LeBron James’ swagger: “I’m the best player in the world.” He backed that up.

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OAKLAND —I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world.  It’s that simple.”

That was LeBron James after his Cavaliers fell in Game 5 of the NBA Finals Sunday night. It’s a statement filled with swagger said in a matter-of-fact tone.

And he’s right.

He proved that Sunday night.

LeBron scored 40 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out 11 assists Sunday night. He scored or assisted on all but six of Cleveland’s 32 baskets. When Cavaliers coach David Blatt decided to match the Warriors’ small lineup LeBron played a lot of strong defense in the paint, trying to protect the rim.

That small lineup was part of an effort to find other offense, but the Warriors shut that down. In the end, the Cavaliers had to go back to LeBron isolations. That was the only thing that worked.

As he has done virtually all playoffs, he’s carried a banged up, flawed roster farther than anyone else in the game could have. He carried them to the point that Game 5 was a one-point game with just more than five minutes remaining.

LeBron has been tremendous is even an understatement for how he’s played in the series,” Cavaliers’ coach David Blatt said. “And he had another one of those days today.  Under the current set of circumstances, that’s what we’ve got to get, and he’s bringing it. You don’t see that every day, what he’s doing.  You’ve got to take your hat off to him too.”

LeBron’s critics — a vocal and misguided group who flock to Twitter — will point out that he wasn’t efficient. LeBron was 6-of-8 shooting at the rim but 6-of-18 from outside the restricted area out to the three-point line. (He was 3-of-8 from three.)

But LeBron finished the night with a solid true shooting percentage of 52.7 percent — actually, solid is an understatement considering his 41 percent usage rate.

The Warriors who have to defend LeBron get it. All they hope to do is wear him down.

“You’re not going to shut him down,” Draymond Green said. “But if you continue to make him work hard for each and every bucket that he gets, it takes a toll on his body. He does a lot for this ballclub, on top of it he’s not a guy who takes the defensive end of the court off.  He’s constantly working, constantly working. You just want to make him take tough shots and make him work for those baskets that he gets.

“If he gets 40, he gets 40. Like I said, that’s why he’s LeBron James. You can go throw a triple-team at him, and he’ll probably still get 40, but as long as you make him work for those 40, then you’ve got to be satisfied with what you do.

“He took 34 shots and got 40. I mean, 15 for 34 is still a great percentage, but that’s kind of what it’s been this entire series. He’s going to be aggressive and score. Especially with some of the guys they have out, and we understand that. If he’s hitting shots, he’s hitting shots. You’ve got to live with it and continue to make him take tough ones.”

LeBron was hitting shots, from at the rim to ridiculous 34-foot threes. He was clearly gassed again at the end of the game and it started to show. So how does he cope with that kind of effort that still leads to a loss.

“Well, you cope with it by understanding it’s just one game and looking at the opportunity we have on Tuesday to force a Game 7,” LeBron said. “Obviously, for myself, I want to do whatever it takes to help our team win, and I haven’t been able to do that the last two. So hopefully I can do a better job coming in on Tuesday.  We all as a unit can do a better job, and we’ll be fine.”

It doesn’t look like they will be fine. It looks like the Warriors — the deeper, better team — has figured the series out. They know how to win it now.

But that’s not going to diminish LeBron’s swagger.

With his performance Sunday, LeBron joined Jerry West as the only players to have a 40+ point triple double in the NBA Finals. That would be the same West who was the last guy to win the Finals MVP on a losing team.

Something that could happen for LeBron. And he’ll likely feel about it the same way West does — he doesn’t like to talk about it because all West remembers is the loss.

That didn’t impact his swagger either. LeBron and West have that in common, too.

 

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.