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

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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.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?