LeBron James: “You don’t let me have 40. I go and get 40.”

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OAKLAND — LeBron James has always been a master of controlling the narrative. When you’re the most powerful person in the sport of basketball, any little public action will immediately change the conversation. That’s exactly what he did on Friday.

Thursday night, James missed a stepback jumper at the end of regulation of Game 1 of the Finals, which would have given the Cavs a road victory over the Warriors, and it’s still eating away at him. At the beginning of Cavs practice on Tuesday, he took an unusual step: before his media availability, he walked out onto the Oracle Arena floor and worked up a legitimate sweat, practicing the exact shot he missed to force an overtime. The missed shot and missed opportunity were clearly still eating away at him a day later.

“It’s not a great feeling, for sure,” James said. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.  You just play  your mind just plays with you so much throughout the course of the night.  Different plays, different scenarios, different points of the game where you could have made a play here, could have made a play there to help your team win. So the mind never lets you at ease.  So it’s always a tough 24 or 48 or whatever case, how many hours it is.  But at some point you get to the film room, which I’ve already started, and you start to prepare yourself mentally on what needs to be done going into Game 2.”

James couldn’t have done much more than he did in Game 1. He scored 44 points, a Finals career high. But that’s exactly what the Warriors wanted — if he scores that much and his teammates can’t get going, this banged-up Cavs roster is much more solvable than it is when he’s in distributor mode.

“You definitely take the 44 with not as many assists,” Golden State forward Harrison Barnes said on Friday. “As opposed to him getting 25 and 10 assists, and then J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Dellavedova, those guys having big games. So we’re forcing him to be a scorer. You kind of let him do that and try to limit everybody else.”

James took exception to the notion that any team was letting him score as a primary defensive option.

“First of all, you don’t let me have 40,” he said defiantly. “I go get 40.  It’s not like they’re just getting out of the way.  So those guys aren’t saying we’re okay with letting him have 40.  You don’t let me have 40; I’m making those shots.”

There are different kinds of LeBron James 40-point games, something the Warriors understand well. Sometimes he’s such a force of nature that the defense is helpless to contain him. Other times, he gets his points but has to take difficult shots. That’s what the Warriors forced him to do, and that’s why they were able to overcome the will of the greatest player in the world.

“There were some times when he played the defense perfectly,” Barnes said. “Got into the paint, the help was there, we contested a shot, and he makes a difficult shot. You have to live with those. And then there are other times when, OK, you got beat under a screen and he was too wide open and you let him get into his rhythm. You have to know the difference between, ‘he made a tough shot’ and ‘we could have made that shot tougher for him.'”

That’s how the Warriors are going to continue to play James, and he’s going to have to make them pay, especially with the news that Kyrie Irving is out for several months with a knee fracture. That’s why he was working on the exact shot he missed at the end on Thursday.

“When you take a shot and you miss you have so many different thoughts in your mind saying okay, I should have done this or I should have done that,” James said. “When you take a shot and you make it, there is really nothing else to think about.  But for me I got to a spot where I’m comfortable making the shot. Stepback going left, that’s a shot that I’m very capable of making obviously in rhythm, which I was.  It just didn’t go down for me.”

For the Cavs to not get swept, it will have to.

Arizona State leading scoring Remy Martin declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Arizona State junior Remy Martin has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot point guard took on more of scoring role in his third season with the Sun Devils than he had in his first two seasons. Martin averaged 19.1 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the field. Martin also dished out 4.1 assists per game, after averaging 5.0 assists as a sophomore.

Arizona State’s leading scoring may just be testing the waters, as he’s expected to go undrafted. NBA scouts have concerns over Martin’s size at the NBA level. One concern is his ability to hold up defensively, as NBA point guards are trending bigger and bigger in recent years.

As a smaller guard, Martin was one of the players who could have benefited from the traditional pre-draft process. With in-person workouts on hold, and potentially cancelled entirely, players have limited opportunities to improve their draft stock. Teams may be drafting off previous in-person scouting and off of tape.

NBA players reportedly to take part in televised NBA 2K tournament Friday

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If we can’t watch NBA players on the court, at least we can watch them control their digital selves and teammates in a live basketball tournament.

ESPN plans to broadcast an NBA 2K tournament with only NBA players at the controllers, a story broken by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports. The hope is to have it air Friday, with the players competing from their homes around the country.

The NBA is planning a players-only NBA 2K tournament that will feature the league’s sharpest video gamers and it will be broadcast on ESPN, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

Players competing against their peers in the comfort of their own homes could offer a distraction for fans who are missing the game and a little competition.

Esports are incredibly popular and growing as a spectator sport, both in person and on Twitch and other platforms. With there being a pent-up demand for sports programming, this seems a smart attempt to draw eyeballs. Even people who are non-esports viewers could tune in just to check it out, because it’s that or rewatching Tiger King.

You can bet that if it works, we will see a lot more of it in the future.

(Inside baseball note: I would love to see the emails/texts flying around ESPN about Yahoo breaking a story about what is coming in their network.)

 

Shaquille O’Neal: I had no idea what was happening with Joe Exotic of Tiger King

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On a recent episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal said that “he had no idea” what was happening at the zoo run by Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic was recently made famous through the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”.

Footage of O’Neal appeared in the first episode of the show and was shown taking photographs with the animals.

The documentary also showed a cut of O’Neal on TNT saying “Shoutout to Exotic Joe. I got two more tigers.”

On his podcast, O’Neal explained:

“So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe. We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that. We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times. Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being found guilty of 19 different charges. Those charges included murder-for-hire plot, illegally selling endangered species and other animal-related offenses.

O’Neal clarified that he never bought any animals, but often donates to charities that help animals. He also made it clear that he’s not friends with Joe Exotic, nor anyone involved in the trade of endangered species.

“I don’t harm tigers,” O’Neal said. “I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

Report: Brooklyn Nets looking to hire a blue-chip head coach

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When the Brooklyn Nets and Kenny Atkinson parted ways in early-March, the team installed Jacque Vaughn as the interim head coach.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that’s a short-term appointment. On his podcast “Brian Windhorst and The Hoop Collective”, the reporter said the Nets are looking to hire a coach with a track record of NBA success.

“One of the things that has been expressed sort of the grapevine, that’s the way I’m going to say it to protect myself from the aggregators, is that Durant and Irving would like a blue-chip coach. I don’t know what this says about the way they thought about Atkinson, but they want a big-name coach.”

Names linked to the Brooklyn opening are Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.

Atkinson leaving Brooklyn was a surprise, considering he had led the Nets back to the playoffs in 2019. That success came after a three-year rebuild. That process was kicked off when general manager Sean Marks hired Atkinson to lead the on-court development. Under Marks and Atkinson, the Nets developed several players who had been given up on by other teams.

Brooklyn was 28-34 when Atkinson was let go. The Nets had gone 2-0 under Vaughn before the NBA suspended play in mid-March.