Give Kawhi Leonard credit for his defense, but expect a more aggressive LeBron

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MIAMI — LeBron James put up a triple-double in Game 1 of the NBA finals, but it wasn’t as dominant a performance as it appeared in the stat sheet. He was 6-of-8 shooting with five feet of the rim, 1-of-8 outside that range. Then with the game slipping away in the fourth quarter, he was passing to guys like Chris Bosh, who was 1-of-5 in the fourth quarter.

Should we credit the Spurs’ defense for keeping LeBron in check when it mattered? Or should we credit LeBron for taking himself out of the game by passing when it mattered?

A little from Column A, a little from Column B, actually.

Spurs second year man Kawhi Leonard did a good job on LeBron last game. LeBron shot 2-of-8 when Leonard was the primary defender, 5-of-8 when it was anyone else, as noted by Alex Kennedy at the USA Today. All that really means going forward is you can expect Leonard to keep the main job.

But you can also expect LeBron to be more aggressive looking for his shot in Game 2. In Game 1 there was a six-minute stretch when he returned in the fourth quarter when the Heat lost the lead and LeBron took just one shot as he dished to open teammates who missed looks. Just don’t think he is going to stop passing.

“I had some more opportunities where I could have maybe been a little more aggressive or look for my shot,” LeBron said after practice Friday. “But I don’t to take away from any plays I made last night. I was able to still find my guys for some shots. We missed some shots. We had some wide open clips where I had two defenders guarding me. Two plays in the third quarter I was able to find Rio for two open threes that …

“My guys are open. I’ve got this far with them, I’m not going to just abandon what I’ve been doing all year to help us get to this point. So I know those guys will be ready to shoot again once they’re open.”

Interestingly, it was Spurs coach Gregg Popovich who really talked about the need to get a player to be less selfless at times.

“I’ve talked to players before about being more aggressive, if that’s what your question was,” Popovich said Friday. “Opportunities might be there that they didn’t take advantage of. That happens with Timmy now and then. He’s so unselfish, if he shoots three jumpers in a row he feels like he shouldn’t shoot more sometimes, because he wants the ball to move and he wants to involve everybody. I think unselfish players think like that. Once in a while I’ve got to tell him, no, I don’t care if you get 20 of those shots, you have to take them.”

Sunday night, especially as the game moves on, expect LeBron to take more of those shots. That said, the defense is going to load up on him and somebody else is going to have to step up.

Rumor: Bulls’ belief in Zach LaVine waning

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Zach LaVine was the centerpiece in the Bulls’ return for trading a star. Chicago was reportedly willing to match a max offer sheet for LaVine in restricted free agency.

But maybe the Bulls have at least somewhat soured on him.

Nick Friedell of ESPN:

I don’t know why the Bulls would be down on LaVine now. I also don’t know why they were so high on him the first place.

LaVine is a good 3-point shooter and impressive dunker. But, despite his athleticism, his all-around contributions are lacking. He also hasn’t looked completely over his February 2017 ACL tear.

This leak could just be strategy. Instead of trying to scare off teams with the threat of matching any offer to LaVine, Chicago could be trying to dissuade suitors by projecting its own reluctance.

The Bulls don’t want to overpay LaVine. But they also don’t want to lose him for nothing.

Will anyone make a hard push for the 23-year-old? He surely wants a lucrative long-term contract, whether he re-signs directly with Chicago or gets an offer sheet. But, if the Bulls aren’t sold on him, I’m not sure any team will is.

LaVine’s qualifying offer will be $4,333,932. That might wind up his next salary.

PBT Extra: Grading the top of the NBA Draft

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The Phoenix Suns got it right at the top of the draft — they took Deandre Ayton.

But what of their move to trade for Mikal Bridges, the No. 10 pick, surrendering a valuable pick and the potential of Zhaire Smith for what should be a solid “3&D” wing to go with their athletic stars?

How did the Kings do at No. 2? What about Dallas’ big trade up to land Luka Doncic at three, or the Atlanta bet on Trae Young?

In this PBT Extra, I grade the top 10 picks in the draft, from the moves I like (I think Dallas did well) to ones I’m not sold on (sorry Chicago).

 

Have questions leading up to free agency? Submit your questions via e-mail for our PBT Mailbag feature. Drop us a line at pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.