“We learn little from victory, much from defeat.” – Japanese proverb
“It’s about damn time.” – LeBron James on winning the NBA championship
He’s there. After the Heat’s 121-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’s finally there.
LeBron James has reached the place where so few stars reach. He is certified. He is bonafide. He is the best player in the land, the best player in the start, the middle and the end of the game, the NBA MVP, the NBA Finals MVP, and an NBA champion. There will be talk of how many more he must or will win. But it does not take away what he has accomplished, what he has shown, what he has surrendered in his pursuit of being great.
James entered the league as the most heralded player in the history of the league. There were no doubters. He was always “the Chosen One.” He was the singular most athletic player to ever enter the league with his skillset. And from the start, he wowed us. We looked to the future, for what he would accomplish. And we expected, always expected, because his marketing team told us to, because pundits to, and by extension, he told us to.
But it never came.
There was greatness, but it was always followed by defeat. Disappointment and debate about whether he was overrated, a sham, a product of hype and not product. Hardware defines this league. It’s the lens through which legacy is measured. Without it, James was nothing but numbers in the eyes of so many. Some have tried to note that what made him great was his production, that he was the player. But he needed the results.
He has them. He’s there.
LeBron James is a champion.
To focus on comparing him to Michael Jordan is flawed. No one is. But to the same point, no one is LeBron James. Nothing showed that like these playoffs, like these Finals. James’ dominance was not two-dimensional. It wasn’t just scoring points and defending his man on the other end. It was the modern NBA player, brought to the nexus of ability. It was working the post, scoring on the drop-step hook, challenging the pick and roll, providing help, recovering, blocking the shot, grabbing the rebound, running the floor, finishing at the other end. Repeat. Over and over again.
In Game 2 it was scoring, in Game 5 it was passing. And scoring. And rebounding. James’ first triple-double of the season lands in his final game of the season. No player since Wilt Chamberlain has been able to impact the game on so many levels at such a high level from so many positions. And James plays in an era of legends. His game is the drive and finish, the drive and kick to the open shooter, and now the post-move to the drop-step hook. It’s the offensive rebound for the muscling putback, as he showed in the willingness to do the dirty work for maybe the first time in his career. It’s the timely three-pointer. It’s the board over bigger opponents. It’s the no-look whip pass. It’s the ability to do all these things, lock down the best player on the other team, and do it for 40-plus minutes a night.
James learned something from that defeat last year, learned something from this season, and it all clicked in the Boston series. He put away those childish things and became a man. No more dancing before the clock struck zero. No picture-taking miming. No laughs. James was simultaneously at peace and more driven, more business-like and yet enjoying his game. He brought it all together. Maybe that’s what we learn most from his playoffs performance.
James may have needed to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to win the NBA title. But it was James that brought the team together. It was James that made the model work. It says something about the greatness of his game that he was able to take a team of stars and still be the most important player on the team by a mile. He was the scorer, the rebounder, the point guard, the creator, the playmaker, the shotblocker.
But move past that. That’s basketball stuff.
James lead in these playoffs, for maybe the first time in his life. He wasn’t waiting for other people to tell him what to do. He did not try to be Michael Jordan hitting mid-range jumpers. He said “I am bigger than you. I am badder than you. I am better than you” and then he entered the post and obliterated the Thunder. They doubled? He found open shooters.
Those players are going to hit those shots because that’s what happens when you’re open. Instead of Michael Jordan, James won the title like Hakeem Olajuwon, being more talented inside, and getting the ball to open shooters because of doubles. He took responsibility for his actions. Last year, last year’s Finals, the failures throughout his career, the team’s struggles this year. He looked inside himself. We can’t know what that process was like or what we found when he saw that mirror. But we know what he showed us when he came out of it.
There is more to a King than lineage.
