The Cavaliers (38-26) are third in the Eastern Conference – closer to eighth place than second. Barring a highly unlikely run, they’ll enter the playoffs with LeBron James‘ lowest seed in a decade. The only times he was below a No. 2 seed were 2006 and 2008, when the Cavs were No. 4 seeds, and his first two seasons, when he missed the postseason entirely.
“Listen, it doesn’t matter to me if I’m a six seed or a three seed or a two seed, eight seed,” James said. “If I come into your building for a Game 1, I can be very challenging.”
LeBron has played 13 series without home-court advantage. His teams are an impressive 7-6 in them. The full record:
Cavaliers lost to Warriors in 2017 NBA Finals
Cavaliers beat Celtics in 2017 conference finals
Cavaliers beat Warriors in 2016 NBA Finals
Cavaliers lost to Warriors in 2015 NBA Finals
Cavaliers beat Hawks in 2015 conference finals
Heat lost to Spurs in 2014 NBA Finals
Heat beat Pacers in 2014 conference finals
Heat beat Thunder in 2012 NBA Finals
Heat beat Bulls in 2011 conference finals
Cavaliers lost to Celtics in 2008 second round
Cavaliers lost to Spurs in 2007 NBA Finals
Cavaliers beat Pistons in 2007 conference finals
Cavaliers lost to Pistons in 2006 second round
LeBron emphasized that it matters far more how the Cavaliers are playing than where they’re seeded. That’s especially true given LeBron’s ability to dial it up in the playoffs and his experience winning without home-court advantage.
But a team’s record is a good indicator of how it’s playing. It’s far from a be-all, end-all. Teams can play well and lose (and vice versa). But if the Cavs don’t finish top four in the East, that’d be quite the negative indicator.
At times, LeBron looks – as he said – better than ever. But the 33-year-old has also gone through long stretches of defensive indifference. There are signs he’s wearing down.
LeBron is still confident, and he should be. It seems foolish to doubt him, especially in early rounds. LeBron has won the East seven straight years.
But if Cleveland enters the postseason without home-court advantage in the first round, that should raise even more questions. However, if the Cavaliers close the regular season playing how LeBron wants, they’ll probably be the No. 3 seed, anyway.
Report: Knicks, Lakers, Clippers will pursue Kevin Durant in free agency
The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers will take a run at the back-to-back Finals MVP, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Of course, every team wants Durant. But not every team will actually pursue him. Many teams believe they have no chance of signing him and won;t waste their time.
It’s probably not coincidental this early list of suitors includes only the very biggest markets. Durant already plays for the best team in a desirable location. How do you differentiate yourself from Golden State? Maybe by being in an even bigger market.
The Lakers are definitely looking to get LeBron James a star teammate, and Durant’s name has at least come up. But Durant is already dogged by the perception he’s just riding the Warriors’ coattails. He wouldn’t change the narrative by joining LeBron.
The Knicks don’t even project to have max cap space, though they’d rush to move Courtney Lee or someone else to get Durant. But this is already the worst team on the list. New York is going to further deplete its assets while remaining appealing to Durant? Hey, it could happen.
Or maybe Durant will look at these teams and see has it pretty good in Golden State.
It could also go the other way. If Durant gives even the slightest indication he’s interested teams not yet planning to pursue him, they’d jump to get into the race. So, don’t assume Warriors, Knicks, Lakers and Clippers is anything more than the preliminary pool of vying teams.
All game long Miami owned the glass — the Heat grabbed the offensive rebound on 42.9 percent of their missed shots on Thursday night. That led to 16 more shot attempts and nine more free throws by the Heat than the Wizards on the night.
And it led to this, the game-winning putback from Kelly Olynyk with 0.2 seconds left.
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Lakers’ shooting clanks off rim, ruins LeBron James’ Laker debut. Will it ruin more? Since the day LeBron took his talents to South Beach the formula has been the same: Surround LeBron with shooters, including bigs so teams can go four out around him, space the floor and let LeBron carve up defenses and find those shooters. The result was eight straight trips to the Finals.
