LeBron turns in MVP performance in Heat’s blowout win over Thunder

83 Comments

Throughout the first half of this season, Kevin Durant has widely been discussed as the player most deserving of receiving the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

While Durant has been largely spectacular, those championing his cause may have neglected to consider one simple fact: LeBron James hasn’t exactly gotten worse, and in fact, may still be far and away the league’s best player.

James asserted himself against Durant’s Thunder from the opening tip on Thursday, scoring 16 of his 33 points in a blistering first quarter on Durant’s home floor that left little doubt as to where the MVP should ultimately reside. Miami cruised to a 103-81 victory, as James continued a personal assault that has now lasted four straight games.

LeBron finished with 33 points on 22 shots, to go along with seven rebounds, three assists and four steals. But it was that first quarter performance that knocked the Thunder on their heels, and struck doubt into their hearts.

When James puts forth maximum effort, it’s a scary site for opponents that is essentially impossible to stop. In this one, he scored his team’s first 12 points, and was active on the defensive end at the same time, creating steals that led to run-outs in transition.

It was really no different than what we’ve seen from James since the two contests before the All-Star break, where he’s clearly stepped up his game in order to help his team prepare for the postseason with a second half push. He scored 37 and 36 respectively in Phoenix and Golden State, before following up those efforts with a 42-point outing in Dallas immediately after the All-Star break.

The first quarter in Oklahoma City, however, was meant to make a statement.

James has heard all season long that Durant was the MVP, and there was no better time than in OKC on national television to let everyone know he wasn’t ready to concede that distinction. There’s no other way to explain the way he dominated from the jump, and was so visibly upset when a long three-point attempt — his sixth shot of the game — was the first of the night that he saw rim out.

LeBron wanted this one, or at the very least, he wanted to make sure he performed at his highest level if his team was going to end up with a loss. But his highest level almost makes that an impossibility.

Durant was fine in finishing with 28 points, and Russell Westbrook returned from injury to chip in a rusty 16 on 4-of-12 shooting. But when LeBron is this locked in, the only thing that can stop him is injury, and even then, he’ll still likely end up scoring.

James took a shot to the face that left him bloodied with under six minutes remaining, but managed to finish the dunk on the play where the contact occurred nonetheless.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were spectacular for the Heat as well, and that’s been the strength of this Miami team through back-to-back championship seasons. But it all started with LeBron, and his dominating first quarter effort that had MVP written all over it.

Russell Westbrook: ‘Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be’

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
1 Comment

The Thunder want to sign Russell Westbrook to a contract extension that projects to be worth about $207 million over five years.

But does he want to sign it?

Westbrook, via Royce Young of ESPN:

“That’s something, like I said, I haven’t thought about anything, obviously,” Westbrook said. “Everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here and I love everybody here. But I haven’t even thought about that. Obviously, Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be.”

Westbrook noted that his wife is expecting their first child in May, and that’s where his focus is right now. Asked whether there’s a timetable on his decision about a potential extension, Westbrook lightheartedly jabbed back.

“No. What did I just say? Like you don’t care about my baby?” he said. “You must not. You didn’t hear that part, huh?”

Though it was painted as Westbrook showing his loyalty to the Thunder in stark contrast to the departed Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s renegotiation-and-extension last summer was also his way of receiving the highest-possible salary.

This is a different case.*

*So, it seems. It’s unclear whether the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will allow Oklahoma City to renegotiate Westbrook’s 2017-18 salary up to the designated-veteran-player rate, but I’m presuming not.

Westbrook will have 10 years of experience when an extension would kick in. A typical advantage of a designated-veteran-player contract is allowing a player with eight or nine years experience, who’s typically limited to a starting salary of 30% of the salary cap, to receive a starting salary of 35% of the salary cap. But Westbrook will be eligible for 35% of the salary by then simply due to his years of service.

In other words, an extension signed this summer would pay Westbrook the exact same amount he could receive as a free agent in 2018.

So, would Westbrook sign that extension? It’d guarantee him a huge salary and protect him in the event of injury or decline. But Westbrook is so good, he’s extremely likely to get the max in 2018-19 no matter what. With only minimal risk, maybe he’d rather maintain flexibility.

Westbrook appeared to embrace leading the team, and he truly seems happy in Oklahoma City in a way I didn’t expect when he signed last summer. His image is so tied to loyalty to the Thunder, it’d be tough to spin an exit.

But Oklahoma City is relatively locked into a roster that will have a hard time winning multiple playoff series. Westbrook wants to win.

I don’t know whether he’ll accept an extension this summer rather than delaying a year, but if he won’t ink a deal this year, that should be a concerning indicator to the Thunder about their chances of re-signing him in 2018.

Neil Olshey pushes back against columnist critiquing Trail Blazers’ culture

AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens
1 Comment

John Canzano wrote a column for The Oregonian calling the Trail Blazers’ culture “busted.”

