The Extra Pass: The nightmare that is LeBron James; plus Monday’s recaps

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You know those nightmares where you can’t run away fast enough? The ones where your legs turn to mush and the baddy behind you keeps gaining ground?

That’s a recurring nightmare for lots of people, but it’s a recurring reality for Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was on the sidelines with the San Antonio Spurs for Game 6 of last year’s finals, or alternatively, on the wrong side of NBA history.

We remember the final dagger from Ray Allen in that game, naturally, but very quietly, it was a three-pointer from LeBron James that cut the lead prior to that. If James doesn’t get that to fall, it’s a whole different story.

Of course, James has a habit of doing this sort of thing, and it happened one more time against Budenholzer and “Spurs East”.

The Hawks had played about as well as you could ask, building a seven-point lead with about 1:30 to play. That probably would have been safe against most teams, especially with all the good free throw shooters on Atlanta’s roster.

Problem is, Miami isn’t just good when they’re playing from behind — they’re the best.

In the last five minutes of games where Miami is tied or behind this season, they’ve posted an offensive rating of 131.5. That’s tops in the league.

That’s in large part due to LeBron’s willingness to let it fly when facing a deficit. James attempts a surprising low amount of threes per game (2.9 this year) for hitting above 40 percent over the last two seasons, but his hesitancy is gone in the clutch.

Per 36 minutes in the clutch (Last 5 min <= 5 points), James is attempting a whopping 13.2 threes, and still making 37.5 percent of those attempts.

A lot of players have "extra gears" in that they run maybe a little faster, or jump a tiny bit higher. But for LeBron? He just begs his opponent to come outside the arc and guard him. The three-pointer is the back pocket shot for LeBron right now — he's saving for when he really needs it.

The Heat needed it Monday. A three-pointer from LeBron shrank the lead from seven to four, then another three from LeBron came with 23 seconds lead to cut the lead to one. A thunderous dunk ]brought the lead back down to one again after two made free throws.

Ultimately it was Allen who saved the day again with three clutch free throws to tie the game and push it to overtime, but the Heat wouldn't have been there without LeBron keeping the door ajar, once again.

—DJ Foster

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Pacers 103, Nets 86: This was the first game for the Nets since losing Brook Lopez for the season with a foot fracture, and it went about as well as you might expect against one of the league’s elite teams. Indiana got bug games offensively out of Paul George and Lance Stephenson, and defended well enough to hold Brooklyn to just 58 points through the game;s first three quarters. Deron Williams had just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, and he’s going to need to be much more aggressive in looking for his own shot on most nights for his team to have a chance. Paul Pierce finished 0-for-7 in 15 minutes off the bench, before being ejected in the third following a takedown of George Hill on the break. — Brett Pollakoff

Heat 122, Hawks 121 (OT): Dwyane Wade sat out his seventh game of the season due to soreness in his knees, and Miami trailed by seven points with just over a minute and a half remaining in regulation. Then came the comeback, which included two threes and a dunk from LeBron James, followed by Ray Allen sinking three free throws with eight seconds left to force the extra session. It was the Heat reserves who came through in overtime, however, with Michael Beasley and Chris Andersen sealing the win at the free throw line, while the Hawks finished scoreless over the game’s final 1:21. With Wade out, LeBron did the heavy lifting, and finished with 38 points, eight rebounds and six assists in just under 46 minutes of action. — BP

Spurs 112, Raptors 99: Toronto has been playing well since making the trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Kings, and came into this one having won four of its last five. But after winning in Oklahoma City on Sunday, following that up with a win against another team at the top of the standings on the road was too much to ask. The Raptors hung in for most of the night, however, and San Antonio closed the game with a 12-4 run over the game’s final 2:18 to seal it. — BP

Grizzlies 104, Jazz 94: Memphis got a big game from Zach Randolph and a strong performance out of its bench to win its second straight following a five-game losing streak. Randolph finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, and the Grizzlies shot 55 percent from three-point distance and committed just six turnovers — all of which were factors that helped the team build a lead of as many as 16 points before the game was through. — BP

