Brandon Jennings takes aim for the 40-percent mark

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Yesterday, in a live chat on ESPN.com, Brandon Jennings lobbed an easy-as-pie piece of cake over the plate. He didn’t have to; Jennings had stopped by to pretty clearly shill for Court Grip — the new product which Dwyane Wade plugged so aggressively but a few weeks earlier — and those kinds of advertising tours tend to be very straightforward affairs. But Jennings got just a tad sidetracked in talking about his workout schedule and his goals for next season, and offered up this gem:

Steve (Orlando):

Go Bucks! How many hours a week do you, if at all, practice your 15 foot jump shot. Thanks.

Brandon Jennings  (3:05 PM):

Actually since the lockout, I’ve been in Baltimore working for 3 months straight. I’m going to shoot over 40% this year. This whole three months of the lockout, I’ve been working out 5 days a week in Baltimore.

40 percent. That’s it. Take a moment to get all of the wisecracks out of your system. Just wring out the snark. 40 percent is an incredibly unimpressive target, a number that most NBA players eclipse with even their worst shooting seasons. We know this. Jennings probably does, too, but that didn’t stop him from setting a depressed goal for his own individual performance.

Jennings is still just 21, and he’ll evolve plenty as a player before he even hits his basketball prime. Yet his underwhelming field goal percentage numbers — .371 and .390 in his first two seasons respectively — are a cause for legitimate concern. They’re far from a death sentence for Jennings’ career, but so long as his poor shot selection continues to get the best of him, his NBA potential will be curbed substantially.

To be fair, Jennings has averaged five three-pointers a game in each of his NBA seasons thus far, accounting for nearly a third of his total shot attempts. If we use effective field goal percentage instead of standard field goal percentage, his shooting efficiency looks a bit more respectable, and Jennings actually outshoots John Wall and Russell Westbrook.

Of course, the problem with comparing Jennings to players like Wall and Westbrook is that each has produced in a way that Jennings has not. Wall sees the world in angles, and harnesses them through his own brand of awesome playmaking; he posted an assist rate 10 points higher than Jennings last season, despite JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche attempting to sabotage that number at every turn. Westbrook, on the other hand, was not only a far superior playmaker statistically in his second season, but he got to the line at an elite rate. He curbed his initially low field goal percentage with rapid improvement and a commitment to drawing contact, and those free points — which exist outside of his total field goals attempted and thus his field goal percentage — are a big component of Westbrook’s incredible production.

If Jennings were a better passer, his poor shooting numbers would matter slightly less. If he were committed to getting into the lane (where Jennings has proven himself to be an decently effective finisher), his efficiency numbers would skyrocket. Yet Jennings remains committed to forcing shots he has little chance of making, and hasn’t shown enough growth in the other facets of his game to hedge the problematic influence of his shot selection.

The blame here might not solely be on Jennings (Scott Skiles seems content with players taking long two-pointers, and the Bucks haven’t exactly had a lot of high-level talent outside of Jennings and Andrew Bogut), and that notion makes it worth considering if this alignment of player, team, coach, and system might be damaging to the offensive potential of all parties involved. If Jennings was firing up more shots than normal because of Bogut’s lingering injuries and the offensive limitations of some his teammates, then that’s understandable. But if he’s growing accustomed to shooting once every other minute despite playing for one of the league’s slowest teams as if such a thing were his Basketball Gods-given right, then we could have a bit of a problem. A fair bit of restraint would behoove Jennings, but the Bucks’ system offers structure without the means to prevent him from taking ill-advised shots. Skiles has a reputation for being an oppressive coach, but in his offense Jennings is oddly enabled.

There’s something admirable about an NBAer playing within themselves, and whether due to personal motivations or circumstance, we have yet to see Jennings pull off such a feat. 40 percent would be a nice step in the right direction, but only the slightest step. If Jennings wants to keep pace with his impressively efficient contemporaries, he’ll need to show a fair bit of growth beyond that number.

H/T: Tom Haberstroh.

Fast start, LeBron James enough for Cavaliers to hold on to win, even series

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For the first time in 11 days, we had an NBA playoff game that finished with a single-digit margin. Barely.

It didn’t look like it would be early — Boston missed lay-ups and dunks all through the first quarter, LeBron James was being LeBron James, and the Cavaliers had a 16 point first quarter lead. It was 15 at the half.

But these Celtics would not go quietly.

