The Extra Pass: The nightmare that is LeBron James; plus Monday’s recaps

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You know those nightmares where you can’t run away fast enough? The ones where your legs turn to mush and the baddy behind you keeps gaining ground?

That’s a recurring nightmare for lots of people, but it’s a recurring reality for Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was on the sidelines with the San Antonio Spurs for Game 6 of last year’s finals, or alternatively, on the wrong side of NBA history.

We remember the final dagger from Ray Allen in that game, naturally, but very quietly, it was a three-pointer from LeBron James that cut the lead prior to that. If James doesn’t get that to fall, it’s a whole different story.

Of course, James has a habit of doing this sort of thing, and it happened one more time against Budenholzer and “Spurs East”.

The Hawks had played about as well as you could ask, building a seven-point lead with about 1:30 to play. That probably would have been safe against most teams, especially with all the good free throw shooters on Atlanta’s roster.

Problem is, Miami isn’t just good when they’re playing from behind — they’re the best.

In the last five minutes of games where Miami is tied or behind this season, they’ve posted an offensive rating of 131.5. That’s tops in the league.

That’s in large part due to LeBron’s willingness to let it fly when facing a deficit. James attempts a surprising low amount of threes per game (2.9 this year) for hitting above 40 percent over the last two seasons, but his hesitancy is gone in the clutch.

Per 36 minutes in the clutch (Last 5 min <= 5 points), James is attempting a whopping 13.2 threes, and still making 37.5 percent of those attempts.

A lot of players have "extra gears" in that they run maybe a little faster, or jump a tiny bit higher. But for LeBron? He just begs his opponent to come outside the arc and guard him. The three-pointer is the back pocket shot for LeBron right now — he's saving for when he really needs it.

The Heat needed it Monday. A three-pointer from LeBron shrank the lead from seven to four, then another three from LeBron came with 23 seconds lead to cut the lead to one. A thunderous dunk ]brought the lead back down to one again after two made free throws.

Ultimately it was Allen who saved the day again with three clutch free throws to tie the game and push it to overtime, but the Heat wouldn't have been there without LeBron keeping the door ajar, once again.

—DJ Foster

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Pacers 103, Nets 86: This was the first game for the Nets since losing Brook Lopez for the season with a foot fracture, and it went about as well as you might expect against one of the league’s elite teams. Indiana got bug games offensively out of Paul George and Lance Stephenson, and defended well enough to hold Brooklyn to just 58 points through the game;s first three quarters. Deron Williams had just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, and he’s going to need to be much more aggressive in looking for his own shot on most nights for his team to have a chance. Paul Pierce finished 0-for-7 in 15 minutes off the bench, before being ejected in the third following a takedown of George Hill on the break. — Brett Pollakoff

Heat 122, Hawks 121 (OT): Dwyane Wade sat out his seventh game of the season due to soreness in his knees, and Miami trailed by seven points with just over a minute and a half remaining in regulation. Then came the comeback, which included two threes and a dunk from LeBron James, followed by Ray Allen sinking three free throws with eight seconds left to force the extra session. It was the Heat reserves who came through in overtime, however, with Michael Beasley and Chris Andersen sealing the win at the free throw line, while the Hawks finished scoreless over the game’s final 1:21. With Wade out, LeBron did the heavy lifting, and finished with 38 points, eight rebounds and six assists in just under 46 minutes of action. — BP

Spurs 112, Raptors 99: Toronto has been playing well since making the trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Kings, and came into this one having won four of its last five. But after winning in Oklahoma City on Sunday, following that up with a win against another team at the top of the standings on the road was too much to ask. The Raptors hung in for most of the night, however, and San Antonio closed the game with a 12-4 run over the game’s final 2:18 to seal it. — BP

Grizzlies 104, Jazz 94: Memphis got a big game from Zach Randolph and a strong performance out of its bench to win its second straight following a five-game losing streak. Randolph finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, and the Grizzlies shot 55 percent from three-point distance and committed just six turnovers — all of which were factors that helped the team build a lead of as many as 16 points before the game was through. — BP

Knicks 103, Magic 98: Carmelo Anthony left this game in the third with an ankle injury, but the bulk of the damage for the Knicks was done in the first half. New York took a 24-point lead into the break behind 17 points from Anthony, 14 from J.R. Smith and a much better game inside from Tyson Chandler than he showed in Saturday’s brutal loss to Memphis. Orlando got back into it in the third, but a rough fourth quarter offensively from both teams allowed the Knicks to come away with the much-needed victory. — BP

Pistons 115, Cavaliers 92: Cleveland was without Dion Waiters for the third straight game due to a wrist injury, and had trouble scoring against the front line of the Pistons. Detroit has two dominant big men in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, and Andrew Bynum couldn’t get much of anything done against them inside. Bynum finished 0-for-11 from the field with zero points in almost 23 minutes of action. On the Pistons side, Brandon Jennings had 21 points on 11 shots, to go along with 13 assists, and Josh Smith led all scorers with 25 points. — BP

