LeBron is even more confident now, and that could mean serious trouble for the Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO — Before LeBron James went out and put together a high-scoring, aggressive performance that helped his team to a Game 4 win over the Spurs, he guaranteed he’d play better than he did the previous game, and did so in a way that made it sound like his bounce-back effort was a foregone conclusion.

After scoring 33 points and hauling in 11 rebounds in the game that tied the series at two apiece, and after controlling the tempo and attacking inside on seemingly every offensive possession, James was even more confident than before in delivering his answers to reporters before the Heat practiced at the AT&T Center on Saturday.

Every relevant question was met with forceful assertion from James, and his self-assuredness was at the highest level possible without ever crossing over into the realm of being smug or cocky with his statements.

It began when LeBron was asked about the Heat’s recent inability to win consecutive games in the postseason. In all seven games against Indiana right on through the first four games of the Finals, Miami has won (and then lost) in every other outing. James said, very confidently and very seriously, that it was time for that little trend stop.

“I think it’s time,” James said. “I think we’re well overdue where it’s time for us to win consecutive games. I think we’re at 11 or 12 straight consecutive win‑loss, win‑loss, win‑loss. I think it’s time. Enough is enough for our team. I’m not saying it’s going to result in us having a win, but we need to play with the same sense of urgency as if we were down 2‑1 or whatever the case may be tomorrow night. And we can’t wait around.”

Confident, but not cocky.

Next, LeBron was asked a slightly convoluted question that had to do with his style of play during his team’s three straight years in the Finals, and whether he needed to be more of a scorer or a facilitator moving forward. He had to ask for clarification on what was being asked, but then delivered his answer before waiting for the response.

“Let me put it this way,” James said sternly. “We don’t make it to Dallas, we don’t make it to OKC and we don’t make it here if I don’t play the way I play. It’s that simple. My game doesn’t change no matter who I’m playing. I know I’m an attack player. I also do multiple things — I get my teammates involved, I rebound, I defend. I don’t have three straight trips to the Finals if I don’t do what I do. It is what it is.”

Self-assured, but not smug.

Finally, LeBron was asked if he was surprised by the large margins of victory that we’ve seen in each of the last three games of the series. He was not — especially in those that were won by his team.

“We’re not surprised to get a win, [or] surprised to win by double digits,” James said. “If we play our game, if we force turnovers, we rebound, execute offensively and don’t turn the ball over, we can win against anybody. We’re a confident bunch.”

The Heat are led by the most confident one of them all, and LeBron was radiating this quality in every word he uttered, and in the strong, sincere, and steady tone with which those words were spoken.

LeBron was confident that he’d bounce back before Game 4, and we saw what he was able to do under the circumstances. But now, with a heightened level of cool assuredness on display, the Spurs must prepare for an even more devastating performance from James.

Whether or not they are able to withstand it will determine their fate in Game 5, and might ultimately end up being the key factor in determining how the championship is decided.

Kevin Durant on Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan: ‘How do you not say they’re by far better than anybody who’s played the game?’

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Kevin Durant has already called Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan the greatest of all-time.

Now, the Warriors star is intensifying the rhetoric.

Durant, via Shams Charania of The Athletic:

But watching Kobe and Mike, I’m like, ‘How do you not realize how good these dudes are?’ How do you not say they’re by far better than anybody who’s played the game? Just by the way they move, how fluid they are.

“Everybody that comes to my house, whether it’s friends or family, I make them watch Jordan highlights. This is equivalent to (Albert) Einstein … fucking (Ludwig van) Beethoven … or (Barack) Obama. This is the greatest talent and athletes and minds of the world. Just because they play sports, people think one way. But they’re masters, they’re geniuses. I just started realizing that a few years ago: Watching those guys can really spark my creativity.”

I don’t view basketball the same way Durant does. The players with the most skills are not necessarily the greatest players. Not all skills are equally important. I’d rank players with narrower skill sets – like Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal – ahead of Bryant. Duncan and O’Neal were so efficient in what they did, and they were far better than Bryant at avoiding miscues like missed shots and turnovers. I care more about the end effectiveness than the means to get there when ranking greatness.

And what about LeBron James? I’d rate Jordan and LeBron top-two by my criteria. But even by Durant’s, I’m not sure why he doesn’t consider LeBron in that elite pantheon of skills. LeBron does everything.

