NBA Finals: Season over, but LeBron/Durant rivalry just beginning

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For years, the LeBron/Kobe rivalry was the most compelling one in basketball, but we never truly got to see it play out on the court. Sure, their teams would play each other twice a year, and people would try to extrapolate conclusions from those biannual meetings, but there was never really anything substantial on the line during those games, even when Christmas-Day bragging rights were up for grabs.

Ultimately, the LeBron-Kobe rivalry had (has?) more in common with Mayweather-Pacquiao than it does with Ali-Frazier: while there have been literally millions of arguments about which player was superior to the other in comments sections and sports bars and on message boards, the two players never faced each other for a title when they were almost unquestionably the two best players in the world. They had four decent chances at it, but James’ team failed to make it out of the Eastern Conference in 2009 and 2010 and Bryant’s team failed to make it out of the West last season and this season. (For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave it at that.)

The good news is that we don’t have to mourn the fact we didn’t get a LeBron-Kobe Finals (yet-as a rule, I never count out Kobe or Jerry Buss) too much anymore, because the LeBron-Durant rivalry is already shaping up to be an all-time classic. For five wonderful games, the NBA’s best all-around player went toe-to-toe with its best pure scorer, and neither of them disappointed, dominating in their own ways en route to a classic, if short, NBA Finals.

All series long, James picked apart Oklahoma City’s defense while Durant simply disregarded Miami’s. James used his combination of size, speed, and passing ability in a way we’ve never quite seen him do before — he was completely hell-bent on getting to the paint time and time again, either by blowing by Thunder players on the perimeter or using his refined post game to back them all the way down. When he got to the paint, he’d either finish, draw contact and go to the line, or kick it out to a wide-open teammate for an easy score. He was also an absolute monster on the boards, and he finished the finals with eye-popping averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, although he did turn the ball over more than he normally does. After the Finals, LeBron was given his first Bill Russell Trophy, and he more than earned it.

As good as LeBron was, however, Durant was nearly as impressive. The Thunder didn’t run many screens for Durant or get him the ball of pick-and-roll sets very much — apart from transition baskets, Durant got the ball almost exclusively in isolation situations with a Heat defender directly in his face, usually LeBron James or Shane Battier. Battier has been one of the most intelligent and effective perimeter defenders in the league for years, and James has become an absolute monster on defense. He is almost universally considered the best perimeter defender in the league, and received more votes than any other player for the All-Defensive Team. In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, he neutralized Derrick Rose when he guarded him in fourth quarters, and he held Paul Pierce to 34.4% shooting in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals.

Kevin Durant, who is all of 23 years old and was playing in his first ever NBA Finals, simply did not care about any of that one little bit. Durant would either pull up straight over his defender before dribbling towards the basket and make a long-range shot, take a few dribbles towards the hoop and pull up for an unblockable pull-up or floater, or get down near the basket and swish a turnaround jumper like he was shooting in an empty gym. Durant, who is freaking 23 years old and was facing some of the best team and individual defense in the league and was not getting set up with many easy looks, scored 30.6 points per game while shooting a disgusting 54.8% from the floor and 39.4% from beyond the arc.

What’s more, it never looked like he was on the verge of blinking, let alone sweating. And he never disrupted the flow of the Thunder offense — if anything, it would often seem like Durant had barely been involved in the Thunder offense before you realized he already had 25 points. Early-20s LeBron took our breaths away with his combination of size, athleticism, and pure basketball talent and IQ, but Durant’s size, skill, and seeming inability to be fazed on the court are just as breathtaking.

James drew first blood what I’m hoping will be a long string of NBA Finals played between the Thunder and the Heat, but Durant proved himself to be a more than worthy competitor for James’ crown as he finally officially grabbed his. There are a million variables that could prevent a James-Durant rematch, both next year and in the years to come, but I’m hoping we get enough of them to make this one of modern basketball’s great rivalries.

James Harden scores 27 as Rockets rout Warriors 107-86

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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden scored 27 points and the Houston Rockets routed the Golden State Warriors 107-86 on Thursday night in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals.

The Rockets (7-7), who announced before the game that they were “parting ways” with 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, have won three straight and six of their last eight games after starting 1-5 to reach .500 for the first time since they were 1-1.

The Warriors, who were without Stephen Curry for the fourth straight game, have lost two of their last three. Curry has already been ruled out for Golden State’s next two games because of a groin injury.

Houston had a 13-point lead at the end of the third and opened the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run to make it 88-65 and spur Golden State coach Steve Kerr to call a timeout. The Warriors had two shots blocked and committed two loose ball fouls in that span to help Houston pad the lead. The Rockets got 3-pointers from James Ennis and Isaiah Hartenstein to cap the run.

The Rockets then scored the first nine points after the timeout, with six from Ennis, to make it 97-65 midway through the quarter and put the game out of reach. Both teams cleared their benches a couple of minutes after that.

Kevin Durant had 20 points for the Warriors on a night they were just 4 of 18 on 3-pointers.

Draymond Green had five rebounds and five assists in his return after serving a one-game team-imposed suspension for a dustup with Durant in Monday night’s overtime loss to the Clippers. Green addressed the situation for the first time after shootaround but did not apologize for his actions in the heated exchange.

He said he and Durant had spoken and that they were “moving forward.”

“I think there’s no secret that I am an emotional player,” he said. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I play with that same emotion. Sometimes they get the best of me. And (if) it doesn’t work to my favor I’m going to live with that.”

While the Warriors dealt with the drama between Green and Durant, the Rockets were left to answer questions about the decision to move on from Anthony.

