Why you should and should not care about LeBron’s whole “passing in the clutch” thing

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To review, in last night’s game, the Miami Heat came from behind to lead the Utah Jazz, only to watch Al Jefferson take the lead with a hook shot. At that point, the Heat had time for one final possession. Remember when LeBron passed up the final shot and everyone gave him huge grief about it? Yeah, this time he didn’t inbound, he took the ball, then swung and made a pass to a wide-open Udonis Haslem, who missed the game-winning jumper. Jazz win 99-98.

So here’s a little discussion of why you should and should not care about this.

You should care about this because: Well, it doesn’t really matter if you care about it or not, you’re going to be hearing about it for the next 24 hours until the Heat play the Lakers. Welcome to the news cycle, enjoy your stay.

You should not care about this because: It was a regular season game on a back-to-back on the road during a west coast trip. NBA teams lose these games all the time. Even Kobe. Even Jordan. Even Brian Cardinal. It happens, and it’s a blip in the radar. We can’t say “nothing matters until the playoffs” and then freak out over a regular season game. Well, we can, and we will, but we probably shouldn’t.

You should care about this because: It’s reflective of the standard people have set for LeBron. You can choose to set a different standard outside of our culture, but eventually your evaluations will regress back to the mean of our society. You can try and applaud James for making the right play, but it’s clear that we as a basketball society have redefined our decision-making chart based on Michael Jordan. To be the best, which James is, you have to pull-up and take and hit that mid-range-to-long-range jumper with a hand in your face. Making the right play is not considered the right play in this instance.

You should not care about this because: Let’s face it, it was the right play. An open jumper from a guy who has, in his career, hit a high number of big shots, is a much higher percentage shot than a contested off-dribble pull-up jumper. That’s just simply basketball. Michael Jordan passed to Steve Kerr. Kobe Bryant passed to Metta World Peace. You make the play when it’s there, especially when you’re as gifted of a passer as LeBron.

You should care about this because: Erik Spoelstra drew up a play that involved a pick and roll with Udonis Haslem instead of an isolation for LeBron or a pick and roll with Dwyane Wade. You know what we kill the Thunder for? Drawing up terrible late-game possessions that are essentially “Here, Kevin Durant, go win this” and sometimes it works and sometimes Durant throws up 35-foot threes that miss badly.Wade and James haven’t been super effective in the pick and roll throughout their time together, but that’s still the guys you want with the ball. Wade misses that shot and the narrative is likely different, slightly. It’s not the wrong play, but it says something about Spoelstra’s mindset and the approach of the team.

You should not care about this because: We destroy guys for being too selfish, for going hero mode, for jacking up shots instead of working in a system. Instead, now we’re killing players for making the right play, making the easy play, trusting in their teammates. The double standard is so blinding you can’t see the shine off James’ forehead, and as a bald guy, I can tell you that gets bright.

You should care about this because: It’s yet another game the Heat should have won over a lesser team that was lost due to a late-game decision by LeBron. (We can blame Haslme for the missed jumper but that’s not going to happen. Stars take the blame.) The Heat continue to struggle in key situations on the road nd most of the games in the playoffs aren’t going to be blowouts.

You should not care about this because: It was their first loss in weeks after a long winning streak all by double-digits. This team is not “in trouble” or “struggling.” They lost “a game.”

You should care about this because: Where was Dwyane Wade? Wade in the final minutes fouled Devin Harris on a three-pointer, one of the single dumbest plays of the season and then later missed a free throw. Where’s his public shaming? The fact that James’ narrative completely overrides a terrible game for Wade should probably be mentioned.

You should care about this because: James had 35-10-6 and poured it on in the fourth quarter. He made ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot to get them back in it and carried the team on his shoulders. When it counted, he passed to an open teammate. Most guys do what he did in the fourth and we marvel at their effort in a loss. James does it and there’s something wrong with him.

This is more about who we are than who LeBron James is.

Report: Knicks, Lakers, Clippers will pursue Kevin Durant in free agency

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The Warriors are reportedly bracing for Kevin Durant to leave in free agency next summer.

Just because of the New York rumors? Maybe. They’re spreading like wildfire.

But the Knicks won’t be the only team chasing Durant.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers will take a run at the back-to-back Finals MVP, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Of course, every team wants Durant. But not every team will actually pursue him. Many teams believe they have no chance of signing him and won;t waste their time.

It’s probably not coincidental this early list of suitors includes only the very biggest markets. Durant already plays for the best team in a desirable location. How do you differentiate yourself from Golden State? Maybe by being in an even bigger market.

The Clippers are reportedly the frontrunner to sign Kawhi Leonard. Could they get Durant, too? That’d be intriguing.

The Lakers are definitely looking to get LeBron James a star teammate, and Durant’s name has at least come up. But Durant is already dogged by the perception he’s just riding the Warriors’ coattails. He wouldn’t change the narrative by joining LeBron.

The Knicks don’t even project to have max cap space, though they’d rush to move Courtney Lee or someone else to get Durant. But this is already the worst team on the list. New York is going to further deplete its assets while remaining appealing to Durant? Hey, it could happen.

Or maybe Durant will look at these teams and see has it pretty good in Golden State.

It could also go the other way. If Durant gives even the slightest indication he’s interested teams not yet planning to pursue him, they’d jump to get into the race. So, don’t assume Warriors, Knicks, Lakers and Clippers is anything more than the preliminary pool of vying teams.

