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LeBron James: “I just have to play better”

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Through three games of the NBA Finals, LeBron James is averaging 16.3 points a game on 38.9 percent shooting — the best player on the planet has looked average (well, for him).

And passive. In Game 3 Tuesday night with the Spurs packing the paint and having defenders playing a step off him in isolation, LeBron settled for the jumpshots the Spurs wanted him to take. Credit Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for being at the point of a good Spurs defense, but LeBron didn’t challenge that defense. The result was an ugly 7-of-21 shooting night with zero free throw attempts. And an embarrassing Heat loss that in part flowed out of that.

“Well, honestly I just have to play better,” an up front James said after the game. “I can’t have a performance like tonight and expect to win. I’ve got to shoot the ball better, make better decisions and I will get into the film and see ways that I can do that. I’m not putting blame on anybody, I’m owning everything that I did tonight.”

With Chris Bosh unable to hit midrange jumpers he nailed all season, and with Dwyane Wade slowed and the Heat playing off him (they are almost ignoring him on the perimeter to pack the paint), the Heat need LeBron to be the best player in the game today. They can’t win otherwise. While his instinct is to pass out of the double and take the open shot when he gets it, now it is time for him to put his head down and get to the rim.

When LeBron attacked Tuesday night he was fine — he hit 5-of-7 shots within 5 feet of the rim. But the Spurs made it hard to get those shots while daring him to shoot from the midrange and beyond. LeBron took the bait and hit 1-of-9 from the midrange and 1-of-5 from three. During the season he was a solid outside shooter (43 percent from the midrange and 40.6 percent from three) but that shot has deserted him in the finals. He’s not making up for that by attacking the rim.

“I have to do better,” LeBron reiterated. “If I’m better we’re better and I have to be better. I’m putting everything on my chest and on my shoulders and I have to be better. My teammates are doing a great job and I’m not doing my part.”

The Spurs are not going to change what they are doing or who they are doing it with. It’s up to LeBron to solve this himself. Do that and the Heat can even this series Thursday night, but one more game like this and Miami is going to be in a hole it will not be able to dig out of.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: