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.

How Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza complicate Rockets’ pursuit of third star

AP Photo/John Raoux
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After pairing Chris Paul and James Harden, the Rockets are reportedly chasing a third starPaul George, Carmelo Anthony or someone else.

But Houston parted with significant assets to land Paul from the Clippers. And the Rockets will have a tricky time dealing two remaining players, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Unloading Ryan Anderson to sign Paul outright would have helped Houston keep one of their outgoing guards, but the market for the three years and $60 million left on Anderson’s deal was frigid. Not even the Kings wanted him for free. At least two teams would have demanded two Houston first-round picks in exchange for absorbing Anderson, according to several league sources.

The salary filler probably can’t be Trevor Ariza, by the way. Ariza and Paul are close after years together in New Orleans, and playing with Ariza factored at least a little into Paul’s decision, per league sources. The Clippers had tried to trade for him in prior seasons, sources say. Ariza is also still good at a coveted position, and his Bird Rights will be valuable to a capped-out Rockets team next summer.

Anderson would be dangerous as a stretch four in pick-and-pops with Paul and Harden. Even if he’s overpaid, might be better to keep him than surrender more assets to dump him.

Likewise, Ariza is a nice two-way player and can play small-ball four. There’s a use for him on this team.

But beyond them, Houston is left with Eric Gordon and Clint Capela as movable players. Gordon, with a higher salary and less obvious fit with Paul and Harden, would almost certainly be a key cog in a trade for another star. Capela is younger and more valuable, though the Rockets would probably want to keep him as a defensive anchor.

That might not be possible while trading for a third star, though. Houston can’t even guarantee sending out another first-round pick in a trade after sending a protected first-rounder to the Clippers. (The Rockets could agree to convey a first-rounder two years after sending one to L.A., which would is highly likely to convey next year.) Including Capela in a trade might be the only way to assemble a suitable package.

Even then, Houston would be hard-pressed to surpass an offer from the Lakers or Celtics for George. Plus, if Indiana is rebuilding around Myles Turner, Capela is an awkward fit. That trade might require a third team – causing further complications.

Hoping Anthony gets bought out by the Knicks then signs for the mid-level exception is much simpler – though that route returns the lesser third star.

But Daryl Morey just brought Chris Paul to Houston before free agency even began. Now is not the time to underestimate the Rockets general manager.

Report: Knicks won’t consider Isiah Thomas to run front office

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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A couple years ago, Knicks owner James Dolan said there was no scenario Isiah Thomas would return to the Knicks.

But Dolan also said a few months ago he’d keep Phil Jackson for the duration of Jackson’s five-year contract.

With Dolan effectively firing Jackson today, could Thomas become the Knicks’ next president?

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

The Post also learned Liberty president Isiah Thomas would not be considered for Jackson’s successor.

It’s sad that this needs to be reported. It’s even sadder that, even if this the Knicks’ plans right now, there are no assurances Dolan holds steady.

Dumping Jackson is a reason to celebrate. But as long as Dolan owns the team, it must be a reserved celebration.

At least the Knicks’ next step won’t include Thomas. Probably.

Raptors promote Bobby Webster to general manager

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TORONTO (AP) — With rumors swirling about the Knicks chasing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, the Raptors have promoted Bobby Webster to general manager.

Webster, 32 years old assistant the youngest GM in the NBA, replaces Jeff Weltman, who left Toronto in May to become president of the Orlando Magic.

A former staffer at the NBA league office in New York, Webster joined the Raptors in 2013 and was named assistant GM in 2016.

He’ll help decide what to offer All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who opted out of the final year of his contract last month after Cleveland swept Toronto in the second round of the playoffs.

Forwards Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson are all unrestricted free agents.

Also Wednesday, Toronto promoted Dan Tolzman to assistant general manager.

The Raptors have posted consecutive 50-win seasons and made four straight playoff appearances.

Jason Williams out 6-8 months after injury in Big3 debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Former NBA point guard Jason Williams will miss six to eight months after suffering a knee injury in the opening game of the Big3.

Corey Maggette, also injured in the opening week of Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league of former NBA players, had surgery for a leg injury. There is no timetable for his return.

The injuries were announced Wednesday during a conference call with Cube and Big3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz, who also detailed a couple rules changes starting with this weekend’s game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Games will be played to 50 points, instead of 60, with halftime coming when the first team reaches 25 points. Cube said that would help the four games per day move more quickly.