LeBron James follows cramp game with jumper game

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It wasn’t long ago jump shots were LeBron James’ defining flaw.

That time seems so removed only because LeBron has so convincingly turned his outside shot into a weapon.

Since, his critics have found new complaints.

LeBron isn’t clutch. LeBron hasn’t won a championship. LeBron can’t handle cramps.

Well, LeBron has answered all the isn’t/hasn’t/can’ts. He’s made plenty of clutch shots – never mind how he’s redefined the importance of clutch passing – and won two titles.

And, to answer the incessant those critics who equate debilitating cramping with lacking a will to win, he turned to that once-weakness.

LeBron scored 35 points – 19 of them on shots outside 16 feet – in the Heat’s 98-96 win over the Spurs in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday.

“I just trust the hard work and dedication that I put into the game,” LeBron told Doris Burke, who asked about his jumper. “When the cameras are not around, I put a lot of hard work into the game.”

After a slow start (0-for-3, all on shots within 15 feet, with a turnover), LeBron went on a personal 8-0 run midway through the fourth quarter. He hit two 3-pointers and a 19-footer on three Miami possessions, forcing a Spurs timeout.

LeBron was the first Heat player sitting on the bench, but this time, he got back up – and kept the jumpers coming.

Here’s his second-half shot chart:

lebron james shot chart game 2 2014 finals second half

Not a single shot in the paint!

LeBron is not afraid of what his detractors say he can’t handle. He’s keenly aware of his abilities – the most vast in the league – and plays within them. That’s why I never believed he could have returned while cramping in Game 1. If LeBron could play, he would have. He couldn’t, so he didn’t.

Thankfully for Miami, LeBron could handle more than 37 minutes in Game 2 – second only to Tim Duncan (!) tonight. The Heat desperately need LeBron in these Finals.

  • With him: +11 (71 minutes)
  • Without him: -24 (25 minutes)

The Spurs defend too well to allow LeBron to play to his strengths, but LeBron’s game is too diverse to completely contain. San Antonio’s defensive strategy was sound, and some of those jump shots were contested.

But LeBron is just too good. That was really the key to Game 2 – LeBron being better than everyone else.

Not that anyone will talk about that to the extent his cramps overwhelmed all other Game 1 storylines.

LeBron making jumpers is far less-compelling theatre.

Nobody will praise LeBron’s fundamental dominance in pursuit of attention. Nobody will compare LeBron favorably to Michael Jordan’s all-time great jump-shooting. Nobody will tweet photos of themselves shooting jumpers and tag them #LeBronning.

Instead, LeBron has a tied series heading to Miami and the quiet satisfaction of knowing he answered his critics.

Again.

Why is Robin Lopez holding this dog during his exit interview? (VIDEO)

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What did Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez have to say during his exit interviews? I can’t really tell, it’s all a bunch of white noise. All I see is him holding his giant, shaggy dog named Muppet while speaking to reporters.

I can’t get over it, really. Why hasn’t someone thought of this before?

Lopez is the perfect candidate to do this if you think about it, given his propensity to be a little off-kilter.

Via Twitter:

Lopez was mostly talking about taking away positives from a weird Bulls season in which they struggled all year until miraculously making the 8-seed before challenging top-ranked Boston in round 1.

Clippers, Jazz prepare for Game 7 in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES  (AP) – Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul was adamant the sun would not set on Paul Pierce‘s NBA run in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

“I looked over at ‘Truth’ during one of (those) timeouts and I said ‘You’re not ending your career in Utah,’ ” said Paul, referring to Pierce’s popular nickname. “We told him that. We just said we want to keep this thing going for him. Paul was big tonight. Like the 3 he hit over there on the wing, and stuff like that. Just his energy and his voice in those different timeouts I think was huge for us.”

With a crucial 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6, the Clippers will attempt to extend the career of the 39-year-old Pierce, who is retiring at season’s end, and capture the series Sunday in Game 7 at Staples Center.

The winner advances to the second round to meet the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven affair beginning Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Paul, whose two late free throws sealed the win against the Jazz, led the charge by scoring 29 points, dishing eight assists and allowing the Clippers to avoid elimination in the opening round for the second straight season. The Portland Trail Blazers bounced them last season in six games, aided by injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin.

And as Paul loathes to hear, the point guard has never guided a team past the second round.

“This is what we talked about before (Game 6),” said Paul, who has become the Clippers’ main force offensively with Griffin out of the playoffs again, this time with an injury to his big toe. “Doc (Rivers) said to go out there and give yourself a chance. We knew we couldn’t win both games (Friday), and we wanted to give ourselves a chance.”

Utah will have another opportunity to end Pierce’s career on Sunday despite missing a chance on its home court. After the Jazz won Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward made it clear he didn’t want to return for a Game 7.

Hayward, though, is humming a different tune now.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were three years ago,” Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. “If you had told me at the beginning of the year you’d be in a Game 7 against the Clippers in L.A., I’d have been like, ‘Bring it on.’ ”

The Jazz will be forced to bring their best with center Rudy Gobert hobbling again. Gobert, who sustained a hyperextended left knee in Game 1 that kept him out of the lineup for two games, sprained his ankle in the second half of Game 6 and was forced to the bench because of it during critical stretches.

Gobert said the ankle wouldn’t hinder him Sunday.

“I sprained it on somebody’s foot,” said Gobert, who finished with 15 points, nine boards and three blocks, according to the Tribune. “I tried to run through it, but that didn’t work out. I’ve had a lot of sprained ankles before. I will be good.”

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.