Star wars: LeBron James, Kevin Durant moving toward NBA Finals reunion

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OAKLAND (AP) — Kevin Durant admires LeBron James from afar, marveling at how Cleveland’s main man finds ways to elevate his game at age 32 – year after year, title after title.

Kobe Bryant was much the same.

Ten years into his NBA journey, the unassuming, scoring machine everyone calls “KD”, strives to emulate those superstars. Soon, he will likely see James again in the Finals, this time in a matchup that has been talked about from the very moment Durant departed Oklahoma City to join Golden State last July.

The anticipation of this potential matchup has overshadowed other postseason series.

Durant understands that like LeBron and Bryant, it’s time to take his game to another level. They each have something Durant wants.

“It’s a mindset, when you don’t realize how old you are or how many years you’ve played or mileage or the moment,” Durant said. “You’ve just got to try to keep getting better. You have that mindset when you step on the court that you want to be the best player on the court. It may not happen every game. You may not be the best, you might not have the best game, but just having that mindset you never get satisfied with what you do.

“That’s the mindset he (James) has taken on, that’s the mindset Kobe did. There’s a lot of other players that did it. I feel like I’m on the same path as far as – I wouldn’t say I’m going to have four MVPs or three championships, I’m not guaranteeing that but I want that. On the basketball court, I want to be consistent and great every night.”

James and Durant have squared off 23 times during their NBA careers, and James has a decisive 18-5 edge, including 4-1 in the postseason and 1-0 in battles for the championship.

Now the basketball world is watching and waiting, even hoping for a Durant-James rematch. And this one could live up to the hype.

After swatting aside their opponents in the first and second rounds, the Cavaliers and Warriors stand an unblemished 16-0 combined as they await their conference finals opponents.

The 3-Match. Another must-see, best-of-seven series featuring arguably the league’s best players in James and Durant – both playing some of the best basketball of their careers – and a marquee All-Star cast that includes two-time MVP Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Love.

It’s a showdown made in hoops heaven, but Durant is downplaying a matchup with James as anything worthy of stealing the spotlight from the others.

“If we do end up making it to the Finals and Cleveland makes it to the Finals, it’s never going to be me versus LeBron,” Durant said. “It’s going to be team versus team. It’s not an individual sport. We’re not playing 1-on-1 out there, as much as people want us to.”

They have history and a rivalry – albeit a rather one-sided one. James, then with the Miami Heat, won the first of his three NBA titles by beating Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.

The pair is linked by talent, tenacity and drive. Olympic gold medal-winning teammates, they have become close friends and workout companions. They spent two summers pushing each other during training sessions in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio. Little did these two realize then that their stellar NBA careers would become even more intertwined when Durant bolted from OKC and faced the constant scrutiny that came with his decision.

In many ways, James actually helped show him how it’s done.

He as much as anyone understood the tornado of criticism aimed at Durant for signing onto a “super team” to chase a championship. James left home in 2010 for Miami, where he won two titles and played in four straight Finals before leading Cleveland to its first major sports championship in 52 years . Before returning to Oklahoma City – a place he still holds dear and supports – earlier this season to face fans who are still stung and feel betrayed, Durant sought James out for advice on handling the hatred.

Now they’re on a path toward Cavs-Dubs 3.0.

James has been practically unstoppable. And Durant, who missed 19 games late in the regular season with a left knee injury, has found the right balance of taking charge and sacrificing for him teammates with the Warriors.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is impressed with how Durant seamlessly blended in on Golden State, as Curry took a backseat.

“When Steph and Klay have a bad game – which is not very often – when they do, then you can give the ball to Durant and he can go get his own basket and his own shot,” Lue said. “You saw that in this Utah series where Steph and Klay struggled one game, and they just put it to Durant in the midrange area, and he went and got it. So you have that third player who is definitely one of the top three players in this league that can go get his own shot at any time and that’s what makes them more dangerous.”

Mike Brown knows both well.

Golden State’s assistant, now filling in for Warriors coach Steve Kerr, spent five seasons with James in Cleveland. He appreciates his athleticism, but is more impressed by James’ all-consuming work ethic that has allowed him to evolve every year.

He sees those same qualities in Durant, who now understands that when the stage enlarges he has to expand that 7-foot-5 wingspan even more.

“That’s what those guys do,” Brown said. “When you have superstars like that and the competition gets tougher, they usually rise to the moment or the occasion.”

 

When will LeBron James break Kareem’s all-time scoring record?

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LeBron James is trying not to think about it too much.

“The only time I’ve kind of like thought about it is when someone, you know, been posting on social and it went through my scroll, through my feed, and I’ve seen it,” LeBron said at Lakers’ media day. “And every single time I’m kind of in awe of it, like, wow.”

The wow is breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record.

It was a record thought almost untouchable at 38,387 points, but now LeBron sits just 1,326 points shy of breaking it — health willing, he should pass Kareem this season.

When? Well, that takes a little math and speculation.

LeBron scored 30.3 points a game last season, but the two seasons prior to that it was closer to 25 points a game. If we split the difference and land at 27.5 points per game, it would take 48-49 games. We have to assume that 37-year-old LeBron (turning 38 just before the New Year) will sit out at least a couple of those first games, pushing this back a few games.

Considering LeBron could slide back in scoring to close to 25 a game again, the smart bet is he breaks Kareem’s record in late January or early February. The Lakers have a five-game East Coast road trip that includes Boston and New York starting Jan. 28 and running through Feb. 4, and that’s about the window.

“To sit here and to know that I’m on the verge of breaking probably the most sought-after record in the NBA, something that people say will probably never be done, I think it’s just super like humbling, for myself,” LeBron said. “I think it’s super cool.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well. I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Having been in the spotlight for as long as LeBron has — remember he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high schooler — he can be very practiced, very polished with the media. His brand is smooth, as are his dealings with the press in general.

However, when talking about passing Abdul-Jabbar, it felt like LeBron’s guard was down. He was raw, more reflective and genuinely moved.

“You guys always see me use my hashtag #thekidfromakron and that those are the moments where I really think about that kid from Akron. Walking those streets and, you know, playing basketball when I had actually had a basketball and the hoop, or actually just walking around and air dribbling and shooting into it and invisible hoop you know, and counting 5…4…3…2…1 and, you know, making game-winning shots.

“I’m not going to put too much pressure on it throughout the season. But I think it’s a pretty historical moment when it gets here and you know, as long as my family and friends are all there that’s that’s the most important for me.”

LeBron’s family will undoubtedly be there, and the whole world will be watching. Longevity and LeBron’s ability to be great into age 38 (and beyond) is part of his GOAT argument — and there is no better cornerstone of that argument than being the game’s all-time leading scorer.

Suns fall to hot shooting Adelaide 36ers from Australia, 134-124

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The Adelaide 36ers may be from Australia’s National Basketball League, but they are professional players — leave them wide open and they will hit shots.

Phoenix treated Sunday like their first preseason game (it was) and the 36ers hit 24 3-pointers on their way to an upset of the Suns, 134-124. The 36ers were the aggressors all night long, playing team basketball and putting Phoenix on its heels.

It’s just preseason. One preseason game is not a bellwether for the season, there should be little more than raised eyebrows in Phoenix. However, with their last game being a crushing 33-point loss to Dallas which eliminated them from the playoffs a season ago, this was not the palate cleanser that Phoenix fans were hoping for.

Craig Randall — you may remember him from the University of Memphis and Tennessee-Martin — scored 35 points while Robert Franks added 32. The 3-point shot is the great equalizer in basketball and the 36ers were on fire.

 

The last NBA team to lose to an International squad before Sunday was the Thunder in 2016 to Real Madrid. The year before, Turkish power Fenerbahce beat Brooklyn in the preseason. It does happen.

Reserve point guard Cameron Payne led the Suns with 23 points, while Deandre Ayton looked solid and dropped 22, as did Mikal Bridges, who also had 22. Devin Booker had 13 points and Chris Paul dished out 12 dimes.

With the size of Ayton and the athletic slashing of Bridges, the Suns scored 64 points in the paint, more than doubling the 36ers. But math was not on the Suns’ side, as they traded twos for threes and kept falling behind.

This is great for the NBL and its efforts to grow the brand — the 36ers will now take on the Thunder later this week.

It’s a shrug and move on game for the Suns. Expect a more focused effort from the team next game.

Heat, Tyler Herro agree to four-year, $120 million extension (with $10 million in incentives)

Miami Heat Media Day
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Tyler Herro was frustrated — he saw players he felt he was better than getting paid.

Now he has a contract he will have to live up to.

The Heat have signed Herro to a four-year, $120 million extension of his rookie contract, with up to $10 million in incentives) a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and now confirmed by the team.

Herro went to Twitter to confirm the deal himself.

“Tyler is an impact multi-faceted player and we are excited to have him signed for the next five years,” Heat President Pat Riley said in the statement announcing the signing. “His improvement every year since we drafted him has led to this day. We believe he will continue to get better.”

This is a straight four years, no options for either side.

Signing an extension takes Herro off the table for any trades to upgrade the Heat roster this season. Herro had been at the heart of the rumors about the Heat and Kevin Durant, as well as other teams.

Herro’s new contract extension is a big bet on the wing taking another step forward this season and beyond. The deal is a little larger than expected (the conventional wisdom had Herro coming in close to the $107 million RJ Barrett got with the Knicks). Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel and I have discussed Herro’s price before and didn’t quite picture it this high, but with the rising cap over the next few years this deal may not look out of line.

Miami stepped up and paid the reigning Sixth Man of the Year high-level starter money — now he has to earn that job and that paycheck.

Mostly, he has to improve on defense so Eric Spoelstra can trust him at the end of games and deep into the playoffs (while Herro has had big playoff games, his role shrunk deeper in last postseason because of his defense).

Herro puts up numbers — 20.7 points a game on 39.9% from 3 last season — and is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but does this new deal move him up in the Heat offensive pecking order with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler? Probably not in crunch time (and if Kyle Lowry bounces back this season, there could be games where Herro is option No.4).

This locks up part of Miami’s roster going into the season, but they are still on the look for depth at the four. Don’t consider this roster settled.

 

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
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It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.