If Spurs win, it is LeBron’s legacy that will take biggest hit

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Only LeBron James could average 21.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.2 steals a game through the NBA Finals and look like he is being passive and not doing enough.

He has for much of the NBA Finals looked like the physically best player on the floor but one that couldn’t impose his will on the game for any extended period of time. It’s true of LeBron and the Heat as a team.

If the Spurs win Game 6 Tuesday night — they are up 3-2 and you know they are going to come out with a great game plan and exploit every Heat mistake — it will signal a shift in the conversation about LeBron’s ultimately legacy.

After last year’s Finals we started to wonder if he would live up to his potential, if LeBron would end up in the Magic, MJ, Kareem “greatest of all time” tier. Lose and will appear to be more in the Wilt Chamberlain tier — the greatest physical specimen of his day, a guy ahead of his time, who could not get his team to beat the best teams of his era.

LeBron is 28, in the prime of his career, it is too early to say what we will think of him a decade from now. It’s a world of instant analysis (this blog is certainly part of that) but some things take time to fully come into focus. Legacy is one of those things.

But another loss, making LeBron 1-3 in the NBA Finals, starts to change the conversation.

“I have to come up big, for sure, in Game 6,” LeBron said after Game 5. “Me being one of the leaders of this team, I do put a lot of pressure on myself to force a Game 7, and I look forward to the challenge. We have to worry about Game 6 and going back home, being confident about our game, being confident about getting a win, which we are.”

You could explain away LeBron’s first loss in the NBA Finals — he single-handedly carried an inferior Cavaliers team to the big stage, only to fall to a much better Spurs team. Even the 2011 Heat you can say was a great team still figuring out who it was. Those Heat were learning to play together and had a thin bench. Last season’s NBA Finals win, where LeBron owned games late, seemed to suggest LeBron and the Heat had figured it out.

But all season he — and Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, and all the Heat —coasted for long stretches. After cruising through two rounds of the playoffs, the Heat have been intermittently dominant and pedestrian, unable to impose their will on games for a full 48 minutes. Particularly in the Finals the counterpunching Spurs have taken advantage of Heat mistakes and withstood almost every Heat run. The Spurs have been the more consistent, and better, team.

The pressure of legacy in Game 6 is not on the Spurs — they already go down as one of the greats of their era — it is on the Heat. Miami doesn’t have the excuses of not knowing how to play together or a thin bench anymore.

The pressure is self-imposed; LeBron went public with “not two, not three, not four” and set the bar high.

Now he has to reach it or get called out for it.

Stan Van Gundy speaks out again in support of protesting athletes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy used his team’s trip to Washington to again voice his support for athletes who kneel during the national anthem and his opposition to President Donald Trump.

Van Gundy was asked before Friday night’s game against the Wizards what he hoped would result from the president’s criticism of NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem and the resulting national dialogue about political activism by professional athletes.

“I don’t know what good can come out of anything the president has said,” Van Gundy said. “As far as the athletes’ protest, I hope people would pay attention to the issues that caused the protest in the first place and realize that we have problem disproportionately with police brutality towards men of color.”

Van Gundy also criticized fans who have booed those athletes because they believe the gesture is disrespectful to the United States military.

“I thought that one of the things the military is fighting for is the American way of life and our values, which I think starts with freedom of speech,” Van Gundy said. “Our country was founded on protest. Otherwise, we would still be a colony of England. You would think people would appreciate non-violent protests that will be made.

“If you don’t stand for freedom of speech and you don’t think those players have the right to freedom of speech, what American values are you for?”

It was not the first time Van Gundy has spoken out on these issues. When Trump was elected last November, Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press it was the first time he had been “ashamed” of his country.

Last month on the team’s media day, he read a prepared statement in support of athletes who use their visibility for political purposes, including protests during the anthem. The NBA has a policy requiring that players stand for the anthem.

The Pistons’ visit to Washington was their first since Jan. 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out Saturday with sprained left ankle

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers point guard Derrick Rose was held out of Saturday night’s game against the Orlando Magic because of a sprained left ankle.

