LeBron needs to improve his game… but what aspect?

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This much is clear, for LeBron James to reach his goal of a championship he is going to have to step his game up.

The question is how?

For a moment, we’re going to get away from the psychological aspect and what happened in the fourth quarters of the finals, the need of LeBron to accept failure so he can move past it.

We’re talking on the court. Because as Brian Windhorst reminds us at ESPN, LeBron does put in the work in the offseason. A lot of work.

“In the summertime I’ll put a lot of hard work into my individual game, try to bring my individual game to a team, and I work hard every day as an individual to go out there and perform at a high level for my teammates and for myself.”

James is right; he puts in as much work in the summer as any player in the league. His workout routine is ironclad, whether he’s on vacation, in China on a promotional tour or in Los Angeles filming commercials.

What should he work on? The first answer from many is a post game. Last season 8.1 percent of LeBron’s shot attempts came on post ups and he was more efficient when there than he was on isolations or as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls (his two most common way to generate shots). He shot 54 percent in post up situations and scored 1.04 points per possession, both good numbers. It’s fair to argue he needs more touches in the post.

But in the playoffs, that was less of an option — teams are not going to let him get away with that, the double team will come quickly from a big man and while James is a deft and willing passer, you’d rather have him shooting than passing.

The second answer is the three pointer. This is a valid thought. Think back to the playoffs — when LeBron was draining his threes like he did against Chicago or in Game 1 against Dallas, the Heat were so much more difficult to guard. But by the time we got to Game 5 the Mavs were playing off him and begging LeBron to shoot from three.

Henry Abbott and David Thorpe of ESPN promoted this idea today.

Remember how the Mavericks got away with sometimes using just Jason Kidd or J.J. Barea on James? Let him stand way out in the corner with one of those little guys on him. When he makes the catch, as (dare to dream) a 40 percent 3-point shooter, he’s doing his team a huge favor by letting that easy shot fly without a second thought. And when he decides to fake that 3 and put the ball on the floor … now the entire defense is messed up.

To me, there is a third option — develop one trustworthy, can’t miss midrange shot.

When Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t have it going, he will eventually go to the one-legged fade-away jumper and knock it down, get himself going that way. He can hit that shot in his sleep. When Kobe Bryant is struggling (or really needs a basket) he drives to the elbow for a quick pull-up jumper. A shot he can hit even when things seem not to be working. Something he can trust.

LeBron needs that shot. He is a good midrange shooter — he hit right near 45 percent of his shots from 10 feet all the way out to the arc — but he needs a signature shot. One that isn’t just a dunk. It could in theory be the three pointer, but it needs to be something.

When the going is tough, LeBron needs the one shot he can trust completely. That he has the ultimate confidence in — because clearly he needs more confidence when the pressure is high.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.