Give Kawhi Leonard credit for his defense, but expect a more aggressive LeBron

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MIAMI — LeBron James put up a triple-double in Game 1 of the NBA finals, but it wasn’t as dominant a performance as it appeared in the stat sheet. He was 6-of-8 shooting with five feet of the rim, 1-of-8 outside that range. Then with the game slipping away in the fourth quarter, he was passing to guys like Chris Bosh, who was 1-of-5 in the fourth quarter.

Should we credit the Spurs’ defense for keeping LeBron in check when it mattered? Or should we credit LeBron for taking himself out of the game by passing when it mattered?

A little from Column A, a little from Column B, actually.

Spurs second year man Kawhi Leonard did a good job on LeBron last game. LeBron shot 2-of-8 when Leonard was the primary defender, 5-of-8 when it was anyone else, as noted by Alex Kennedy at the USA Today. All that really means going forward is you can expect Leonard to keep the main job.

But you can also expect LeBron to be more aggressive looking for his shot in Game 2. In Game 1 there was a six-minute stretch when he returned in the fourth quarter when the Heat lost the lead and LeBron took just one shot as he dished to open teammates who missed looks. Just don’t think he is going to stop passing.

“I had some more opportunities where I could have maybe been a little more aggressive or look for my shot,” LeBron said after practice Friday. “But I don’t to take away from any plays I made last night. I was able to still find my guys for some shots. We missed some shots. We had some wide open clips where I had two defenders guarding me. Two plays in the third quarter I was able to find Rio for two open threes that …

“My guys are open. I’ve got this far with them, I’m not going to just abandon what I’ve been doing all year to help us get to this point. So I know those guys will be ready to shoot again once they’re open.”

Interestingly, it was Spurs coach Gregg Popovich who really talked about the need to get a player to be less selfless at times.

“I’ve talked to players before about being more aggressive, if that’s what your question was,” Popovich said Friday. “Opportunities might be there that they didn’t take advantage of. That happens with Timmy now and then. He’s so unselfish, if he shoots three jumpers in a row he feels like he shouldn’t shoot more sometimes, because he wants the ball to move and he wants to involve everybody. I think unselfish players think like that. Once in a while I’ve got to tell him, no, I don’t care if you get 20 of those shots, you have to take them.”

Sunday night, especially as the game moves on, expect LeBron to take more of those shots. That said, the defense is going to load up on him and somebody else is going to have to step up.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.