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.

Larry Nance Jr., Cavaliers reportedly agree to four-year, $45 million contract extension

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Cleveland wanted this to happen, he’s the son of a Cavaliers’ legend who showed last playoffs he can have a role in whatever is next for this team post-LeBron.

Larry Nance Jr. wanted this to happen — he was born in Akron and was raised in the area, Cleveland is where he wants to be.

So as had been expected, the Cavaliers and Nance were able to work out an extension to his rookie contract before the deadline, as reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Joe Varden of the Athletic said the final numbers were four-years, $44.8 million.

That seems about a fair price. Nance was a steal in the draft by the Lakers 27th back in 2015 and was a fan favorite in L.A., but was sent to Cleveland in the Isaiah Thomas trade. Nance is a quality rotation player on both ends, a guy who averaged 8.7 points per game last season (expect that to go up) and shot 58.1 percent overall (and a 58.5 true shooting percentage, above the league average). He had a PER of 21.5 while with the Cavaliers last season (and a 20.2 PER with a 68.5 true shooting percentage in a smaller playoff role), showing the kind of versatility prized in today’s NBA.

This contract is a win for both sides.

Jodie Meeks set to dodge nearly $600K in suspension penalty with trade from Wizards to Bucks

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Jodie Meeks was set to forfeit $596,686 this season due to his performance-enhancing-drug suspension.

Instead, he could receive his his entire $3,454,500 salary.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Wizards are in line to save $6,146,794 in luxury tax with this move. Subtract the amount paid to the Bucks, which surely includes at least Meeks’ full salary. But that’s still at least $ 2,692,294 in savings, which is why Washington also sent a draft pick.

Milwaukee was in the right place at the right time – with the Greg Monroe trade exception (from the Eric Bledsoe deal) just large enough to absorb Meeks – to extract an extra draft pick.

But the big winner is Meeks, who can’t serve a suspension while not on a roster and therefore can’t have his pay docked. If he signs again in the NBA, he’d still have to sit 19 games, but his lost salary would almost certainly be based on a minimum salary, not the higher amount he’s due this year.

Report: Pacers, Myles Turner agree to four-year, $80 million extension

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Update: There’s the not unexpected wrinkle:

 

The Pacers’ identification and development of young players stagnated in the Paul George era and might have contributed to his exit. Indiana’s kept first-round picks in the seven years between drafting and trading George: Miles Plumlee, Solomon Hill, Myles Turner, T.J. Leaf.

Turner is the lone hope to emerge as a secondary star, and though now it’d be next Victor Oladipo rather than George, the Pacers will pay Turner as such.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

That’s a sizable deal, not just in terms of dollars but also opportunity cost. This will unnecessarily cut into Indiana’s cap space next summer.

Turner will begin the offseason counting against the cap at his 2019-20 salary, which based on the reported terms, will be between $17,857,143 and $22,727,273. If the Pacers didn’t extend him and let him become a restricted free agent, they could have held him at $10,230,852, used their other cap space first then exceeded the cap to re-sign him with Bird Rights.

So, why lock him up now? Indiana clearly believes his production will outpace his salary. This prevents another team from signing him to an even larger offer sheet next summer.

The 22-year-old Turner can live up to this deal. He’s a good 3-point shooter and shot-blocker. He must play with more force inside and either improve his foot speed or defensive recognition, ideally both. But he has plenty of tools for a modern center.

That said, if the extension is fully guaranteed, this is too much of a gamble on Turner for me. For sacrificing so much cap flexibility next summer, the Pacers should have gotten more of a discount. Of course, if this deal is heavy on incentives and short on guarantees, that could swing the analysis.

Report: Clippers trading Wesley Johnson to Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca

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The Chris PaulBlake GriffinDeAndre Jordan era already ended in L.A.

Now, the Clippers are losing the very last player from their 2016-17 team (just two years ago!) – Wesley Johnson, who’s being shipped to the Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Johnson ($6,134,520) has a slightly higher salary than Ajinca ($5,285,394) with both players in the final year of their contracts. As long the Clippers have to waive a player, they’d rather drop the cheaper one.

The Clippers actually had to shed two players before the regular-season roster deadline. They’re also releasing Jawun Evans, the No. 39 pick last year. The point guard just didn’t acclimate to the NBA quickly enough to beat out Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Wallace. Though waiving Evans was probably the right move now, I wouldn’t write him off entirely.

Ajinca, on the other hand, has no place in a shrinking NBA. The 7-foot-2 30-year-old can’t stay healthy and hasn’t been productive when on the court.

Johnson fell out of favor with Clippers coach Doc Rivers, but the Pelicans desperate for a small forward. Though Johnson wouldn’t be an exciting addition for most teams, he’s worth the low cost – the $849,126 difference between his and Ajinca’s salaries – to New Orleans, where he might actually be a significant addition.