LeBron James, Tim Duncan

Transcendent LeBron puts up 35, leads Heat to 98-96 win to tie series 1-1

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SAN ANTONIO — If the Heat were going to beat a Spurs team that had won nine in a row at home, they were going to need a transcendent game from LeBron James. The guy who had his toughness questioned by some after missing the end of Game 1 due to cramps.

They got it — video game LeBron (complete with cheat codes) showed up in the second half Sunday night in San Antonio. It felt like NBA Jam.

LeBron finished with 35 points on 22 shots (he shot 64 percent), grabbed 10 rebounds, defended Tony Parker down the stretch and was a +11 in a two point game. He started slow, he got more rest than normal, but when it mattered in the second half LeBron James took over the game shooting 8-of-11, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc after halftime.

The result was a 98-96 Miami win that evens the NBA Finals at 1-1.

Game 3 is in Miami Tuesday night.

“LeBron with the ball did a great job at his end and we had to be really pretty perfect at the other end and we didn’t,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We didn’t take advantage of things, we made bad decisions.”

LeBron started 1-of-4 shooting with a couple turnovers but after a rest he came back in the second quarter and was aggressive attacking the rim — 9 of his 11 first half shots came inside 8 feet.

“I just continued to attack,” LeBron said of his run starting in the second quarter, extending into the second half. “I had a slow start, but all my misses were in the paint…. I was confident in where I was getting on the floor and I had to stick with it.”

After all that attacking the Spurs switched their defense on LeBron and played off him more in the second half (similar to how they played him last Finals). LeBron just started draining jumpers over them. Not that what they did mattered much, LeBron was 9-of-15 on contested shots in the game. He was hitting everything.

Miami was far sharper defensively this game, forcing the Spurs to take 29 percent of their shots from the midrange – San Antonio was 7-of-23 from there. That is not their game. After a slow start Miami’s defensive rotations inside were tight, contesting everything in the paint (San Antonio shot 17-of-33 in the paint for the game, they were 7-of-15 in the restricted area after a hot start) and the Heat were chasing guys off the arc. Miami did a good job of switching pick-and-roll coverages, throwing different looks at the Spurs to keep them off balance.

Under that pressure, the Spurs ball movement stopped late. With that they did not get shots in the paint down the stretch.

“We’ve got to be close to perfect to win, and tonight we were far from perfect,” Manu Ginobili said.

“I think it’s a 48-minute game and we didn’t move it enough of those minutes, basically,” Popovich said. “It’s how we have to score.  We can’t put it in somebody’s hands and have them create everything for us.  It’s got to be a group effort and we didn’t do that….

“You move it or you die.”

“(We had) more awareness of their shooters,” Dwyane Wade said. “We still make mistakes, it wasn’t perfect. Bit we made them take tougher shots. Our defense on the ball was a lot better and we rebounded the ball once the shot went up.”

A key turning point may have come with 6:43 left in the fourth quarter: The Spurs were up two when Mario Chalmers was whistled for a flagrant foul when he threw an elbow to Tony Parker’s gut while Chalmers was on the drive. It was the right call. But then Parker missed both flagrant free throws (he said the pain from the blow was part of that). The Spurs got the ball out of bounds, ran a play for Tim Duncan who was fouled driving the lane. He got to the line and missed both of his free throws. Rather than stretch the lead out to six, it remained at two.

Then at the other end LeBron hit a three.

“I just wanted to put pressure on their defense,” LeBron said.

“I don’t think we lose the game on that,” Parker said. “We were up one with 1:30 to go or two minutes and we made the stops that we needed. We just couldn’t make the shots to come out on top. We had a great opportunity.”

Miami got 18 points from Chris Bosh including a clutch three in the fourth quarter to give the Heat the lead for good — it was the same pass, same play LeBron made to Bosh for a potential game-tying shot against the Pacers, but he missed it then. He got nothing but net Sunday.

Miami also got 14 each from Dwyane Wade and Rashard Lewis (who played surprisingly well).

San Antonio had 18 from Tim Duncan, 11 in the first quarter, 21 from Tony Parker and 19 from Manu Ginobili.

D’Angelo Russell says it’s not easy being patient, waiting his turn behind Kobe

D'Angelo Russell Kobe Bryant
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TORONTO — For the rest of this season, the Los Angeles Lakers are Kobe Bryant‘s team.

Some Lakers’ fans have questioned why Byron Scott is still the coach despite an 11-44 record, and in part it’s because he gives deference to Kobe other coaches might not. Scott was brought in to help sell the Lakers’ history during the final years of Kobe’s career, he has done that. He lets the veteran Kobe do things he will not allow anyone else on the team to do.

Meanwhile, the next generation of Lakers are trying to wait patiently for their turn.

But when asked All-Star Weekend about playing with Kobe (who often has the ball in his hands), Lakers’ rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell didn’t sound patient.

“Honestly, it’s hard,” Russell said of playing with Kobe. “It’s not easy. He’s a guy that’s earned every shot he’s taken, earned every minute he’s given, so you feel like being a rookie, but you feel like you’ve worked to be in his position so early but you’ve just got to be patient.”

