Last season during the NBA Finals, LeBron James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. He wasn’t terribly efficient (47.7 true shooting percentage), but considering the offensive load he was asked to carry you can’t ask much more than that. He carried the Cavaliers to two wins against the Warriors.
In fact, James said he’s better off this season at 31 years old than he was last season, when he missed a career-high 13 games, including a two-week hiatus to rest.
“It’s how my body was feeling,” James said Wednesday after the Cleveland Cavaliers held shootaround in preparation for their game against the Charlotte Hornets. “Last year I was banged up. It’s not a mindset, it’s just reality. This year I feel 10 times better than I did last year. So that’s the mindset.”
The slow decline of James’ skills has been a topic around the NBA for a couple of years now. He’s gone from being the unquestioned greatest player in the game to somewhere in the top five but usually three through five, depending on whom you ask. His jumper isn’t as consistent, he doesn’t attack or defend with the same energy, and he admits he’s saving that energy for the playoffs, when he needs it most. That said, he has defended better this season than last, and he seems to have more vintage LeBron athletic plays.
That said, once the Cavaliers lock up the No. 1 seed (they are just three games ahead of the Raptors) coach Tyronn Lue has said he would rest LeBron before the playoffs (presumably Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and others, too). If this is a healthy Cavaliers team, they are a much bigger threat in the NBA Finals.
Whether that will be enough remains to be seen.
Chris Copeland, John Jenkins claimed off waiver wire (Copeland waived again already)
Chris Copeland had been waived by Milwaukee Bucks to make way for the addition of Steve Novak. Jenkins had been with the Dallas Mavericks but was waived to free up a roster for the addition of David Lee. Both of those teams used a trade exception it had from a previous deal to land the new additions. Also, this means is that the salaries of Copeland and Jenkins will count against the cap of their new teams, not their former ones.
Orlando turned around and instantly waived Copeland again. Why? Because they are below the salary floor and this saves them money. From Bobby Marks of the Vertical.
Orlando saved roughly $315k by claiming Copeland to reach the $63m salary floor. Magic were $650k short and Copeland is owed $338k.
Lionel Hollins is about as old school as it gets. He’s from the era when the front office assembles the team, and the coach gets to run the team as he sees fit. Modern NBA teams tend to have more involvement between the front office and the coaching staff, a place such as Golden State where there is a deep brain trust that discusses a lot of issues and adjustment ideas can come from any corner of the organization.
“The main thing when you’re looking for a job is finding somebody that allows you to be you and lets you coach as you coach,” Hollins said on SiriusXM radio. “If you’re successful, great. If you’re not, get rid of him.
“But the micromanaging, the meddling of who should play and how you should talk to this guy and how you should talk to the media, what you should say or shouldn’t say because how it looks for the organization versus just speaking the truth — those things weigh on you when you spend so much time trying to massage everybody instead of just coaching.”
This sounds like it could apply to Hollins’ time in Memphis as well.
It’s also a growing part of a modern NBA. Successful organizations do a good job breaking down the wall between the front office and the coaching staff — Gregg Popovich has specifically talked about this in San Antonio. They hire people who are “over themselves” and want to be part of a team setting, so that guys like Sean Marks can bounce from the front office to being an assistant coach to being in the front office with ease.
Marks is now the GM of the Nets, and whoever he brings in as his next coach will be from that collaborative mindset, not one where there is a wall between management and ownership.
Kobe Bryant says Stephen Curry toughest player to guard in NBA. Who else?
But when you’re talking about the most difficult player to guard in the NBA right now, that list has to start and end with Stephen Curry. Don’t take my word for it, ask Kobe Bryant (which is what Baxter Holmes of ESPN did).
It’s pretty hard to argue this. Curry’s shooting range (you need to actively cover him at 28 feet), handles, ability to shoot off the bounce or catch-and-shoot, his court vision and his passing make him an insanely difficult cover. Much like Joe Montana in the West Coast offense, Curry is the perfect point guard for this up-tempo, small-ball era.
There was a day when Kobe headed that toughest to guard list. He’s a student of the game. He knows who tops the list now.
Three takeaways from an NBA Tuesday: Damian Lillard has scored 30+ in five straight games
We understand if you missed Tuesday’s NBA action because you were filling out your Oscars ballot and got stuck on the sound mixing category. Here’s what you need to know from a Tuesday around the Association.
1) Damian Lillard scores more than 30 for fifth straight game; Portland wins its sixth straight. From the day the All-Star Game reserves were announced and Damian Lillard wasn’t among them, he has been a man possessed. He has averaged 28.4 points a game with a true shooting percentage of 60 percent. It’s been more intense the last five games when Lillard has broken the 30-point barrier — the first NBA player to have five straight 30+ scoring games this season.
The Blazers needed all of it to come back against the Nets on Tuesday night, blowing a 19-point lead then having Lillard and C.J. McCollum each top off their 34-point nights with key threes down the stretch. The Blazers, a team most pundits (myself included) picked to be the worst team in the West this season is starting to look like a playoff lock.
2) Utah beats Houston in overtime; Jazz pass Rockets for final playoff spot in the West. If the NBA playoffs started today, the Utah Jazz would be the eight seed and the Houston Rockets would be on the outside looking in. Utah acquired Shelvin Mack via trade from Atlanta at the deadline and started him next to Gordon Hayward — the former Butler Bulldogs teammates (under Brad Stevens) rekindled some of their college magic. Hayward led the Jazz with 28 points on just seven shot attempts. Putting Mack in the starting lineup means Trey Burke can go back to a sixth-man role where his aggressive offense is a better fit, he did a good job attacking. Jason Terry tried, he hit a corner three to send the game into overtime, but could not hit the three at the end of OT to force five more minutes. James Harden was attacking for the Rockets and had 42 points, but he and Dwight Howard are still not on the same page.
3) John Wall has a triple-double, Wizards climbing back into the playoff race. Washington has been a disappointment this season, but they have won three of four, Markieff Morris is fitting in as they hoped, and suddenly the Wizards are hot and just three games back of Chicago out of the Final playoff spot in the East (with stumbling Detroit right ahead of them). Tuesday’s Wizards win was fueled by John Wall (as their offense almost always is) as he put up 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists in the win.
If the Wizards are serious about a playoff push, they need to find a way to beat Chicago Wednesday. It will be tough — on the road, the second night of a back-to-back — but that’s the position they put themselves in.