Anthony played just 10 games for the Rockets after signing a one-year, $2.4 million deal during the offseason.

“In the summer we tried to hit a home run and it didn’t work out,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He tried everything he could. He was great while he was here. It just didn’t work out for whatever reason. I just thank him for his professionalism. It was good. He tried everything he could to make it work and it just didn’t work out.”

The Rockets led by six at halftime and opened the third quarter with a 7-2 run to stretch the lead to 54-43.

Harden scored five straight points to make it 63-47 after his 3-pointer with about 5 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.

Golden State got going on offense after that, using an 8-2 spurt to get within 65-55 a couple of minutes later.

Gary Clark ended the run with a 3-pointer, and two more 3s by him within a minute of each other late in the third extended the lead to 76-59. It was 76-63 headed to the fourth.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Curry was with the Warriors on the trip but it’s unclear when he’ll return. “We’re going to be very, very careful, and obviously he’s going to need plenty of court time before he returns,” coach Steve Kerr said. “When I say court time, I mean live action. He hasn’t had that.”… Kevon Looney scored a season-high 12 points.

Rockets: Gerald Green returned after missing the last two games with a sprained ankle. … Ennis finished with 19 points and Eric Gordon had 17 off the bench. … Houston made 16 of 47 3-pointers.

UP NEXT

Warriors: Visit Dallas on Saturday night.

Rockets: Host Sacramento on Saturday night.

Report: Draymond Green will try to get game check from suspension

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Should Draymond Green have been suspended for his repeated aggravation of Kevin Durant during an on-floor dispute against the Los Angeles Clippers this week? His teammates thought so, and even voted in favor of giving Green a one-game suspension.

Now, Green will try to get back the money he lost via a missed game check.

According to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, Green will petition to get the money for his game check from the Warriors with help from the NBA Players Association.

Via The Undefeated:

The Warriors responded by suspending Green for Tuesday’s win over the Atlanta Hawks. While Green accepted the suspension, a source said he was surprised at being fined a $120,000 game check and plans to appeal the franchise’s decision with the aid of the players association.

It seems that at this juncture the suspension and fine was part of the team’s way of making sure Durant felt like he wasn’t being pulled over by the strong personality and Leadership position of green.

It’s hard to say whether Green will get his check for the Hawks game back from the team, but that’s probably not the most important part of this story at this juncture. For now, we have to wait and see what will happen with this Warriors squad moving forward.

Mike D’Antoni on Carmelo Anthony: ‘It wasn’t fair for him as Hall of Fame player’

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Things are over between Carmelo Anthony and the Houston Rockets.

It was announced on Thursday that the former NBA scoring champion would be departing from the team after playing just 10 games. This ended a rocky start to the 2018-19 season in which the Rockets tried gapping the loss of crucial role players with Anthony just a season after an unsuccessful stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The writing on the wall was apparent earlier this week, although the Rockets weren’t forthcoming about the situation with Anthony. Houston GM Daryl Morey told reporters on Sunday that Anthony was sick and that he would “expect him to be playing when he’s healthy.”

That doesn’t seem anywhere near a straight answer in retrospect, and now Anthony is no longer traveling with team. For his part, head coach Mike D’Antoni said nice things about Anthony on Thursday as reporters asked him questions leading up to Houston’s game against the Golden State Warriors.

In his comments, D’Antoni called Carmelo a “Hall of Fame” player.

Via Twitter:

Who knows where Anthony might end up from here on out? The Los Angeles Lakers seem like the most popular destination of speculation, although rumor has it the team is not interested in the aging superstar. That’s not to say that the Lakers are out of the running, but it certainly narrows the choices.

Anthony is a sub-replacement level player, he can be a locker room disturbance, and it’s unclear if he would be willing to mentor young guys much the way Vince Carter has done at this stage in his career.

It’s too early to say that Carmelo’s time in the NBA is over, but right now we are still waiting for a team to step forward and decide they’ll take a chance on Anthony.

Jarrett Jack thinks Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant will join Lakers with LeBron

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Jarrett Jack is no longer with an NBA team, but no doubt he is still plugged in and continues to pay attention to rumors and movements around the league.

Of course the biggest rumor heading into the next two seasons is about what will happen with the team surrounding LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers. Kevin Durant has been one rumored target. Some kind of trade surrounding New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis is another.

Jack recently decided to weigh in on what might happen with the Lakers in the coming seasons on Twitter and, according to him, Jack thinks that LeBron will team up with Davis and Durant.

Via Twitter:

This is of the utmost hearsay at this point, and it’s fun to look at these type of assertions by folks orbiting the league because of the cultural impact rumors have on just about everyone. The idea that a recent former player would be weighing in publicly about a super secret plan to get three major superstars on one team in the biggest market in the NBA would have been crazy a decade ago.

Now? Not so much.

Of course the reality of the situation is much different. The Lakers will have the cap space to sign Kevin Durant this summer if he chooses to opt out of his contract with the Golden State Warriors. Weather Davis can find a way to the Lakers is another thing altogether.

The Pelicans big man has appeared to say all the right things externally, and the only way New Orleans is giving him up is if Davis decides to force his way out. Even then, it’s not immediately clear what the Lakers could give up in order to get Davis that wouldn’t completely decimate their team.

Keep these rumors coming, to be honest. I am all for everyone getting in on these rumors early. If they turn out to be true, it becomes a fun tinfoil-hat experiment on what kind of secretive potential discussions were had before things were made official. Then again, if Durant decides to join the New York Knicks and Davis stays put in Louisiana for the rest of his career, it’s an odd commentary on nobody wanting to join up with LeBron in LA.

Either way, it’s a wild story.