Deja Vu: LeBron James is nothing short of brilliant and that may not be enough

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OAKLAND — It feels like we’ve been here before with LeBron James.

Two games into the NBA Finals, he has continued one of the best postseasons of his Hall of Fame career, holding his own with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Sunday night in Game 2 LeBron had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 14 assists — a triple-double that ties him with Magic Johnson for most in the Finals with eight. He attacked the rim mercilessly in the first half while bearing heavy responsibilities on the defensive end. He did everything Cleveland could have asked of him.

It didn’t matter. His Cavaliers were blown out, 132-113. It’s the second straight game to follow that script. LeBron played to the point of clearly being gassed late in the fourth, he gave his everything, but facing a Warriors team stacked like few the league has ever seen it hasn’t been anywhere near enough.

We have been here before with LeBron — he has lifted teams to this stage only to find his squads outmatched. There was 2007, when a 22-year-old LeBron played well and got his Cavs to a Finals they had no business being in, and it showed when they were swept by the Spurs. There was 2014, when playing for Miami LeBron averaged 28.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds and 4 assists a night yet the Spurs won in five. The next year in 2015 LeBron had a legitimate case for Finals MVP averaging 35.8 points,13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game, but the Warriors won in six.

This year’s Finals seem to be traveling down a familiar road.

Not that LeBron is throwing in the towel.

“We’re going to go home and watch the film to see ways we can be better,” he said in the Cavaliers locker room after the game. “Do things – I don’t want to say differently because you work so hard to get to this point – but make a couple of changes to see if we can be a lot better defensively and offensively. I thought for the most part with the game plan that we had we tried to execute it as close as possible. Much more physical today than we were in Game 1. And we forced them to 20 turnovers and they still beat us pretty good, so we got to be much better too…

“Well, it got a little out of control towards the end but we’re not worried about that. We made runs – we cut it to four at one point and then they went on quick 9-0 run or 12-0 run. That’s what they do. That’s what Golden State does. If you make a mistake – like I said, we had a turnover, it came from me, and then we had a miscue and the floods opened again.

The Cavaliers biggest problems are on defense, and while LeBron is their best defender he can only do so much. He is surrounded by mostly neutral or minus defenders and the Warriors style of play exposes that. LeBron has guarded Durant and Draymond Green, switched onto Curry, and at times in Game 2 played a little free safety helping off of Shaun Livingston. But he is just one man adrift in a sea of bad defensive decisions by Cleveland.

LeBron created a stir after Game 2 by being a little frustrated — with the NBA and with the media crowded around him. LeBron opted not to speak at the podium postgame where players of his stature normally speak (it is the space where the most media fit and the stationed cameras are), instead choosing to do a “scrum” around him in the locker room. Reportedly he’s been frustrated with the NBA and how it handles the postgame podium sessions (he had to wait a lot) so he’s going on his own.

Then there was this exchange with a reporter.

Q: LeBron, do you just feel this is a case where you just have to defend home court at this point?
James: Well, are you a smart guy?
Q: I think so.
James: Well, if we don’t defend home court, then what happens?
Q: Then you guys are looking at getting swept.
James: Alright, so that answers your question.

If LeBron is a little frustrated, can you blame him? He’s poured everything he’s had into the last two games, it hasn’t mattered. The future outlook is bleak.

He’s been down this road before. One can’t blame him for not wanting to travel it again.

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.