On LeBron James’ Finals record

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LeBron James toppled Goliath.

Of the 17 teams to win 80% of their regular-season games, none had ever lost in the Finals. Five lost before the Finals, evidence that regular-season success doesn’t always translate to the playoffs. But if they were still rolling in the playoffs to the point they reached the Finals, they were unbeatable, a perfect 11-0 in the championship round.

Until LeBron led the Cavaliers over the 73-9 Warriors – the best of the bunch – with historical production.

And he did it after falling behind 3-1 to a team that won three straight in the conference finals. Golden State was dominating, especially against Cleveland.

The degree of difficulty here was sky high, though that’s nothing new for LeBron.

LeBron’s average Finals opponent in seven trips has won 75.5% of its games, the highest mark among anyone who has made at least six Finals.

LeBron has beaten the 2012 Thunder (47-19), 2013 Spurs (58-24) and 2016 Warriors (73-9). He has also lost to the 2007 Spurs (58-24), 2011 Mavericks (57-25), 2014 Spurs (62-20) and 2015 Warriors (67-15).

Of course, regular-season record isn’t a perfect representation of team quality. Injuries, trades and development can change a team’s ability to win in the Finals from the regular season. But, if anything, these factors probably undersell LeBron’s level of competition. LeBron thrice faced San Antonio, a team notorious for resting during the regular season to save its energy for the playoffs. Plus, these teams had to win the Western Conference – the far better conference during LeBron’s career – just to reach the Finals.

The only player with even five Finals appearances who has faced tougher competition is James Jones, who road LeBron’s coattails to all five of his Finals. Jones just missed average-lowering matchups with the 2007 Spurs and 2011 Mavericks. His Finals opponent averaged winning 77.7% of its games.

Lower the threshold to four Finals, and just two players top LeBron: Bob McAdoo and Mike McGee, whose average Finals opponent won 75.6% of its games. McAdoo and McGee reached four straight Finals with the Lakers beginning in 1982 – beating the 76ers (58-24), losing to the 76ers (65-17) and Celtics (62-20), then beating the Celtics (63-19). But McAdoo was on the edge of playing starter’s minutes, and McGee didn’t crack the rotation.

Compare LeBron to a loose definition of his peers: players with at least five Finals appearances and one career All-Star selection. Here’s every qualifier sorted by average winning percentage of Finals opponent with the the player’s Finals record in parentheses:

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Suddenly, LeBron’s 3-4 Finals record looks more excusable. None of the players with shinier Finals records whom LeBron is often compared to had to face such strong competition.

But Michael Jordan came close.

He went 6-0 in the Finals, beating:

  • 1991 Lakers (58-24)
  • 1992 Trail Blazers (57-25)
  • 1993 Suns (62-20)
  • 1996 SuperSonics (64-18)
  • 1997 Jazz (64-18)
  • 1998 Jazz (62-20)

Those teams won 74.6% of their games – not far behind LeBron’s average Finals opponent (75.5%). Considering his far-superior Finals record, Jordan clearly outdoes LeBron in the last round.

Still, it’s worth noting Jordan never beat anyone as good as Golden State. Not only did the Warriors have an incredible record, they were were defending champions.

Maybe it’s only because they had to face Jordan, but five Jordan’s six Finals opponents never won a title with the core that lost to the Bulls. The other, the Lakers, had steeply declined by the time it faced Chicago. Jordan never had to face the Rockets, the team that ascended to the top while he retired between three-peats.

All of LeBron’s opponents but the Thunder – Spurs, Mavericks and Warriors – won championships. They proved they had the mettle to compete deep into June.

But that’s just a comparison to Jordan, the greatest player of all time. LeBron holds up even better against other legends.

While LeBron’s Finals opponents were on a 62-win pace in an 82-game season, Kobe Bryant (5-2 Finals record) faced Finals opponents averaging 56 wins. Tim Duncan (5-1 Finals record) saw Finals opponents averaging a 53-win pace. The Finals opponents of Bill Russell (11-1 Finals record) were on a 49-win pace.

No, LeBron still doesn’t have a winning Finals record. But put other stars in the matchups he has faced. How many go even 3-4? How many beat these Warriors?

If we’re grading everyone on a curve for competition, LeBron rates incredibly well.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.

Watch Curry, Klay in 3-point shooting contest in Japan. Yeah, they’re good at this.

NBA Japan Games Saturday Night
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The NBA went to Japan to promote the brand, play a few games in a huge market — Japan specifically but Asia as a whole — and put on a show.

Is there a better show than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson draining 3s? Here they are in a 3-point contest during a basketball exhibition (there were some pro dunkers) in Tokyo on Saturday.

Stephen Curry, was there any other possible outcome?

It’s preseason and they are the defending champs — they should be having fun, playing with some joy.

Thompson took part in the shooting contest but is not playing in either of the exhibition games in Japan as the Warriors ease him back into play this season. It’s a marathon of a season and the Warriors need the best version of Klay starting in April, not October.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.