LeBron James

Ten can’t miss games for upcoming NBA season

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The NBA regular season schedule came out Wednesday, all 1,230 games. Even with live streaming and an empty DVR ready to be filled up, I’m not going to watch all of them. Nobody will watch all of them.

That said, there are some great games coming up. Homecomings and rivalries, plus just matchups of great basketball teams.

You can’t watch them all but there are some you can’t miss. Here are my 10 can’t miss games of the NBA season.

Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers, Oct. 28
There are sub-plots to watch here, Jeremy Lin playing against his old team and Dwight Howard getting booed again by Lakers fans… but that’s not why any of us will be watching. Kobe Bryant will be back on the court for the Los Angeles Lakers and any time he steps on the court we watch. Right now we will be watching because we’re not sure what Kobe we will see, how much he has left in the tank, but we will watch. He is one of the all-time greats.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Chicago Bulls, Oct. 31
You could argue that the first games for these teams are bigger — LeBron James’ first game at home in Cleveland, Derrick Rose’s return to the NBA comes in Madison Square Garden — but this is the first of four meetings between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference (on paper) and that is worth seeing. Cleveland has more talent but the Bulls have an identity and players that fit it. To be fair, this game will not mean much if/when these two teams meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it’s our first glimpse into what could be one of the best rivalries of the next five years in the NBA.

Cleveland Cavaliers at San Antonio Spurs, Nov. 19
LeBron’s last team got smoked by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and the gang in San Antonio, so LeBron went out and got some new teammates like Kyrie Irving and soon Kevin Love. This should be interesting, although the Spurs will play their same system and know exactly how to execute it while it’s going to take the Cavaliers some time to figure it out.

Milwaukee Bucks at Minnesota Timberwolves, Nov. 26
Once the Kevin Love trade goes down (and it will), this game becomes the first between No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker. Both rookies are in situations where they should get a lot of minutes and plenty of touches. Both are going to get the chance to grow in the spotlight

Cavaliers at Thunder at Oklahoma City, Dec. 11
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant. The two best players on the planet go head-to-head and the best part about these match ups is they often guard each other. It is a true head-to-head matchup.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat, Dec. 25
LeBron returns to Miami for the first time in a Cavs uniform (this time around, anyway). You can expect he will get a warmer reception than the vitriol thrown at him four years ago when LeBron in a Heat uniform came to play the Cavaliers. Now all of that is forgotten. Miami is going to be a pretty good team and one that wants to keep playing the space and pace offense. We’ll see how LeBron does against it.

Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers, December 25
This is the game to watch on your new 60-inch smart TV you just got for Christmas. This if the final of five games on the Christmas Day slate and it should be a very entertaining one. There will be lobs, dunks and rainbow threes. Stephen Curry vs Chris Paul. David Lee vs. Blake Griffin. Klay Thompson vs. J.J. Redick. This is the game Santa is bringing die hard NBA fans.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Minnesota Timberwolves, Jan. 31
Kevin Love returns home to Minnesota. It will be interesting to see how he is received — it won’t be exactly with open arms and a dozen roses, but I doubt the booing will last all game, either. Also in this game, Andrew Wiggins gets a shot at LeBron.

Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs, March 25

Well done by the schedule makers putting these two teams against each other a couple times late in the season (they also face off April 7). These might be your two favorites to win the NBA title (not what the bookmakers say, the actual favorites), they were the two best teams in basketball at the end of last season. The interesting question is who Gregg Popovich sits for both of these games.

Los Angeles Lakers at Toronto Raptors, March 27
I just hope Steve Nash can play one last game in Canada. Nash is one of the great point guards of all time and the best Canadian player ever, I hope his body lets him play one last game in his home country.

LeBron James on surpassing Michael Jordan: “It’s a personal goal”

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Since he was a teenager, LeBron James has been compared to Michael Jordan. That comparison has usually been used as a way to cut him down or explain why he’s not in the same class, but that’s changed since he won his third championship, and first in Cleveland, in June. Now, LeBron has started to be a lot more open about his desire to eventually surpass Jordan. He said so in an interview with the AP’s Tom Withers after practice on Tuesday:

Now that LeBron James has won a championship for the ages, he’s set a loftier goal:

Catching Michael Jordan.

Long flattered to be mentioned in the same company with Jordan and other NBA legends, James has been hesitant to publicly acknowledge that he wants to be remembered as the greatest in league history.

It’s time now.

“It’s a personal goal,” James told The Associated Press on Monday. “I just never brought it up. It’s my own personal goal to be able to be greater than great. I think that should be everybody’s personal goal.”

Now that James has indisputably cemented his legacy as one of the handful of greatest players ever to play the game, he has a lot less to lose by openly talking about these things. Five years ago, he would have gotten killed for bringing it up. Now? It just seems plausible more than anything else.

Kevin Durant says Nike didn’t influence his free-agency decision

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Many different factors went into Kevin Durant‘s decision this summer to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors — basketball fit, location, his friendships with Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, and more. But one thing he wants to make sure you know didn’t influence him is Nike. Durant told reporters this week that the shoe company, which he endorses, didn’t steer him one way or another in free agency, and they didn’t even know his plans beforehand.