Knicks 103, Magic 98: Carmelo Anthony left this game in the third with an ankle injury, but the bulk of the damage for the Knicks was done in the first half. New York took a 24-point lead into the break behind 17 points from Anthony, 14 from J.R. Smith and a much better game inside from Tyson Chandler than he showed in Saturday’s brutal loss to Memphis. Orlando got back into it in the third, but a rough fourth quarter offensively from both teams allowed the Knicks to come away with the much-needed victory. — BP

Pistons 115, Cavaliers 92: Cleveland was without Dion Waiters for the third straight game due to a wrist injury, and had trouble scoring against the front line of the Pistons. Detroit has two dominant big men in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, and Andrew Bynum couldn’t get much of anything done against them inside. Bynum finished 0-for-11 from the field with zero points in almost 23 minutes of action. On the Pistons side, Brandon Jennings had 21 points on 11 shots, to go along with 13 assists, and Josh Smith led all scorers with 25 points. — BP

Bobcats 111, Bucks 110 (OT): Khris Middleton hit a shot from 21 feet at the overtime buzzer that would have been enough to send the game to its second extra session, if only he were a foot or so further back. Milwaukee trailed by three, and ran a good play to get Middleton a catch-and-shoot open look as time expired. But his foot was clearly on the line, so it goes in the books as a tough loss for the Bucks. Brandon Knight finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists in the losing effort, while Al Jefferson (26 points, nine rebounds) and Kemba Walker (25 points, 10 assists) did the damage for Charlotte. — BP

Mavericks 111, Rockets 104: James Harden missed this game with a sprained ankle, and despite an above average 29-point, 15-rebound performance from Dwight Howard playing over 40 minutes, the Rockets didn’t have enough to match the guard play of the Mavericks without him. Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis combined for 33 points and 10 assists, and Dirk Nowitzki poured in 31 points to lead all scorers. Dallas put this one away in the third by outscoring Houston 36-21 in the period; the contest was never in doubt the rest of the way. — BP

Warriors 89, Nuggets 81: Another game, another slow Denver start — Golden State was up 24-9 this time. Then as is their pattern the Nuggets spend the next couple quarters chipping away at the lead, with Timofey Mozgov’s 14 points and Ty Lawson’s 16 leading the way. Then in the fourth quarter the Nuggets came undone, shooting just 29 percent. On the other side Klay Thompson awoke from his slump for eight points in the fourth quarter. The big offensive force was David Lee with 28. Denver has now gone 3-7 in their last 10. —Kurt Helin

Suns 117, Lakers 90: Two teams heading in opposite directions, so this ended pretty much as you expected. The Suns led from the start and got 22 off the bench from Gerald Green, plus 19 from Marcus Morris. For the Lakers, they were lackluster, had another terrible third quarter and Pau Gasol was 4-of-12 in his 20 minutes (but Nick Young did have 19). —KH

Pelicans 113, Kings 100: Tyreke Evans returned to Sacramento and dropped 25 points, 12 assists and 5 rebounds on his former teammates. Evans was doing the heavy lifting for the Pelicans to stay in what was a sloppy game for three quarters, while DeMarcus Cousins did the same for the Kings (24 points, 14 rebounds). New Orleans broke it open in the fourth quarter with a 16-3 run and ended up with a 39-point fourth quarter sparked by Evans and Anthony Davis (21 points). This snapped a four-game losing streak for the Pelicans. By the way, Rudy Gay was 2-of-12 with six turnovers. Rough night. —KH

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.

Frustrated Gregg Popovich calls all three referees “f****** blind”

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The Spurs completed an amazing comeback win against the Thunder Friday night, coming from 23 down to knock off the Thunder when Carmelo Anthony‘s game-tying three was just a two because his toe was on the line.

Gregg Popovich was into this one.

So much so that when he didn’t like an out-of-bounds call he made sure all three officials knew exactly how blind he thought they were.

The best part of this is Popovich covering his eyes, just to really emphasize his point.

We’re really going to miss Pop when he steps away to live at a winery full time.