Oklahoma City Thunder vs Miami Heat

LeBron James: Kevin Durant will feel title pressure ‘when I retire’


A statistical projection developed by John Hollinger pegs the Oklahoma City Thunder as this season’s most likely NBA champions. So does Kevin Pelton’s formula.

The Thunder of have the the league’s best record (42-12_, best player (Kevin Durant) and arguably best No. 2 once he returns (Russell Westbrook). They’ve been to the Finals before and have fallen short.

This is the exact profile of a team that should face immense pressure to win a title.

So why hasn’t Oklahoma City, which admittedly does deal with some high expectations, come under the strongest microscope?

LeBron James.

And he knows it.

Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report:

When does he think the pressure will truly shift to Durant to take the Larry O’Brien trophy?

“When I retire,” James replied. “When I retire. They’re still talking about, am I going to win a third? You know…”

LeBron is the most analyzed athlete of all time. The best player in basketball, a sport with the most identifiable stars, he’s failed and succeeded in dramatic fashion during the internet era. Nobody before him has been put so thoroughly through the ringer on Twitter, television and hundreds of other forms of communication.

He’s won the last two NBA titles, so thoroughly capturing our attention that Durant and the Thunder don’t have a chance. The pressure on LeBron to win a title his first season in Miami was higher than on any non-defending champion ever, so it sure hasn’t gone away now that the Heat have entrenched themselves as favorites.

Not even Durant’s MVP-caliber season will change that.

However, I wonder whether Durant’s success influenced LeBron’s quote. I thought Ben Standig of CSN Washington might a wise point yesterday:

Until recently, LeBron hadn’t sought as much attention during the Heat’s championship run. But that’s changed in a hurry.

It seemed LeBron learned a less from his bluster during his first year in Miami – “Not one, not two, not three…” – and wanted to keep a, relatively, lower profile.

Now, I think he’s purposefully going out of his way to draw attention. The Heat have coasted most of the season. If they don’t kick it into gear, they won’t win a third straight title. Maybe a brighter spotlight will bring out their best effort.

The plan makes sense. Miami can’t keep going like this.

As LeBron knows, the pressure is on.

Khris Middleton dunks, Jimmy Butler can’t stop him (VIDEO)

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Khris Middleton has more expectations and more pressure on him after a breakout season in Milwaukee, followed by him getting him PAID this summer.

Well, he looked pretty good on this play against the Bulls, making the steal then throwing down despite Jimmy Butler‘s efforts to stop him.

Middleton finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting for the Bucks. However, Butler had the last laugh as he went off for 23 points on 12 shots and led the Bulls to the (meaningless) preseason win.

Somebody looks comfortable: Paul George drops 20 in first quarter

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Paul George‘s first experience starting as a power forward was going up against Anthony Davis — not just one of the best power forwards in the game, one of the handful of best players in the game period. That didn’t go well for George, and he wasn’t happy about it.

His second experience was in another preseason game Tuesday, going up against the Pistons and their four, Ersan İlyasova. He’s not quite as intimidating.

George scored 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 4-of-5 on threes — and that was just the first quarter (you can see it all in the video above).

As we have said before, George at the four is not a bad call by the Pacers, but some of that depends on the matchup. On the nights the Pacers face Davis or Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge or Zach Randolph (or a handful of others) the Pacers’ coaching staff is going to have to adjust. But there are a lot of nights where George at the four is going to force the other team to adjust, and that will play into the Pacers’ hands.