It’s a little hard to believe that Nike had zero advance knowledge of Durant’s plans — if not a hard answer, at least a strong indication of which way he was leaning. Durant was one of the most popular players in the league in Oklahoma City, so Nike would have been fine either way. But his presence in Golden State, a much bigger market and the dominant story in the NBA this season, will only help them. It doesn’t hurt, either, that they now have one of their biggest athletes in the same market as Stephen Curry, who had been taking advantage of all the attention on the Warriors to raise Under Armour’s profile. Now, Nike can get some of that spotlight back in the Bay Area.

Barnes, Bogut highlight latest round of changes for Mavs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut are in, Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia are out and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has a retooled roster for the sixth consecutive time since winning a championship.

“Well, we love it,” Carlisle said at media day this week as someone chuckled. “What’s more exciting than getting seven new guys? New blood. It’s fresh every year.

“Really, that wasn’t meant to be a joke,” he added. “If you view it as a negative, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a negative. I don’t look at it that way.”

The Mavericks have made the playoffs all but one season since the constant turnover started after owner Mark Cuban chose salary cap flexibility over keeping a few key players when a new labor agreement was reached six months after his team won the title in 2011.

But Dallas still hasn’t won a postseason series since beating Miami in six games in those NBA Finals.

Repeated efforts to land big names in free agency failed, which this year led to the additions of Barnes and Bogut from 2015 champion Golden State after the Warriors lured Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City and had to unload both starters to make cap room for the four-time NBA scoring champion.

Barnes headlines the group of newcomers because he’ll be a top option on offense after signing a four-year, $94 million max contract. Over his four seasons with the Warriors, he was always a role player behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“It’s going to be bigger expectations and I’m going to have a larger role on this team,” Barnes said. “I feel like we have a lot of pieces this year, either coming back off injury, guys who are motivated, have a lot to prove. So hopefully we can all come together and do something special.”

There’s actually some stability in the starting five because point guard Deron Williams is back for a second season with his hometown team.

Nowitzki, going into his 19th season at age 38, says Williams was the best player on the team at times last season, and the Mavericks missed him in their five-game loss to Oklahoma City. He was limited by a sports hernia injury that required offseason surgery.

Parsons signed a max deal with Memphis, and Pachulia went to the Warriors after the trade that landed Dallas the 7-footer Bogut, who should be a much stronger shot-blocking presence than his predecessor.

The changes fit the formula of at least two new starters each season going back to the title year.

“There are similarities to other years,” Carlisle said. “The ability to add Bogut and Barnes was huge for us. We caught some good luck on that.”

The other notable newcomer is Curry’s younger brother, Seth Curry, who is on his fifth team in his fourth season but finally had a more prominent role last season in Sacramento. Former Baylor standout Quincy Acy is in Dallas after bouncing around his first four years.

The Mavericks are deep at guard with holders J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind Williams and Wes Matthews, in his second season as the shooting guard and now more than a year removed from tearing an Achilles tendon his final season in Portland.

Also returning are athletic young forwards Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell along with 7-2 Tunisian center Salah Mejri, a surprising shot-blocking presence last season as a 30-year-old rookie.

“They’re definitely athletes and we should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I’m out,” said Nowitzki, poking fun at his defensive skills. “I think we have a (backup) lineup out there that could be really, really good, and obviously youth and athleticism is a big part.”

Barnes wanted to be a part of it even though the Mavericks appear further from championship contention than other Western Conference teams.

“I think when you look at what this franchise has done year in, year out, stable on their ship,” Barnes said. “And be able to learn from a guy named Dirk who’s done it year in, year out. He’s pretty much built this place through his work ethic.”

And now Nowitzki is getting used to another new collection of teammates.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Jazz’s Dante Exum says his knee is completely healed from 2015 ACL tear

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz drives to the lane during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 17, 2014 in Miami, Florida. 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:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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After a promising rookie season, Dante Exum missed all of 2015-16 rehabbing a torn left ACL he suffered during an exhibition game with the Australian national team in summer 2015. As the Jazz kick off training camp, Exum says he’s fully recovered after his year off and he’s ready to go.

Via Jody Gennessy of the Deseret News:

“I was just excited to get back out there,” Exum said after the first of two practices Tuesday. “I was feeling good. … I was just ready to come out there, talk when I can and run between every drill.”

Both his attitude and his body were at 100 percent as he returned from a yearlong rehab that followed his September 2015 surgery on his left knee that had been injured in a friendly international game with the Australian team.

With the Jazz’s trade for George Hill over the summer, Exum won’t have to be the starting point guard, which will take some pressure off of him to get back to full strength right away. A torn ACL is something that usually takes time to return from, and having guard depth to ease his workload will help with the transition. If the Jazz get good production out of Exum, it will be a bonus for what looks to be one of the most exciting young teams in the Western Conference.