LeBron James: “I just have to play better”

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Through three games of the NBA Finals, LeBron James is averaging 16.3 points a game on 38.9 percent shooting — the best player on the planet has looked average (well, for him).

And passive. In Game 3 Tuesday night with the Spurs packing the paint and having defenders playing a step off him in isolation, LeBron settled for the jumpshots the Spurs wanted him to take. Credit Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for being at the point of a good Spurs defense, but LeBron didn’t challenge that defense. The result was an ugly 7-of-21 shooting night with zero free throw attempts. And an embarrassing Heat loss that in part flowed out of that.

“Well, honestly I just have to play better,” an up front James said after the game. “I can’t have a performance like tonight and expect to win. I’ve got to shoot the ball better, make better decisions and I will get into the film and see ways that I can do that. I’m not putting blame on anybody, I’m owning everything that I did tonight.”

With Chris Bosh unable to hit midrange jumpers he nailed all season, and with Dwyane Wade slowed and the Heat playing off him (they are almost ignoring him on the perimeter to pack the paint), the Heat need LeBron to be the best player in the game today. They can’t win otherwise. While his instinct is to pass out of the double and take the open shot when he gets it, now it is time for him to put his head down and get to the rim.

When LeBron attacked Tuesday night he was fine — he hit 5-of-7 shots within 5 feet of the rim. But the Spurs made it hard to get those shots while daring him to shoot from the midrange and beyond. LeBron took the bait and hit 1-of-9 from the midrange and 1-of-5 from three. During the season he was a solid outside shooter (43 percent from the midrange and 40.6 percent from three) but that shot has deserted him in the finals. He’s not making up for that by attacking the rim.

“I have to do better,” LeBron reiterated. “If I’m better we’re better and I have to be better. I’m putting everything on my chest and on my shoulders and I have to be better. My teammates are doing a great job and I’m not doing my part.”

The Spurs are not going to change what they are doing or who they are doing it with. It’s up to LeBron to solve this himself. Do that and the Heat can even this series Thursday night, but one more game like this and Miami is going to be in a hole it will not be able to dig out of.

As front office looks toward free agency, starless Clippers winning now

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CHARLOTTE – The Clippers have no All-Stars here.

Not Danilo Gallinari. Not Montrezl Harrell. Not even Tobias Harris, who spent most of the season with L.A. before getting traded to the 76ers.

Heck, nobody who has played for the Clippers this season – including Gallinari, Harris and Lou Williams – has ever made an All-Star team.

No Clippers are participating in All-Star Saturday Night events, either. Their only representative here is rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Yet, the Clippers are an impressive 32-27.

“When you just have a bunch of guys that are selfless and just want to play for each other and just want to ultimately win,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, “things like that happen.”

The Clippers are on pace for one of the best-ever records for a team with no past or present All-Stars. Here all the all-time leaders (counting only seasons with an All-Star game):

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The Clippers’ success is particularly surprising because this was supposed to be a transitional year for them.

They moved on historically quickly from the Chris PaulBlake Griffin-DeAndre Joran Lob City era. Everyone from the Clippers’ 2012-17 teams was gone before the season even began. Since the early 1950s, only these Clippers, the 1996 Mavericks and 2003 and 2004 Hawks completely turned over their rosters within two seasons.

The Clippers have made no secret of their interest in Kawhi Leonard. They’re also reportedly pursuing Kevin Durant. Jimmy Butler could be in the mix.

“The front office and coaches and teammates are all competitive guys and want to be good for a long time,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

Here’s the rub: Many of Gilgeous-Alexander’s teammates might not be around for that ultimate goal.

To open a projected $57 million in cap space this summer,* the Clippers had to stock their roster with expiring contracts.

*Based on the Clippers renouncing all their free agents and not having a first-round pick. L.A. owes the Celtics a lottery-protected first-rounder.

Beverley will be a free agent this summer. So will Harris and likely Avery Bradley, who got dealt to the Grizzlies shortly before the trade deadline and has just $2 million of his $12.96 million salary next season guaranteed. So will Marcin Gortat, who got waived around the trade deadline.

Yet, these players put aside personal agendas to help a franchise that’s transparently looking past them. It’s a tribute to the players. It’s a tribute to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, too. This team has played hard and shown great camaraderie.

It won’t get easier even after moving Harris, L.A.’s top player this season who’s entering free agency. Ivica Zubac, JaMychal Green, Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler – acquired before the trade deadline – also have expiring contracts.

Don’t assume the Clippers will fall off now. They added solid vets who could fit this culture.

The Clippers’ identity – starless, transient – remains intact. The winning could, too.

It’s not that the Clippers got snubbed. I thought none deserved to be an All-Star.

That’s the beauty of this team.

Pelicans reportedly fire GM Dell Demps

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Dell Demps has been on the hot seat for a few years now, just scraping by while making short-term moves that appeared more about keeping his job and winning games now over planning for long-term success around Anthony Davis.

This season that all seemed to catch up with him — Davis demanded a trade and the Pelicans are well out of the playoff chase in the West.

That has cost Demps his job after nine seasons, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Frustration with Davis leaving the building is more the last straw that cost Demps his job rather than the sole firable offense. Demps has been on thin ice for a while, what happened Thursday was just enough for New Orleans to pull the trigger now rather than wait until after the season. But the sense around the league is this was coming no matter what.

If Demps had traded Davis to the Lakers at the deadline he would have been fired anyway. Also, sources have told me that it wasn’t Demps’ call, that ownership and upper management (the people above Demps) did not want the Laker trade and he couldn’t have pulled the trigger on the deal even if he wanted to. Ownership and upper management didn’t want to feel “bullied” into a deal.

It was thought by many around the league that there would be a housecleaning in New Orleans after the season and that the new GM, whoever he or she is, would be the one making the call on the trade and the direction the team takes next. The question is, will coach Alvin Gentry be out, too?

Expect the Pelicans to move reasonably quickly on finding a replacement, whether it is internal or external. They want someone in place to have a strategy for the team heading into the draft, a strategy that includes what to do about a Davis trade.

Anthony Davis reportedly plans to play in All-Star Game after shoulder injury

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Fortunately, the injury was “nothing too bad,” just a bruised shoulder that Anthony Davis suffered Thursday night against the Thunder. He didn’t play the second half of the game, but he did fly to Charlotte afterward, home of the All-Star Game this year.

Will Davis play in Sunday’s showcase game? Probably, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Expect him to play. Minutes are limited for everyone in the All-Star Game anyway, and one request to coach Mike Malone will see Davis with even fewer minutes (10? Less than that?).

Davis injured his shoulder on the final play of the first half in the Thursday night’s game against the Thunder. Davis contested a Nerlens Noel shot and in fouling the Thunder big banged up his shoulder.

Davis didn’t play the second half, leaving the building with agent Rich Paul to get an MRI.

Kemba Walker says Michael Jordan trash-talked him during draft workout (VIDEO)

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Kemba Walker has been with the Charlotte Hornets for eight years now, and he’s an institution. He might just be the best player the Hornets have ever had, and now he’s headed to the All-Star Game as the hometown hero this weekend.

Walker has had to deal with quite a few coaches, a changing rotation of players around him, and one of the most personally-demanding owners in NBA history in Michael Jordan.

To that end, Walker told Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix that the first time he met Jordan was during his draft workout. True to form, Jordan trash-talked Walker despite his apparent desire to draft him.

Via Twitter:

The legend of MJ knows no bounds.