Magic Johnson sold LeBron on a different philosophy if he came to Los Angeles — fill the roster with other playmakers. “It takes the pressure off of him. He doesn’t have to make every play. That’s what wears him out, what wears him down,.. We’ve got guys that can make plays on their own so he can relax on offense some. And also, we’re a fast-breaking team, so we’re not just going to be throwing it down to him. We’re going to be out and running.”
In the Lakers’ first game, the lack of shooting was critical to their 128-119 loss. The Lakers were 7-of-30 from three in the game (23.3 percent) and 0-of-7 on corner threes. Brandon Ingram missed a couple wide-open corner threes early and was 0-of-4 from deep. Kyle Kuzma was 1-of-7, Lance Stephenson 0-of-3, Lonzo Ball 1-of-4. Throw in that the Lakers were 17-of-44 (38.6 percent) as a team on uncontested shots overall for the night (stat via Cleaning the Glass), and you have the portrait of a team that can’t knock down shots.
That lack of shooting proved to be an issue later when Rondo and Stephenson tried to initiate the offense but struggled to find passing lanes to cutters because defenders sagged off and dared them to shoot.
There were plenty of positives for the Lakers. That started with LeBron himself, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds on the night.
Also, the Lakers played fast and things worked when they did — 24.2 percent of Laker possessions started in transition and they scored a ridiculous 1.71 points per possession on those. Plus, they were just fun to watch at that pace.
But it was in the halfcourt that the offense bogged down (0.89 points per play). It wasn’t just the shooting that was a problem, the Lakers struggled on the glass (especially when they went small) and Portland grabbed the offensive rebound on 37.5 percent of their missed shots. The Lakers’ lack of continuity showed as well, particularly on defense.
Portland was rusty, too, but the Blazers shot 13-of-37 from three, 35.1 percent, which is not fantastic, but they made six more threes than the Lakers and that goes a long way to a nine-point win.
Magic compared this roster he and Pelinka built to Showtime and all the playmakers they had — and I’ll give him this, the roster the Lakers have now is fun. It’s entertaining. When they play fast you want to tune in, and they scored 70 points in the paint.
But the game has evolved since the ‘80s. Shooting matters. A lot. (And those Lakers had shooters, from Jamal Wilkes in the corner through Byron Scott, but we digress.) The Lakers are going to have better shooting nights than they did in Portland, but this trend of not shooting well enough likely is not going away and is going to cost them more in a deep West loaded with teams who like to bomb-away from three. The Lakers’ shooting is going to be an ongoing issue.
Next up for Los Angeles? Houston. The three-point disparity may be even worse… but that is going to be an entertaining game to watch.
2) Watch Miami’s Kelly Olynyk’s game-winning putback with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. Dare we say it: The Washington Wizards missed Dwight Howard in this one. A scrappy Miami team grabbed the offensive rebound on 42.9 percent of their missed shots on Thursday night and that was the difference in the game — including the game-winner from Kelly Olynyk.
Olynyk saves some of his best games for Washington. Remember Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals, when then-Celtic Olynyk went off for 26 points, 14 in the fourth quarter, to get Boston the win? Wizards fans do.
3) Markelle Fultz hit an in-rhythm pull-up three, and at that point the skies parted, a rainbow appeared, and angels sang. All game long Thursday, Sixers fans were imploring Markelle Fultz to shoot and to trust himself. Take the open shot.
Then this happened — Fultz’s first three as a Sixer.
That earned pretty much a standing ovation from the Philly crowd.
Fultz was 5-of-15 shooting on the night and was just 2-of-9 outside the paint — there is still work to do. A lot of it. But the fact that Fultz kept pulling the trigger and led the Sixers in shot attempts at 15 can be taken as a good sign.
There was one other interesting reclamation project in that game — Zach LaVine, coming off that torn ACL, dropped 30 points in a losing effort.