Rose twisted his ankle after being fouled by Milwaukee’s Greg Monroe while driving to the basket in the fourth quarter on Friday. Monroe grabbed Rose by his neck and pulled him to the floor.

Rose landed awkwardly, but stayed in the game to shoot two free throws before going to the bench. The play was originally called a common foul but was upgraded to a flagrant 1 Saturday by the NBA.

Jose Calderon started at point guard Saturday for the Cavaliers, who have won their first two games.

Rose signed a one-year contract with Cleveland in July. He became the team’s starter when Kyrie Irving was traded to Boston. Rose was named the league’s MVP in 2011 while with the Chicago Bulls, but has battled injuries since.

 

Kyrie Irving, any regrets about using profanity toward fan? “Hell no.”

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Fans yelling obscenities at NBA players and trying to goad them into a response — always while camera phones are recording — has become a thing. DeMarcus Cousins will be paying $25,000 for responding to a fan cursing at him in Memphis.

Kyrie Irving is likely going to get fined for an incident Friday night after the Celtics knocked off the Sixers in Philadephia. It made the rounds on social media Friday night, with a fan yelling at Irving as he leaves the court “Kyrie, where’s LeBron?” and Irving responding with a crude phrase. Here is the exchange as Irving leaves the court (NOTE: The language is NSFW, if offended don’t watch the video).

Saturday Irving was asked about the incident, and he admitted he should have bit his tongue, but he has no regrets, as reported by A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“Hell no,” Irving said (when asked if he had regrets). “Man enough to record it on video, that’s on him. I’m glad he got his ad name out there, and his five seconds of fame and it’s gone viral. That’s the social media platform we live on.

Irving added, “I take full responsibility for what I said. You move on.”

Irving also addressed the bigger issue, something Cousins discussed when talking about his fine. Via Chris Forsberg at ESPN.

“At the end of the day, we’re human. It’s in heat of the moment and frustrations arise, we were at halftime, we were down by 4, in an environment, a season-opener in Philly. Being with a young team like we have here and staying composed, handling that before we go in the locker room and addressing what we have to do in the locker room and going out and handling business and getting the W, that’s really the only thing that matters to me.

“It’s up to the league at this point. But, like I said, I’m going to take full responsibility for what I said. I don’t have any regrets for it.”

Irving is going to get fined. The league has issues with its players cursing at fans. Understandably.

That said, the league may need to step back on consider situations like this. If fans are taunting players, at what point should a player be able to respond to the fan? Should arena security (at the request of the officials, or maybe a player) intervene? Players should not be asked to bite their tongue no matter what is said, and even if a fan paid for a ticket it doesn’t give them the right to cross any line. As more fans seem to go after their 15 minutes of social media fame baiting players, the league may need to reconsider where it draws its lines.

Reports: Pelicans to sign Jameer Nelson with Rondo out

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With Rajon Rondo out 4-6 weeks with a sports hernia, the New Orleans Pelicans were looking for a solid backup point guard.

This week, to make room to sign Richard Jefferson, the Denver Nuggets waived veteran Jameer Nelson.

While other teams such as the Rockets were calling, the Pelicans and Nelson have reached a deal, reports both Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports added this.

Nelson, in his 14th NBA season, became the top free agent on the market and received interest from contenders such as the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder and several other franchises that hoped to add the respected and accomplished veteran. But for Nelson, the Pelicans represent an opportunity to play significant minutes and provide leadership.

The Pelicans had a full roster of 15 players, they could have waited until next Tuesday and gotten a disabled player exception to add a 16th player, but they decided to go with something more permanent.

Jrue Holiday starts at the point for the Pelicans but with Rondo out — he was supposed to start next to Holiday — there is no depth at the position. The Pelicans can have Nelson step in and get minutes from the first time he steps on the court.

Nelson is still a solid pick-and-roll point guard, but what he brings to the table the Pelicans need more is shooting — he shot 38.8 percent from three last season and is a good spot up player. He can penetrate and make plays off handoffs as well, but it’s his shooting on a team that needs it that will be most valued.

The Pelicans have started the season 0-2 with losses to Memphis and Golden State. They take on the Lakers in Los Angeles Sunday night.