Boston started to find it’s offensive groove — hunting Kevin Love incessantly — but in the end couldn’t get enough stops because, well, LeBron James. He finished with 44 points on 17-of-28 shooting, his sixth 40-point game of these playoffs. He got wherever he wanted on the floor all night, carving up the top-ranked regular season defense of the Celtics like a surgeon. No other Cavalier had more than 14 points (Kyle Korver), but the supporting cast played enough defensive and made hustle plays to hang on.

@realtristan13 with the swat and @kingjames with the finish!

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Cleveland got the win, 111-102, and evened the series at 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Boston.

What Celtics fans can feel good about is their team’s resilience and grit. Down big for the second-straight game on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics fought back from as much as 19 down earlier in the game to get it to single digits and make the fans in Quicken Loan Arena nervous in the fourth quarter. That is something the team can carry over to Game 5, as they can some defensive tweaks that shut down opportunities for Korver and the rest of the supporing cast.

What should bother Celtics fans was another night where they struggled to generate offense in the face of more intense defensive pressure.

That came from the opening tip, with the Celtics missing a few layups and a couple of Jaylen Brown dunk attempts — all of which allowed the Cavs to get early offenses and mismatches going the other way. Those missed shots fueled a 10-0 Cavaliers run that had Cleveland up 19-10 early. The Celtics shot 3-of-10 at the rim in the first quarter, shot 26 percent overall, and trailed 34-18 after one.

The second quarter saw the Celtics start to find their offense — they scored 35 points on 50 percent shooting — but they only gained one point on the Cavaliers lead because Boston couldn’t get stops. LeBron had 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half to pace a Cleveland team that shot 61.5 percent overall and hit 6-of-11 threes. That’s why the Cavs were up 68-53 at the half.

The Celtics energy was better than Game 2, but in the first half they looked like a young team, one that made a lot of mistakes.

In the second half, the Celtics started to figure things out — they started making the extra pass, they got stops for stretches, they looked more like a young team figuring things out. They finished the night with 25 from Jaylen Brown, 17 from Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier had 16 points and 11 assists.

They just couldn’t completely close the gap because they couldn’t get consistent stops — the Cavaliers shot 60 percent as a team for the game, and a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 59.6. Cleveland mercilessly hunted Rozier on switches — forcing him on to LeBron or Kevin Love then attacking — and the Cavs got enough from their role players. Tristan Thompson did what he needed to bringing energy in the paint and some defense, plus he had 13 points. Korver was diving on the floor for loose balls. Larry Nance Jr. had his second good game in a row. George Hill had 13 points.

And whenever the Cavaliers needed a play, they had LeBron to turn to. He set another NBA record on Monday night, most playoff field goals made for a career.

LeBron is what needs to worry Boston most of all. The Celtics will be better at home in Game 5 — they have not lost in TD Garden all postseason — but if this thing goes seven, it’s a dangerous thing when the other team has the best player on the planet.

LeBron James passes Kareem to become all-time leader in playoff made field goals

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LeBron James is already the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer, having passed Michael Jordan last postseason.

However, LeBron racked up his buckets in the era of the three-point shot (as did Jordan, to a lesser extent), so Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the all-time leader in field goals made in the postseason. A lot of them beautiful skyhooks that still give Celtics fans nightmares.

Monday night, LeBron made history passing Abdul-Jabar for the top spot in NBA playoff made field goals.

Just add that to the already insane resume.

Kevin Love with insane touchdown outlet to LeBron James for bucket

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Not sure what part of this was better.

Was it Kevin Love‘s length-of-the-court outlet touchdown pass that was right on the money, where only the receiver could get it?

Or was it LeBron James, with a catch in a crowd that would make Julio Jones’ draw drop?

Either way, this first quarter bucket from the Cavaliers may well be the play of the game.

Spurs disbanding all-female dance team in favor of co-ed hype team

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Is this the wave of the future?

Since then newly-minted owner Jerry Buss started the Laker Girls’ in 1979, all-female dance teams have become standard around the NBA. However, with how things are now viewed through the prism of the #metoo movement, and reports on how NFL cheerleaders were treated in places such as Washington and Miami, a lot of professional sports teams are re-thinking the concept of female dance teams.

The Spurs are apparently doing away with theirs, to be replaced by a 35-person co-ed “hype team.”

The Spurs have not said officially that this is the end of the Silver Dancers. “Lack of interest” is an odd reason to give — is there suddenly less interest now than there was five years ago? A number of teams have both female dance teams and co-ed “spirit” or “hype” teams.

Far more likely, this is about perception in what is a conservative state and marketplace.

The question is will this become a trend, both around the NBA and professional sports. As the teams try to evolve and make more dynamic their in-arena experiences, are the dance teams going to fade from view?

Just something to keep and eye on going forward.