Durant’s point of view comes out often enough to recognize his philosophy. When I interviewed him for this article about Knicks undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier, Durant said:

“Scorers that go get baskets, especially inside the 3-point line, they’re like extinct at this point. Because games are so fast, and it takes Zo longer in a possession to get his game off. So, a lot of people bypass that. But everybody needs a scorer on their team.

“I think just natural scorers, the guys that get baskets before anything, they’re kind of frowned upon in this league. But that’s the core of the game to me.”

That’s the mindset of someone who calls Bryant and Jordan “far better than anybody who’s played the game.”

This all also speaks to how Durant views himself. He tries to perfect different aspects of his game. He entered the NBA as a scorer, but he since added rebounding, passing, defense, playing like a big. I’ve never been convinced Durant cares as much about willing his team to victory as he cares about expanding his skill set (which obviously indirectly helps his team win).

There’s nowhere Durant can try new skills like Golden State. The Warriors’ elite roster offers him room to experiment and keep winning, anyway. Just something to consider as he enters free agency next summer.

Zach LaVine on meeting with Bulls coach Jim Boylen: ‘This is a business. This isn’t a dictatorship’

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Tension between new Bulls coach Jim Boylen and his players boiled over Sunday. When Boylen called for a practice the day after a back-to-back, some players threatened to boycott. They ultimately compromised on a team meeting.

So, guard Zach LaVine met individually with Boylen.

LaVine, via Malika Andrews and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“You just want to be real with people,” LaVine told ESPN. “There shouldn’t be any clouds. I think of myself as one of the leaders on the team. I just wanted to voice my opinion to them.”

“This is a business, this isn’t a dictatorship. We are all grown men, so everybody has a voice.”

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Boylen, via Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We had a situation over the weekend that could have been handled by a leadership group walking into my office and saying, ‘You know what, Coach? This is how we feel today. What do you think?’ That was the teaching moment,” Boylen said. “I’m juiced, man. I’m jacked up about it.”

A leadership committee sounds like the type of thing college teams have – which makes sense, because Boylen is treating the Bulls like a college team. Frequent and long practices. Harsh public criticism. Five-man substitutions. These are not normal power dynamics in the NBA.

Chicago players are already running thin on patience for Boylen. But he has plenty of job security. So, hopefully for everyone involved, he has learned as much as he indicates. He can’t keep coaching like this without inciting a mutiny.

Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson out 2-4 weeks

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Tristan Thompson has been one of the biggest bright spots in an otherwise miserable Cavaliers season. The center is averaging 12.0 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He has also taken on more leadership.

And now he’s out.

Cavaliers release:

Cavaliers forward/center Tristan Thompson will miss approximately 2-4 weeks with a left foot sprain. Thompson was injured in last night’s road game at Milwaukee late in the third quarter

This will help Cleveland improve its draft position, though it’s not as if Cleveland (6-21) was having much issue losing even with Thompson.

At least the Cavs have plenty of options at center. Expect Larry Nance Jr. to take a larger role. Ante Zizic likely joins the rotation. Cleveland could dust off Channing Frye. Kevin Love might return before Thompson.

Magic suspended Mohamed Bamba for being late to walk-through

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Seven of the top eight picks in the 2018 NBA draft are scoring double-digit points per game.

The exception: Magic center Mohamed Bamba.

Bamba certainly hasn’t been bad. He’s just acclimating to the NBA at a more common rate than peers like Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Deandre Ayton. This is an exceptionally good rookie class.

But this won’t help Bamba catch up. He missed Orlando’s 101-76 loss to the Mavericks last night.

Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel:

Bamba, who was suspended for a game for being late for the team walk-through at the hotel in Dallas on Monday

“It was a violation of team rules,” Clifford said. “It’s just a one-game thing. Mo will play again on Thursday, but that’s what it was.”

“It’s just bad on my part and I just need to be better … just gotta be on time,” Bamba said. “It’s very difficult because you want to be out there and impact the game in any way possible and hope for a different outcome.”

I doubt Magic coach Steve Clifford suspended Bamba for a single instance of tardiness. This was likely a culmination.

Orlando (12-15) is eighth in the Eastern Conference, in the thick of the playoff race. If the Magic are going to take advantage of the low bar for making the postseason, they need all hands on deck – including Bamba.