Report: Jimmy Butler trade talks ‘mostly dormant’

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Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau reportedly raised his asking price for Jimmy Butler after the star’s explosive return to practice.

Unsurprisingly, potential trade partners – who already weren’t offering enough to satisfy Minnesota – didn’t rush to meet Thibodeau’s new demands. Not even close, apparently.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

For now, Minnesota’s talks with teams around the NBA are mostly dormant, league sources told The Athletic.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and Butler reached an agreement: Minnesota would continue to try to trade Butler, and Butler would be a good teammate and play hard.

But how long will this détente last if the Timberwolves aren’t making progress on a trade?

Watch Kelly Olynyk’s game-winning putback with 0.2 seconds left for Miami

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All game long Miami owned the glass — the Heat grabbed the offensive rebound on 42.9 percent of their missed shots on Thursday night. That led to 16 more shot attempts and nine more free throws by the Heat than the Wizards on the night.

And it led to this, the game-winning putback from Kelly Olynyk with 0.2 seconds left.

 

Wizards fans need to admit it — they missed Dwight Howard inside (he is out with a butt injury, yes seriously). Without his presence (he’s still a quality rebounder), the Heat just outworked the Wizards on the glass and that ended up being the difference.

Three Things to Know: Will Lakers’ lack of shooting spoil more than LeBron’s debut?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Lakers’ shooting clanks off rim, ruins LeBron James’ Laker debut. Will it ruin more? Since the day LeBron took his talents to South Beach the formula has been the same: Surround LeBron with shooters, including bigs so teams can go four out around him, space the floor and let LeBron carve up defenses and find those shooters. The result was eight straight trips to the Finals.

Magic Johnson sold LeBron on a different philosophy if he came to Los Angeles — fill the roster with other playmakers. “It takes the pressure off of him. He doesn’t have to make every play. That’s what wears him out, what wears him down,.. We’ve got guys that can make plays on their own so he can relax on offense some. And also, we’re a fast-breaking team, so we’re not just going to be throwing it down to him. We’re going to be out and running.”

In the Lakers’ first game, the lack of shooting was critical to their 128-119 loss. The Lakers were 7-of-30 from three in the game (23.3 percent) and 0-of-7 on corner threes. Brandon Ingram missed a couple wide-open corner threes early and was 0-of-4 from deep. Kyle Kuzma was 1-of-7, Lance Stephenson 0-of-3, Lonzo Ball 1-of-4. Throw in that the Lakers were 17-of-44 (38.6 percent) as a team on uncontested shots overall for the night (stat via Cleaning the Glass), and you have the portrait of a team that can’t knock down shots.

That lack of shooting proved to be an issue later when Rondo and Stephenson tried to initiate the offense but struggled to find passing lanes to cutters because defenders sagged off and dared them to shoot.

There were plenty of positives for the Lakers. That started with LeBron himself, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds on the night.

Also, the Lakers played fast and things worked when they did — 24.2 percent of Laker possessions started in transition and they scored a ridiculous 1.71 points per possession on those. Plus, they were just fun to watch at that pace.

But it was in the halfcourt that the offense bogged down (0.89 points per play). It wasn’t just the shooting that was a problem, the Lakers struggled on the glass (especially when they went small) and Portland grabbed the offensive rebound on 37.5 percent of their missed shots. The Lakers’ lack of continuity showed as well, particularly on defense.

Portland was rusty, too, but the Blazers shot 13-of-37 from three, 35.1 percent, which is not fantastic, but they made six more threes than the Lakers and that goes a long way to a nine-point win.

Magic compared this roster he and Pelinka built to Showtime and all the playmakers they had — and I’ll give him this, the roster the Lakers have now is fun. It’s entertaining. When they play fast you want to tune in, and they scored 70 points in the paint.

But the game has evolved since the ‘80s. Shooting matters. A lot. (And those Lakers had shooters, from Jamal Wilkes in the corner through Byron Scott, but we digress.) The Lakers are going to have better shooting nights than they did in Portland, but this trend of not shooting well enough likely is not going away and is going to cost them more in a deep West loaded with teams who like to bomb-away from three. The Lakers’ shooting is going to be an ongoing issue.

Next up for Los Angeles? Houston. The three-point disparity may be even worse… but that is going to be an entertaining game to watch.

2) Watch Miami’s Kelly Olynyk’s game-winning putback with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. Dare we say it: The Washington Wizards missed Dwight Howard in this one. A scrappy Miami team grabbed the offensive rebound on 42.9 percent of their missed shots on Thursday night and that was the difference in the game — including the game-winner from Kelly Olynyk.

Olynyk saves some of his best games for Washington. Remember Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals, when then-Celtic Olynyk went off for 26 points, 14 in the fourth quarter, to get Boston the win? Wizards fans do.

3) Markelle Fultz hit an in-rhythm pull-up three, and at that point the skies parted, a rainbow appeared, and angels sang. All game long Thursday, Sixers fans were imploring Markelle Fultz to shoot and to trust himself. Take the open shot.

Then this happened — Fultz’s first three as a Sixer.

That earned pretty much a standing ovation from the Philly crowd.

Fultz was 5-of-15 shooting on the night and was just 2-of-9 outside the paint — there is still work to do. A lot of it. But the fact that Fultz kept pulling the trigger and led the Sixers in shot attempts at 15 can be taken as a good sign.

There was one other interesting reclamation project in that game — Zach LaVine, coming off that torn ACL, dropped 30 points in a losing effort.