Getty Images

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

10 Comments

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.

Report: Jonathan Kuminga, top prospect for 2021 NBA Draft, to earn $500K in NBA minor league

Jonathan Kuminga
Jonathan Kuminga
Leave a comment

Jonathan Kuminga didn’t crack our list of the top 50 players in five years last summer, but he drew consideration and rated as the top prospect in the 2021 high school class.

Now, he’s fast-tracking his ascent – turning pro by signing with the NBA’s minor league and positioning himself for the 2021 NBA Draft.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kuminga will join Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix in this professional-pathway program.

We’ll see how well this setup, run by Brian Shaw, prepares young players for the NBA. But the money is nice. Kuminga ($500,000), Green ($500,000), Todd ($250,000) and Nix ($300,000) have approximate salaries that wouldn’t be allowed by the NCAA cartel system.

Hopefully, the competition forces college basketball to treat its players more fairly.

Washington Mystics: We planned all along to pay Elena Delle Donne

Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne – per a panel of doctors chosen by the WNBA and its union – doesn’t face elevated risk of severe symptoms if she contracts coronavirus. That meant the Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her if she sits out this season. Delle Donne has publicly argued her Lyme disease should have medically excused her from the WNBA season, allowing her to collect her full salary.

Like many people amid the pandemic, Delle Donne faced a hard decision: Work and risk exposure to coronavirus or miss out on money and stay safer.

The Mystics have solved her dilemma – agreeing to pay her while she remains away from the team.

Mystics general manager/coach Mike Thibault, via Tyler Byrum of NBC Sports Washington:

“She is being paid and is continuing to rehab from her offseason back surgery. If at some point later in the season, we are all comfortable – I mean all comfortable – enough with both her physical progress and the safety of joining the team in Florida, then we will make those arrangements. If we don’t feel that she will continue to do the workouts in D.C., and get herself ready for the following season.”

“We can do anything we want,” Thibault said. “We have intended to [pay her] from the start. She’s a major part of our team and she’s making every effort to do the rehab that she needs to do.”

“I have told her that there is not going to be pressure put on her to hurry back, I don’t want — I’m in this and she’s in this for the long haul,” Thibault said.

If the Mystics truly planned all along to pay Delle Donne, her public-relations campaign the last couple days seems excessive.

But it’s also possible the public pressure she raised contributed to this decision.

As reigning WNBA MVP, Delle Donne had leverage that other players don’t. That’s why I’m surprised this was up to the Mystics. Other WNBA teams don’t want to face increasing pressure to pay any players who want to sit out. That’s why the panel of doctors existed in the first place.

Perhaps, Delle Donne’s back injury gave Washington a workaround. That’s a reasonable excuse for Delle Donne not reporting while still getting paid. Is the WNBA really going to investigate the Mystics’ assessment of their own player’s physical health when the player agrees?

This is a good outcome for Delle Donne. She made herself so valuable to her employer that it’ll pay her not to work. That’s a heck of an accomplishment by her.

We’ll see how much, if any, of a precedent it sets.

Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox out at least 7-10 days with sprained ankle

De'Aaron Fox sprained ankle
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

For a Sacramento team with playoff dreams, this is a punch to the gut: De'Aaron Fox is going to be sidelined until around the start of seeding games — 7-10 days at least — with a sprained ankle.

The Kings’ announced that their point guard sprained his left ankle in practice Wednesday. While he will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days, he could be out longer. This is the same ankle Fox sprained in November that caused him to miss 17 games.

The Kings’ first game is 16 days away against San Antonio.

Fox, arguably the fastest player in the league with the ball in his hands, averaged 20.4 points, and 6.8 assists this season, playing at a near All-star level once he came back from the sprained ankle. Fox is the engine of the Sacramento offense, it is 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he is off the court.

Sacramento comes into the restart in a virtual tie with Portland and New Orleans for the ninth seed in the West, 3.5 games back of Memphis. However, the Kings have not been able to get their stars on the court together: Harrison Barnes and Alex Len and remain in Sacramento, quarantining after testing positive for the coronavirus. Richaun Holmes is in quarantine on his Walt Disney World hotel room after leaving the confines of the NBA bubble to pick up a food delivery.

All of which combine to make it an even longer shot the Kings end their 14-year playoff drought this season. The sprained ankle for De’Aaron Fox, if it slows him at all, would be a serious blow to those chances.

 

Spurs: Trey Lyles out rest of season (appendectomy)

Spurs forward Trey Lyles
Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Spurs lost their top big in LaMarcus Aldridge.

Now, they’ll lose Trey Lyles, who often started at power forward next to Aldridge and also played behind Aldridge at center.

Spurs release:

Spurs forward Trey Lyles underwent an appendectomy earlier today in Orlando, Fla.

Lyles will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

San Antonio’s last seeding game is scheduled for Aug. 13 – nearly a month away. Theoretically, Lyles could have tried to return by then.

The NBA dodges a complication with the Spurs ruling him out for the rest of the season.

Lyles left the NBA’s campus for his surgery. (Disney World is in Lake Buena Vista. He underwent surgery in Orlando.) That means he faced exposure in Florida, where coronavirus cases are surging. It would have been tricky bringing him back into the bubble safely while not punishing him for requiring medical attention.

The NBA will probably face this conundrum with someone else later. But the league avoids that situation for now.

San Antonio’s problems are more pressing.

Jakob Poeltl is now the Spurs’ top center, but he fits poorly with DeMar DeRozan because they’re both non-shooters from 3-point range. Rudy Gay should see plenty of time at power forward.

Behind them, options – newly signed Tyler Zeller, Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu and Luka Samanic – are uninspiring.

Gregg Popovich truly must muster some magic for San Antonio to extend its record playoff streak.