LeBron James discovered it, and in doing so has taken his rightful place. Nothing can take away this moment, nothing can change his legacy. He’s not through, he hasn’t lived up to “not 2, not 3…” or whatever standard you want to find. But you also can no longer list him as the man without a ring. That era is over.
Crown him. Witness. Give that man his ring.
Long live the King.
Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday
What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.
Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.
There’s strong optimism Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards (ankle) could make his return Sunday against the Golden State Warriors, league sources tell @NBAonTNT, @BleacherReport.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) March 25, 2023
Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.
Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.
Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely
Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.
Ben Simmons Medical Update: pic.twitter.com/kRcxsjrHLG
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 24, 2023
A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.
With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.
Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.
Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).
The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.
Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’
If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.
The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:
“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”
That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.
Kyrie Irving on boos in Dallas: "So what? … You obviously want to play well, but you it's only five people on the court that can play for Dallas Mavericks. If the fans wanna change places, then hey, be my guest. Got years of work ahead to be great enough to be on this level."
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) March 25, 2023
Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.
"I used to have more fun, smiling on the court, but it's just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons."
Luka Doncic following the Mavericks' loss to the Hornets
🎥: @GrantAfseth pic.twitter.com/UNWD7iAuUG
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 25, 2023
“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….
“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”
Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.
Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).
Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.
The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.
Watch Anthony Davis score 37, spark Lakers to key win against Thunder
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis had 37 points and 14 rebounds, Dennis Schröder added 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and the Los Angeles Lakers got a vital victory for their playoff hopes, 116-111 over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
Lonnie Walker scored 20 points in an impressive return to the rotation for the Lakers, who won their third straight to move even with Minnesota in seventh place in the Western Conference standings despite the injury absences of LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell.
“It was a must-win game for us,” said Davis, who made 15 of his 21 shots. “We had to come out and get this game, and we came out offensive and defensively just playing extremely well. … We’ve got to .500, and now it’s time to get on the other side.”
37 points and 15 boards in the W 😤
AD showed out tonight as the Lakers moved to 37-37. pic.twitter.com/TIG9GCba0h
— NBA (@NBA) March 25, 2023
With Davis leading the way on both ends of the court, Los Angeles (37-37) reached .500 for the first time this year. The Lakers started the season 2-10, but they’re 12-6 since the trade deadline with a rapidly cohering roster and the looming return of the NBA’s career scoring leader.
“This team is locked in and connected,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “The vibe and the spirit have been great. Guys are really trying to figure out how we can be better. That’s what you want. … Guys are competing because they know what they’re representing. They know the history of the franchise they’re representing.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey scored 27 points apiece for Oklahoma City, which lost for only the fourth time in 12 games down the stretch. The Thunder (36-38) dropped into a tie with Dallas for 10th in the West despite holding the Lakers to only 42 points in the second half after LA put up 41 in the first quarter alone.
“That’s a testament to our ability to scrap and hang in there,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “That’s how you want teams to score against you. All the things they got down the stretch are things we’re willing to live with. It’s hard to slow that down.”
Russell sat out with a sore right hip, joining James on the sideline at an important game for the Lakers’ playoff hopes. Los Angeles still improved to 8-5 during James’ latest injury absence.
Oklahoma City erased all of Los Angeles’ early 17-point lead when Gilgeous-Alexander’s jumper tied it at 102-102 with 5:25 to play. Davis responded with three points, and Walker hit a tiebreaking shot with 3:50 left.
Schröder replaced Russell in the starting lineup and had another standout game, including six points in the final 3:18 while the Lakers hung on. Walker got his most significant playing time since early March in Russell’s absence, and the former starter responded with four 3-pointers.
“I’ve just been in the gym, being positive and focused on what we’re trying to accomplish,” Walker said. “I love these guys, and I’m fortunate to play with them.”
Ham said Russell’s hip injury was “not too serious, but serious enough where we need to manage it.”
Gilgeous-Alexander played despite the Thunder being on the back end of consecutive games. The Thunder have been resting him in the second game of recent back-to-backs.