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.

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.