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Higher power: LeBron James soaring into 7th straight NBA Finals

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CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James will one day take his final bow, the brightest spotlight moving on to someone else.

There will come a time when his legs lose some explosiveness and those vicious dunks will be rendered ordinary. Someday, his jumper won’t fall as often, and that astonishing court vision, the key to his game, will become cloudy.

James will face the end of his career one day. Just not anytime soon.

On the eve of his seventh straight NBA Finals appearance, and 10 years since he debuted on basketball’s grand stage, James’ reign continues: undisputed king of the court.

During a postseason in which he has led the champion Cleveland Cavaliers to a 12-1 record and chased down Michael Jordan as the No. 1 scorer in playoff history, James has not only positioned himself for a fourth title, but intensified the debate over whether he’s the greatest player in NBA history.

He isn’t slowing down while building his case.

James has always dismissed the Jordan comparisons, saying that kind of talk is “only great for barbershops” and that original gravity-defying No. 23 has been his motivational muse, not a target. But after the Cavs won their third straight conference title, punishing an overmatched Boston team in five games – he supplanted Jordan during the clincher – James discussed his place alongside someone who was “like a god” to him growing up.

“I did pretty much everything that M.J. did when I was a kid,” James said. “I shot fadeaways before I should have. I wore black and red shoes with white socks. I wore short shorts so you could see my undershorts underneath. I didn’t go bald like Mike, but I’m getting there. … But other than that, I did everything Mike did. I even wore a wristband on my forearm. I didn’t do the hoop earring, either. That was Mike.

“But I did everything Mike did, man.”

And he’s not done, not by a long shot.

James is on a mission, and it’s far from accomplished.

By having one of his finest statistical postseasons – 32.5 points per game, 8.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 57 percent shooting through 13 games – James is dismissing any argument about the league’s true MVP. Although he’ll finish behind Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard when the regular-season award is given out next month, James has reminded everyone over the past six weeks that he remains the measuring stick at 32.

He’s raising the bar even higher, during a decade in which his actions – on and off the floor – have shaped the league.

“LeBron James has dominated, seriously dominated, this era of basketball. His domination has been about the equivalent to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s in his time,” Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas said. “He’s playing for his place in history, to be talked about as one of the best to ever play. The conversation will come down between he, Kareem and Michael Jordan. Then it’s just a matter of taste. Who do you want?”

Of all his accomplishments, making seven straight final rounds is near the top of the list. When the ball goes up in Game 1 on Thursday, James will be the seventh player to appear in seven consecutive Finals, and the first since Bill Russell led a handful of Celtics on their dynastic run in the 1960s.

James reluctantly reflects on what he’s done. As the Cavs prepared for the Warriors, he took a moment to consider his latest feat.

“It’s going to be great for my legacy,” he said. “Once I’m done playing the game and can look back on the game and say, `Oh, this guy went to three straight Finals, four straight Finals, five, six, whatever. It’s great to be talked about, see what I was able to accomplish as an individual. When you talk about longevity and being able to just play at a high level for a long period of time, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that and take two franchises to four Finals apiece – and no one has ever done that either.

“I’ve always been proud to be part of the biggest stage in our league, and it’s the Finals.”

And this is Act III of a three-year drama with Golden State.

After ending Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought last season, James has been unburdened, free of the criticism or consequences. Early in Game 1, he will become the first player with 6,000 points in the postseason, and there’s no reason to think he won’t pass 7,000 in due time.

Whatever he finishes with, Cavs veteran forward Richard Jefferson doesn’t think anyone will catch him.

“Like the Joe DiMaggio hit streak, Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100, there are certain records that will be unbreakable,” Jefferson said. “Whoever tries to get to that is going to have to play in 10 NBA Finals and average 30 points a game to get there. Let’s put that in perspective: that’s impossible. What he’s doing right now is obviously on a level that has never been seen before. To pass Michael Jordan when you’re still in the prime of your career, one of the greats of all-time? That record will be unbreakable.

“If he adds another 1,000 points, who’s going to be able to come in and go to 10 NBA Finals in this modern age? It’s impossible.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Curry scores 35, Warriors rally to beat 76ers 124-116

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PHILADELPHIA — Stephen Curry scored 35 points, Kevin Durant had 27 and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors overcame a 22-point halftime deficit in a 124-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

Joel Embiid scored 21 points and Ben Simmons had 23 points and 12 assists for Philadelphia, which led 47-28 after one quarter and 74-52 at the half.

But the Warriors erased that large deficit with a furious rally in the third quarter. Curry’s 3-pointer got them within one point. He then made a pair of free throws to give Golden State a 90-89 lead.

The two-time NBA MVP hit another 3 and Draymond Green blew past a defender for a dunk to make it 99-89 going into the fourth.

A raucous, sellout crowd that chanted “Trust the Process” most of the night went silent while the Warriors put on a shooting clinic in the second half.

Even veteran David West came off the bench and made big shots in the fourth quarter to give the Warriors distance. He finished with 14 points. Klay Thompson had 16.

Embiid was coming off a career-best performance – 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks, seven assists – in a 115-109 win at the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

He seemed on his way to another monster game in the first quarter. Embiid embraced the frenzied fans and slapped hands with a guy sitting courtside after a dunk.

But the Warriors showed why they’re the best by stifling Philadelphia in the second half to improve to 12-4.

The Sixers, who lost 135-114 at Golden State one week ago, fell to 8-7.

Playing his first game since receiving a lucrative contract extension, Robert Covington had 20 points for Philly.

Back home for the first time following a five-game road trip to the West Coast, the Sixers showed no jet lag in the first half.

They jumped ahead 15-4 following a 3-pointer by Embiid. Covington stripped Durant and hit a 3 to make it 37-18, electrifying the crowd.

Durant’s dunk off Green’s alley-oop pass got the Warriors within 70-51 late in the second. But Embiid finished off the half with a dunk that sent the Sixers into the locker room up 74-52.

TIP-INS

Warriors: The 47 points allowed in the first quarter was their most given up in any quarter since Portland had 48 in the fourth quarter of a game on Nov. 14, 1992.

76ers: J.J. Redick scored 20 points, and Dario Saric had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Warriors: Continue their four-game road trip Sunday afternoon at Brooklyn.

76ers: Host Utah on Monday night.

 

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.