Heat's James rebounds against Spurs' Leonard during Game 4 of their NBA Finals basketball series in San Antonio

LeBron says he must play better, plays way better

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LeBron James is the most questioned NBA champion ever.

The snickers and jeering reached critical mass after he struggled through the Heat’s loss to the Spurs in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Can he elevate his game on the biggest stage? Is he afraid of the moment? Why does he crumble under pressure?

It was almost as if nobody remembers he won a championship last year, taking Finals MVP in the process.

The title was supposed bring basketball immortality. That’s how the game works. Win a Finals series, and you’re forever a champion. Nobody questions Paul Pierce’s, Kevin Garnett’s, Ray Allen’s, Ben Wallace’s or Chauncey Billups’ legacies as winners. All five won only a single championship, and all five actually returned to the Finals afterward and lost.

Yet, LeBron faces a different standard.

He brought some of it on himself by how he left Cleveland for Miami and began talking dynasty immediately. His physical dominance and advanced skillset also lend themselves to greater expectations.

But at a certain point, we cross a line and demand too much of LeBron.

And then he reminds you why he might retire as the greatest player of all time, how he’s capable of meeting the most absurdly high standards

In Miami’s 109-93 Game 4 win over San Antonio, LeBron had 33 points, 11 rebound, four assists, two steals, two blocks and only one turnover. Nobody has hit those numbers in a game, regular season or postseason, in two years. Nobody has done it in the playoffs since at least 1986, as far back as Basketball-Reference.com’s relevant records go.

LeBron knows how he’s judged, and at this stage of the season, not only must he play well individually, he must win a championship. And he knew it was time address that head on.

This wasn’t like after losing Game 1, when LeBron reinstated his belief in his teammates and then proved it in Game 2. After Game 3, LeBron focused on himself.

“I’ll be better,” he said. “I’ll be much better tomorrow night.”

“I can’t afford to perform like I did last night and expect us to win on the road.  It’s that simple,” LeBron continued. “So, I’m putting all the pressure on my chest, on my shoulders to come through for our team.  That’s the way it is.”

Then he dug in deeper.

“I have to do whatever it takes,” he said.

”I will be better tomorrow,” he vowed.

And then he angled his self-demanding talk toward his teammates.

“I am the star, I am the leader,” LeBron said. “And they look at me to do things on the court, to make plays, and if I’m not doing it, I’m not doing my job.

Until LeBron attempted his first shot with 6:31 left in the first quarter of Game 4, the Heat had shot 2-for-6 (33 percent) and trailed by eight points. From then on, LeBron’s teammates shot 52 percent and outscored the Spurs by 24 points.

The Heat have gone 69 straight games without suffering back-to-back losses not because LeBron always plays better after losses – he often doesn’t – but because the Heat play better after losses. His greatness fits within their team concept, and generally, when he excels, they excel.

He’ll face even more pressure in Game 5, as his own great performance in Game 4 will raise the bar even higher.

There’s no guarantee he’ll meet the challenge, but there is absolute certainty he’s capable.

After Game 3, LeBron said he’d play better. In Game 4, he played better. It’s really that simple.

This series rests in his hands. It’s up to him whether continues bringing the focus necessary to play at his highest levels. If he does, LeBron will get his second championship and likely his second Finals MVP.

And then we can raise the bar even higher.

Report: Cavaliers tried trading entire team but LeBron James for Kobe Bryant in 2007

LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 12:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers wait for the ball to go into play on January 12, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  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.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Kobe Bryant requested a trade from the Lakers in 2007, and he later said he preferred to be dealt to the Bulls.

Though Kobe had a no-trade clause, the Lakers explored other options.

They talked with the Mavericks and even agreed to terms with the Pistons, but Kobe vetoed Detroit. The Lakers also spoke with the Cavaliers.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the event, the Lakers once contacted the Cavs to investigate whether Cleveland would make James available in a possible Bryant trade.