There are a couple ways you can look at this.

You can see it as a rookie hungry for minutes, for touches, for the chance to learn by doing. You should like that he has that drive, that confidence that he wants the rock. Russell has had the ball in his hands probably since fourth grade, being bumped down the pecking order — even for Kobe — is an adjustment.

Or, you can see this as a rookie who is a bit full of himself, a bit overconfident, someone who turns the ball over too much and needs to earn those touches. This is more Scott’s thinking.

I’d say a guy that is overconfident as a rookie and wants the ball in his hands sooner rather than later sounds a lot like Kobe.

 

DeMarcus Cousins has spent All-Star Weekend playing defense on trade, George Karl rumors

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings handles the ball during the Taco Bell Skills Challenge as part of NBA All-Star 2016 on February 13, 2016 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
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TORONTO — DeMarcus Cousins is an All-Star and he just wants to enjoy it. Hang out with other elite players, take part in the Skills Competition, have dinner at Sotto Sotto, play in the ASG itself, chill with friends. Chill being the operative word considering the weather.

But for parts of the weekend, he has had to play defense, swatting away attempts to get him to slam coach George Karl or talk trade rumors that have him leaving Sacramento. Mention his friend Isaiah Thomas making it to All-Star Game and you get the gregarious Cousins, but when the other topics come up you can feel his frustration, and hear it in his clipped answers.

“First of all, I can’t control the trade (rumors) and I can’t control if I’m traded or not…” Cousins said. “But I do want to be in Sacramento, and I know everybody in Sacramento knows that.”

Cousins isn’t getting traded. Teams may call the Kings, but they get shot down quickly (then those teams leak the rumor they called, making them look good to their fan base for trying). For one, the Kings have a franchise cornerstone piece under a reasonable contract, that’s not someone you trade unless forced to. Second, owner Vivek Ranadive loves him. Third, and this is key, the Kings open a new arena in downtown Sacramento next season — you don’t trade your best and most popular player, the face of your marketing program in the city, while you’re trying to sell luxury boxes and sponsorships in a new arena.

Cousins has also batted down questions attempting to get him to slam George Karl.

“I can go long term with any coach, but that’s not my decision….” Cousins said. “He’s a free, open-minded coach, he lets his players play. I think every player appreciates that.”

He was more direct with deserving new basketball Hall of Fame journalist David Aldridge of NBA.com in a video (and he’s laughing more and in more of a joking mood in the video than how this quote reads):

“I’m tired of it. Stop trying to make a story out of it, we’re fine. Our only goal this season is to make the playoffs. That’s it. All the other stuff, just stop, it’s not necessary.”

Undoubtedly there is some tension in and around the organization with Karl, although he will be around through the end of the season. However, the one thing that was clear with this team going back to Summer League — when the core guys bonded on a plane trip together to Las Vegas (and doing the other things one might do in Vegas) — the locker room is pretty solid.

“Throughout all this, the one thing that’s been good about the whole situation is the guys in the locker room stay together,” Cousins said. “There hasn’t been any separation.”

It seems Karl has never found a way to reach and inspire that group.

Ask Cousins about the rest of the season and you get some variation of “just stay positive.” He admits that’s not been easy after some tough losses of late, but it’s what they need to do to make a run.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the season, but just find a way to remain positive and get over the hump,” he said. 

That may be easier said than done.

But, at least, Cousins will get the chance to enjoy All-Star weekend.

Can we just relive that epic Dunk Contest one more time? Here’s the mixtape.

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TORONTO — Talking to NBA people, fans, and media around Toronto Sunday it seems every conversation starts with some version of “last night’s Dunk Contest was INSANE!

Because it was.

Andre Drummond threw down an impressive two-hand power slam with an assist from soccer playing Steve Nash. Will Barton‘s first dunk might have won him the contest in some weaker years. And we’re not even talking about them because of the eye-popping show that Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine put on.

Before we move on and talk trade rumors or actual All-Star Game, or whatever is coming next, can we just bask in the joy of that dunk contest one more time? The fine folks at NBA.com put together this mixtape version of the Dunk Contest, I’m passing it along.

Savor this people, it doesn’t get any better than what we witnessed Saturday night.

Michael Jordan to Klay Thompson: “Go ahead and break” Bulls’ 72-win record

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 25:  Owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan, watches on during their game against the Washington Wizards at Time Warner Cable Arena on November 25, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NBA - NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Barring a major injury, it seems almost inevitable at this point that the Warriors will surpass the 1996 Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season and vault themselves into the conversation of the greatest NBA teams in history. All year, members of that ’96 Bulls team have weighed in comparing the teams, but one guy who hasn’t given his thoughts publicly is Michael Jordan.

Apparently, during All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Jordan gave Klay Thompson his blessing for the Warriors to go for 73. Via CSN’s Rosalyn Gold-Onwude:

Not that the Warriors need anybody’s permission to go after the record, obviously. But it had to be cool for Thompson to hear directly from Jordan that he respects what the Warriors are doing and wants them to break his own record. In all likelihood, they’ll do it.