Bobcats 111, Bucks 110 (OT): Khris Middleton hit a shot from 21 feet at the overtime buzzer that would have been enough to send the game to its second extra session, if only he were a foot or so further back. Milwaukee trailed by three, and ran a good play to get Middleton a catch-and-shoot open look as time expired. But his foot was clearly on the line, so it goes in the books as a tough loss for the Bucks. Brandon Knight finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists in the losing effort, while Al Jefferson (26 points, nine rebounds) and Kemba Walker (25 points, 10 assists) did the damage for Charlotte. — BP

Mavericks 111, Rockets 104: James Harden missed this game with a sprained ankle, and despite an above average 29-point, 15-rebound performance from Dwight Howard playing over 40 minutes, the Rockets didn’t have enough to match the guard play of the Mavericks without him. Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis combined for 33 points and 10 assists, and Dirk Nowitzki poured in 31 points to lead all scorers. Dallas put this one away in the third by outscoring Houston 36-21 in the period; the contest was never in doubt the rest of the way. — BP

Warriors 89, Nuggets 81: Another game, another slow Denver start — Golden State was up 24-9 this time. Then as is their pattern the Nuggets spend the next couple quarters chipping away at the lead, with Timofey Mozgov’s 14 points and Ty Lawson’s 16 leading the way. Then in the fourth quarter the Nuggets came undone, shooting just 29 percent. On the other side Klay Thompson awoke from his slump for eight points in the fourth quarter. The big offensive force was David Lee with 28. Denver has now gone 3-7 in their last 10. —Kurt Helin

Suns 117, Lakers 90: Two teams heading in opposite directions, so this ended pretty much as you expected. The Suns led from the start and got 22 off the bench from Gerald Green, plus 19 from Marcus Morris. For the Lakers, they were lackluster, had another terrible third quarter and Pau Gasol was 4-of-12 in his 20 minutes (but Nick Young did have 19). —KH

Pelicans 113, Kings 100: Tyreke Evans returned to Sacramento and dropped 25 points, 12 assists and 5 rebounds on his former teammates. Evans was doing the heavy lifting for the Pelicans to stay in what was a sloppy game for three quarters, while DeMarcus Cousins did the same for the Kings (24 points, 14 rebounds). New Orleans broke it open in the fourth quarter with a 16-3 run and ended up with a 39-point fourth quarter sparked by Evans and Anthony Davis (21 points). This snapped a four-game losing streak for the Pelicans. By the way, Rudy Gay was 2-of-12 with six turnovers. Rough night. —KH

Report: Gregg Popovich met with Kawhi Leonard in San Diego

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Don’t count the San Antonio Spurs out of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes just yet.

We have been waiting on pins and needles to see whether or not Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would meet with the apparently disgruntled Leonard this week before San Antonio approaches Thursday night’s NBA draft.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Leonard and Popovich met on Tuesday night in San Diego where Leonard has been working out.

Via Twitter:

For what it is worth, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reporterd that Popovich has not yet met with Leonard, but is traveling to Southern California to meet with the Spurs forward. Even further, Leonard has reportedly requested a trade to Los Angeles from the Spurs, specifically to the Lakers.

Via ESPN:

Leonard wants a trade to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers over the Clippers, league sources said. He has privately maintained that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio, and will eventually alert rival teams considering trades for him that his intentions are to sign in Los Angeles — preferably with the Lakers — when he can become a free agent in 2019, league sources said.

Leonard had told confidants that he did not want to sit down with Popovich and has been purposely difficult for the Spurs to reach recently. Among the issues, Leonard is angry over what he believes was the Spurs’ mishandling of a quad injury, and remains irate with public comments out of teammate Tony Parker and Popovich that he felt were not supportive of him, league sources said.

We had to know this was coming. San Antonio wasn’t going to let Leonard dictate the terms of his departure from Texas all by himself. Although Leonard has put the Spurs in a tough situation given his reported open request to play in Los Angeles, no doubt both parties would be better off from a basketball perspective if they were together. San Antonio apparently doesn’t want to make a deal with a Western Conference team, either.

Since the Spurs were trying to get in touch with Leonard before Thursday’s big selection night, it could be a signal that Leonard is on the move. Several teams, including the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to be interested in Leonard’s services.

Rumor: Cavaliers could have trade interest in Kemba Walker

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to do everything in their power to retain LeBron James. They are also doing everything they can do to prepare themselves for if James decides to leave Cleveland once and for all.

Last week we heard rumors about how the Cavaliers were trying to prepare an offer to snag Kawhi Leonard away from the San Antonio Spurs. That move could be seen either as an intent to entice James to stay, or as a replacement for The King.

Now, we have rumor that the Cavaliers could be interested in acquiring an Eastern Conference point guard, presumably to help LeBron next season.

