA Finals.

It just wasn’t great enough tonight.

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.