Jason Quick of CSN Northwest tweeted about the column:

And then Quick asked Neil Olshey about it in the general manager’s postseason press conference:

Olshey

I want to let you know I was completely oblivious to that until someone showed me your tweet, which I said, “I don’t understand what this means.” And I had to go back and read that.

I was glad that it was written by someone who came to two games all year, and clearly the motivation was to abuse his privileges as a media person with his pass so that he could get tickets for his relatives and pictures taken with the opposing point guard in the opposing point guard’s jersey. Because clearly, that’s an unbiased opinion, right? That’s an impartial observer talking about our roster when he has his nephew in a Steph Curry jersey taking pictures with Steph Curry. Sure.

You know, look. I’m very comfortable with where our culture is. I mean, look, you guys are around it. Hey, you’re in that locker room more than I am, right? I mean, quite honestly, you guys know. The day I stopped coaching, I haven’t walked into an NBA locker room. Not once. It’s not my place. When I talk to the guys, it’s out of the locker room. That’s their sanctuary. So, you guys know how close a group that is, how they feel about the coaching staff, the support that they get from the organization. They know we have their best interest at heart.

Last summer, when we had guys that their markets didn’t appear the way that I think maybe they anticipated they would. They were still taken care of. They wanted to keep here. When you look at guys like – look at Chris Kaman. Look at Steve, guys, how they were treated when they were here relative to maybe some other experiences they had had in the league. Everybody throws the word around, and like I said, I don’t hear a lot of complaints. And believe me, we have guys that – any of you that know Chris Kaman, if he had a complaint, he would voice it.

And again, like with Dame, hey, what does it tell you about an organization and an owner that, when you are in a starting lineup from the day you walked in and 80 percent of it is not gonna return, and on day one you sign on long-term? And then your backcourt mate, who is another star in this league never once said, “I wanna go somewhere to run my own team” and signed on.

And I think that’s where you have to look at it, is — and I’ve talked about this in free agency — look, I’ve got to do a better job selling our program, selling the organization, selling the city when we have the free agency flexibility. But I think what gets lost in that is the guys that wanted to stay and the guys that wanted to come back. I think you have to look at that also, that we don’t have guys – we lost one player.

Canzano addressed the gripe about his family member wearing a Stephen Curry jersey:

I bought a pair of tickets to Game 3 for my nephew and our church pastor. I had to work the game so I needed a chaperone to sit with the kid and the church youth pastor was all for it. I dropped them off in front of Moda Center and picked them back up after the game. The nephew, 11, likes Steph Curry and wore his Curry jersey to the game and the pastor snapped a photo of the kid with Curry warming up in the background. It was posted to social media. My nephew is in the foster-care system. My wife and I are his guardians. It felt like the right thing to do. Not sure why this is even a topic. Not sure fans care, either. But I suppose Olshey was trying to say that because my nephew wore a Curry jersey I couldn’t be impartial? I don’t know, and a waste of time to think about it.

That’s a more-than-fair defense. I wouldn’t get hung up on Canzano’s nephew’s Stephen Curry jersey.

But Canzano’s initial column left plenty to be desired. Most of it harps on how nice Kevin Durant and Curry were to Portland arena staff during the Warriors-Trail Blazers first-round series, as if that – not Curry’s and Durant’s generational talent and star production from Draymond Green and Klay Thompson – has made Golden State title favorite. Damian Lillard shaking a few more hands and C.J. McCollum issuing a few more than yous would not have gotten Portland out of the first round. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were notorious jerks, and their teams fared pretty well. Canzano’s juxtaposition also unfairly paints the Trail Blazers players as surly, which has not been the case in my experience.

The unfortunate part: Canzano actually makes a couple interesting critiques that are drowned out by the fawning over Durant and Curry shaking hands. Canzano contends that, because Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen has cycled through so many general managers, Olshey knows his time in Portland could be running out and therefore contributes to a culture of fear and paranoia that permeates in numerous ways. I wish Canzano would’ve explored that in greater depth.

Instead, Olshey never addressed those concerns. He talked about how most Trail Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge the lone notable exception, have been happy in Portland and wanted to stay there – which is nice, but not really Canzano’s point. A team can both attract players and have a flawed culture.

Dwyane Wade says Bulls’ showers had no hot water in Boston

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
3 Comments

The Bulls suffered a rough loss in Boston last night.

It didn’t get better afterward.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge – who played for Boston in the 80s – pleaded ignorance to any nefarious plumbing:

I think the idea that teams plot to shut off the visitor’s hot water is often overstated. Arenas have complex infrastructure, and things can go wrong on their own. Sometimes, the home team loses hot water, but that never gets remembered.

But reasonable excuses don’t make a cold shower in the moment any more tolerable.

Robin Lopez pushes short floater over backboard (video)

1 Comment

Robin Lopez had reason to be upset from the Bulls’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

This miss was all on him.