Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On LeBron James’ Finals record

11 Comments

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:

image

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.

Jazz forward Joe Ingles joins Grizzlies huddle, drapes arms over Memphis players (video)

Jazz forward Joe Ingles vs. Grizzlies
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jazz forward Joe Ingles has no boundaries with huddles.

Ingles invaded the Grizzlies huddle today, even putting his arms around – and some weight on – Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen. Gorgui Dieng appeared to notice the intruder just before the video cut away:

Beyond the hijinks, Ingles also scored 25 points – including 12 in the fourth quarter – to lead Utah to a 124-115 win.

NBA owners pledge $300M for empowering Black community

NBA Black Lives Matter
Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA put “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the court and social-justice messages on jerseys. These are visible symbols that can draw attention to the fight for racial justice.

But NBA owners have the power to do more than make symbolic gestures.

NBA owners will do more.

NBA release:

The NBA Board of Governors announced today that it will contribute $300 million in initial funding to establish the first-ever NBA Foundation dedicated to creating greater economic empowerment in the Black community.  The Foundation is being launched in partnership with the National Basketball Players Association.

Over the next 10 years, the 30 NBA team owners will collectively contribute $30 million annually to establish a new, leaguewide charitable foundation.  Through its mission to drive economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement, the NBA Foundation will seek to increase access and support for high school, college-aged and career-ready Black men and women, and assist national and local organizations that provide skills training, mentorship, coaching and pipeline development in NBA markets and communities across the United States and Canada.  As a public charity, the Foundation will also aim to work strategically with marketing and media partners to develop additional programming and funding sources that deepen the NBA family’s commitment to racial equality and social justice.

The Foundation will focus on three critical employment transition points: obtaining a first job, securing employment following high school or college, and career advancement once employed.  Through contributions, the NBA Foundation will enhance and grow the work of national and local organizations dedicated to education and employment, including through investment in youth employment and internship programs, STEM fields, job shadows and apprenticeships, development pathways outside of traditional higher education, career placement, professional mentorship, networking and specific partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“On behalf of the NBA Board of Governors, I am thrilled to announce the creation of the NBA Foundation,” said NBA Board of Governors Chairman and Toronto Raptors Governor Larry Tanenbaum.  “All NBA team governors recognize our unique position to effect change and we are committed to supporting and empowering young Black men and women in each of our team markets as well as communities across the U.S. and Canada.”

“The creation of this foundation is an important step in developing more opportunities for the Black community,” said NBPA President Chris Paul.  “I am proud of our league and our players for their commitment to this long-term fight for equality and justice, and I know we will continue to find ways to keep pushing for meaningful institutional change.”

The Foundation will work directly with all 30 teams, their affiliated charitable organizations and the NBPA to support national organizations and their local affiliates as well as local grassroots organizations to facilitate sustainable programming and create change in team markets.

“Given the resources and incredible platform of the NBA, we have the power to ideate, implement and support substantive policies that reflect the core principles of equality and justice we embrace,” said NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts.  “This Foundation will provide a framework for us to stay committed and accountable to these principles.”

“We are dedicated to using the collective resources of the 30 teams, the players and the league to drive meaningful economic opportunities for Black Americans,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  “We believe that through focused programs in our team markets and nationally, together with clear and specific performance measures, we can advance our shared goals of creating substantial economic mobility within the Black community.”

The 30 NBA teams will be members of the NBA Foundation with its eight Board of Directors comprised of representatives from the NBA Board of Governors (four board seats), players and executives from the NBPA (three board seats) and the league office (one board seat).  The Foundation’s board will oversee all business affairs and provide strategic direction with respect to programming and grantmaking.

This is great.

Trail Blazers reportedly tried recently to get Trevor Ariza to join them in bubble

Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza
Alika Jenner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Trevor Ariza opted-out of playing for Portland in the NBA’s restart so he could spend time with his son. Due to a custody case, he had a limited window to visit and he chose family over basketball.

However, as his custody window shifted and Portland started to look at a deeper playoff run — and maybe a matchup with the Lakers in the first round — some Trail Blazers players tried to get Ariza to come to the bubble after all. If Zion Williamson and others could leave the bubble for family emergencies, why couldn’t Ariza be let in, the players asked?

That plan didn’t work out, reports Chris Hayes of Yahoo Sports.

But because his visitation period had been amended with a conclusion date now near the start of August, there was some optimism among the players that Ariza might be allowed into the bubble to further strengthen their chances of a deep playoff run. If the Trail Blazers were to snag the final playoff spot, they would face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round and a pesky Ariza would have been useful guarding James.

The possibility was explored, but sources said the Trail Blazers had to have previously applied for a hardship waiver or a late-arrival form for Ariza to be considered for entry into the bubble. Even if those steps were taken, the league would have likely denied the request because Ariza chose to opt out, wasn’t included on the restart roster, and didn’t arrive with his team on July 9.

The league put together strict rules about who could and couldn’t be inside the bubble — rules agreed to by the players’ union. Those rules are working at keeping the virus out. The league was not going to bend the rules for Portland now.

Ariza chose time with his son and wanted it bad enough to give up between $1.1 million and $1.8 million in salary (depending on how far the Trail Blazers got). Nobody should knock that choice; it was his to make, and picking family is never the wrong option.

Ariza is under contract for $12.8 million with Portland next season, but only $1.8 million of that salary guaranteed next season. If Portland wants to reduce payroll, they can buy Ariza out and make him a free agent at age 35. There would be suitors, Ariza has proven to be a helpful glue guy on good teams.

That glue just can’t help Portland this season.

No positive COVID-19 tests from 343 players in NBA bubble last week

NBA COVID-19 tests
Getty Images
Leave a comment

As has happened the past few weeks, Wednesday the NBA and NBPA announced that there were no positive tests among the 343 players tested for COVID-19 in the past week at the league’s restart campus in Orlando.

The NBA has had no positive tests from players inside the bubble.

The NBA’s plan for a restart began with testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again. The goal was to keep the virus outside of the bubble.

That has worked through one week of games.

The league did send a memo to teams reminding them players and staff need to wear a mask while on the NBA campus (when they were not practicing or playing games). The goal is to contain any outbreak, should the virus get into the bubble. That outbreak has yet to happen.

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining on the NBA campus, family members will arrive next month, and there are still other ways the virus could penetrate the bubble. The league isn’t celebrating victory yet.

But so far, so good.