The Cavs said that James, indeed, was untouchable, sources said. Then they attempted to make the Lakers a different offer for Bryant, offering anyone else on their team in a package for him. The Lakers had no interest.

For Bryant, who had a no-trade clause in his contract, the answer was simple.

“I never would’ve approved it. Never. The trade to go to Cleveland? Never,” Bryant told Holmes.

This is just as the LeBron-Kobe arguments were kicking into gear. Regardless of which player was better at the time, LeBron – six years younger – was definitely more valuable than Kobe.

So, it’s unsurprising the Lakers asked and even less surprising the Cavaliers said no.

And even less surprising than that was the Lakers rejecting Cleveland’s counter offer. Here were the other Cavaliers during the 2006-07 season:

  • Larry Hughes
  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas
  • Drew Gooden
  • Sasha Pavlovic
  • Donyell Marshall
  • Anderson Varejao
  • Damon Jones
  • Daniel Gibson
  • Eric Snow
  • Shannon Brown
  • Ira Newble
  • David Wesley
  • Scot Pollard
  • Dwayne Jones

That scrap heap doesn’t come close to Kobe.

The what-if of a LeBron-for-Kobe or Kobe-for-other-Cavs swap is intriguing, but both ideas were non-starters for at least one side. None of that came close to happening.

But, nine years later, that barely makes the discussion less fun.

Phil Jackson tweets manifesto on Knicks coaching

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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The Knicks fired Derek Fisher, and Phil Jackson explained the move in a press conference.

Then, the Knicks president tweeted a few more thoughts:

Jackson might be more intelligent and philosophical than you.

More than that, Jackson really wants you to believe he’s more intelligent and philosophical than you.

Two Kings dispute shootaround reports, including Rajon Rondo’s

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach George Karl of the Sacramento Kings talks to Rajon Rondo #9 of the Sacramento Kings during their game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Sleep Train Arena on October 30, 2015 in Sacramento, California. 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.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the midst of the Kings’ George Karl mess, Rajon Rondo complained about shootarounds – seemingly taking issue with Karl and/or his teammates:

Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated reported Rondo, Omri Casspi and Seth Curry were the only players at Monday’s shootaround:

The Kings played the night before in Boston and were in their fourth city (Cleveland) in six nights. It’d be reasonable – maybe even wise – to value extra sleep over an optional shootaround.

To Rondo’s point, perhaps Karl shouldn’t have called one at all. If so much of the team plans to skip it, is it worth bringing in anyone? Is that productive for the players who attend?

What happened after the shootaround certainly wasn’t.

Quincy Acy disputed Fischer’s report:

Then, Caron Butler took issue with Rondo’s account:

I don’t know precisely which Kings attended the shootaround, but someone fed Fischer a list of names for whatever reason. The agendas and leaks coming from the Kings are debilitating.

And for Butler to publicly disagree with a teammate like that is startling. Unless he’s saying Rondo was misquoted, which seems unlikely, considering Steve Herrick of the Associated Press also quoted Rondo saying three or four players attended shootaround (hat tip: Kevin Draper of Deadspin).

The tamest explanation is that Rondo used “three or four” as a euphemism for “not enough,” and the real number could’ve been closer to five. So, maybe Acy and Butler also attended but participation was down.

But that wouldn’t necessarily mean teammates appreciate Rondo – who declared himself the first veteran teammate DeMarcus Cousins ever respected – saying “three or four.” That could leave a couple of them under the bus.

And there’s still the issue of Karl using shootarounds productively – and Rondo maybe calling him out publicly for it.

Really, this speaks to where the Kings stand. They can’t even conduct a shootaround without controversy.

If you’re a Comcast subscriber in Northern California, you can stream tonight’s Kings-76ers game here.

Kristaps Porzingis cocks back, hammers dunk (video)

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It wasn’t all bad for the Knicks last night.

You can practically see the moment Kristaps Porzingis realizes his spin got him so open, he can put a little juice into this dunk.