According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Cavaliers have inquired to the Charlotte Hornets about the availability of point guard Kemba Walker.

Walker, 28, just became the Hornets all-time leading scorer this last season. The University of Connecticut product has just one year left on his current deal at $12 million, and could be both a good rental for a season as a means to bolster another James Finals run, or as a focal piece moving forward.

As is the issue with any package for Leonard, a trade to the Cavaliers from Charlotte for Walker really depends on what a third trade partner can bring into the mix. Not many of Cleveland’s young players have performed well enough to be used as trade bait for marquee guys. That necessarily means that Kevin Love will be the main trade bait, and it is tough for many teams to have interest in the sharp-shooting forward given many already have that position filled.

We are just 48 hours away from the 2018 NBA Draft and no doubt rumors like this will continue to heat up as we get closer to 4 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night.

Michael Porter Jr. compares himself to Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo

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It has been rumored that Michael Porter Jr could be the player the Sacramento Kings draft at No. 2 overall on Thursday night in the 2018 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, according to Porter himself, there is good reason for his sudden leap up the draft boards.

Speaking on CBS Sports Radio on Monday, Porter said that he thought the players he most compared to right now were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Tracy McGrady.

Of course, the context here is that Porter was prompted to give a current NBA comparison, and as a shooter and physical player, he was unlikely to compare himself to a role player. Still, it’s a bold statement from Porter to say that he is akin to the second best player in the league at this moment. Durant has a skill set that hasn’t been replicated or really seen in the NBA, so it’s tough for anyone to really compare themselves to him.

Here is the quote, transcribed thanks to Deadspin:

Right now, I’m a little, I’m a mix of Giannis and KD. You know, I like going to the hole a little more than KD does, I like bumping into people a little more physical than KD. But I also, you know I like to shoot the ball more than Giannis. So that’s what I like to compare myself to. Then also Tracy McGrady. I get compared to him a lot and I like that one a lot too. You know, those are three amazing players. So it doesn’t feel bad to be in the same conversation as them.

In a recent interview with Dime Magazine, Porter said that he thinks Durant is the best player in the league, particularly when he plays against LeBron James. So really, Porder compared himself to the best player in the league.

The Missouri product has a litany of both character and injury questions. Rumors are abound about how well he will fit into an NBA locker room, and he famously decamped to Missouri Lorenzo Romar was fired in Washington.

Porder sat out most of the year with a nagging back injury, and had to call off some of his draft workouts because of a hip issue. Porter has tried to downplay his injury concerns, and has said that former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy told him to remain patient through injury.

The draft is less than 48 hours away, and most believe that taking Porter at No. 2 is a huge risk for the Kings. We will see just how confident Sacramento is about Porter’s ability to become an NBA teammate and stay healthy here soon enough.

Michael Jordan will still have input on Hornets draft day decisions

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan hired proven general manager Mitch Kupchak this offseason to help turn around a franchise mired in mediocrity since he became the Charlotte Hornets’ majority owner eight years ago.

But that doesn’t mean the highly competitive Jordan won’t have input on personnel decisions, beginning with the NBA draft on Thursday night.

Kupchak said in a pre-draft news conference Tuesday that he’ll have final say in who the Hornets select before quickly adding, “well, with the exception of one person – and obviously that’s ownership.”

Kupchak has won 10 NBA championships, including seven as an executive with the Los Angeles Lakers – so he knows a thing or two about building a winning roster. But he’s quickly learning that Jordan, who many consider the best NBA player ever, is still very much a hands-on owner when it comes to the players he employs.

And Kupchak understands that.

“There is a huge business component to our relationship,” Kupchak said.

Kupchak said he has communicated with Jordan on the phone and via text throughout the draft evaluation process. The 55-year-old Jordan arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on Monday and the two have been studying tape on potential draft picks since.

The Hornets, who have failed to make the playoffs three of the past four seasons, have the 11th overall pick in the draft.

Kupchak has known Jordan since he was a freshman at the University of North Carolina.

However, Kupchak said that while they both are former Tar Heels, he never had considered Jordan a friend prior to being hired this past offseason to replace Rich Cho as Hornets general manager.

Since then they have had dinner together and gotten to know each other a little more.

He said the relationship has changed for the better.

“Hopefully when all is said and done, our other relationship, which is our friend relationship continues to grow and is not altered in any way,” Kupchak said. “There are no favors being done here. We’re friends and I think we’ll remain friends, but the bottom line in this business is success and winning games.”

Kupchak was rather forthcoming in the team’s pre-draft press conference Tuesday, saying the does not expect to trade the 11th overall pick.

He also said he expects that the handful of top-notch big men will be off the board by the time the Hornets make their selection.

“Right now I think the best player on the board is the player we are going to go after – and I’d expect that player to be a guard or a wing,” Kupchak said. “… I think we expect that we will be looking at guards and wings, but we will see.”