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Rare Air: LeBron James on cusp of passing Michael Jordan’s scoring mark

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CLEVELAND (AP) — A generation of kids wanted to be like Michael Jordan. They bought his red-and-black Nikes and sported his No. 23 Bulls jersey. They mimicked Jordan’s spin move and fadeaway jumper and even wagged their tongues the way he did on a flight to the rim.

While millions worshipped Jordan, only a handful entered his rarefied air.

LeBron James lives there.

Without a father in his life, James viewed Jordan as a role model and on Friday night the indomitable Cleveland Cavaliers star, playing at an MVP level in his 15th NBA season, likely will surpass a record held by a player he once admired “like a god.”

On Wednesday night in Charlotte, James equaled Jordan’s NBA mark by scoring in double digits in 866 consecutive games, an extraordinary streak of consistency and durability that may not end until James wants it to. No one else seemingly can stop him.

Once he scores 10 points against New Orleans, probably at some point in the first half Friday night, James will surpass Jordan’s record and add another check mark to his side in the greatest-player-of-all-time debate.

To put the streak in context, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is third at 787 games, followed by Karl Malone at 575. Among current players, James Harden is second to James with 257 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

James typically avoids talking about his accomplishments, saying that’s what he’ll do once he retires. But the double-digit scoring streak, which dates back to Jan. 5, 2007, and an eight-point game against Milwaukee in his fifth season, has turned him somewhat reflective.

“I’ve stayed available, obviously,” James said following a 41-point, 10-rebound, 8-assist performance in a win over the Hornets. “I haven’t played every game but for the most part I’ve played over 70 percent of my games throughout that journey. … It’s just another feat for me to be appreciative and humbled by what I’ve been able to do. And just knowing where I come from, I look at it and say, `Wow, I can’t believe I’m in this position,’ knowing where I come from.”

As a child being raised by a single mom, James found father figures in the coaches who helped him refine his game. There were others in Akron, Ohio, who protected the basketball prodigy and made sure he didn’t stray from a path toward greatness.

Then there was Jordan, whose blend of passion, skill and artistry made an indelible impression on a young James.

“I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just because of what he was able to accomplish,” James said last year after breaking Jordan’s playoff scoring record. “When you’re watching Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a god. So I didn’t think I could be Mike.”

And yet James has surpassed expectations and more than lived up to the “Chosen One” label, a tag he got in high school and had tattooed across his shoulders before turning pro.

One of the few coaches who worked with Jordan and James, Cavaliers assistant Larry Drew was asked to compare the two hardwood heroes.

“Oh man, that’s a tough one,” said Drew, filling in while Cleveland coach while Tyronn Lue is on medical leave. “Certainly Michael was as good of a finesse player as there was. You just never seen anything like LeBron with his size, his speed, his power. He’s something different. But the one thing that both guys do have in common, they’re really driven to win and to be the best.”

Watching James catch and overtake Jordan has been thrilling to his teammates, who are continually awed by a player who shows little signs of wear. James told The Associated Press earlier this week that he would vote for himself as MVP this season, and there’s not a player on Cleveland’s roster who would oppose his case.

James has excelled during perhaps the most challenging season of his career as the Cavs have been ravaged by injuries and overhauled with three major trades at the deadline.

J.R. Smith is savoring the chance to witness greatness.

“It’s pretty dope,” the forward said. “It seems like every game it’s something. When you’re up there with Mike, it’s a different level. You can actually sit there and tell your grandkids hopefully one day that you were part of that. … It’s kind of overwhelming at times.”

Jordan, the Hornets’ majority owner, didn’t attend Wednesday’s game, which ended with the hoop-savvy Charlotte crowd standing to salute and serenade James with chants of “M-V-P!”

It was a moment to set aside loyalty and honor a once-in-a-generation player.

“Everywhere we go he gets a standing ovation,” Smith said. “It’s like watching Michael Jackson on tour.”

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Miami injuries: Goran Dragic tears plantar fascia; Bam Adebayo tweaks shoulder

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The Lakers physically overwhelmed the Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals — and it led to some Miami injuries that could dramatically impact the rest of the series.

Heat starters Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo both had to leave the game with injuries, not to return.

Dragic left the game in the first half not to return with what multiple reports have said is a torn plantar fascia. There is nothing official from the team, but this is a bad sign.

As Jeff Stotts wrote at In Street Clothes, it is possible to play through a torn plantar fascia but it is both very painful and limiting.

If he plays again this series, the Dragic that returns would be a shell of the Dragic that used his quickness to tear apart the Boston defense in the Eastern Conference Finals. Dragic’s ability to blow by his man in isolation and get into the paint helped make Miami’s offense a threat, and without this penetration they floundered against the Lakers’ length. Rookie Tyler Herro got the start in the second half for Miami Wednesday, and for the game he was -35 (tying the All-time NBA record for worst +/- with Kobe Bryant from Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals).

Another of the Miami injuries was to starting center Adebayo, who tweaked the shoulder that had bothered him in the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami.

There was no update from the team (as of this writing), but Tim Reynold of the Associated Press wrote Adebayo himself expects to play.

Adebayo is crucial for the Heat — he is their best defensive rebounder and the guy they will turn to in the crunch to cover Anthony Davis. He struggled against the length and physicality in

Having Dragic and/or Adebayo out will reduce the already-slim margin for error for Miami in this series to almost zero.

“We’re still expecting to win. We still know that we can,” Jimmy Butler said of the Heat mindset after the game. “Like I said earlier, we want [Dragic] out there with us. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do, but until we can have him back, we got to go out there and we got to fight even harder. We got to try to cover up what he gives us and make up for it. We’re capable of it. We have to be capable of it. Moving forward with or without Goran we better hurry up and tie it up 1-1.”

The NBA continues its fast pace of games in the Bubbe: Game 2 of the NBA Finals is Friday night. Less than 48 hours away

 

Lakers crush Heat with Anthony Davis only center on floor

Lakers star Anthony Davis
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Anthony Davis dislikes playing center.

The Heat let him get away with it.

The Lakers’ victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals turned on the six minutes where Davis was the only center on the floor. No Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris or JaVale McGee for Los Angeles. No Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk or Meyers Leonard for Miami.

The Lakers outscored the Heat by 18 points in those six minutes!

Davis dominated. He scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, blocked dunk-contest champion Derrick Jones Jr. at the rim and passed to a wide-open Alex Caruso for a 3-pointer during that first-half stretch.

Davis wasn’t too shabby the rest of the game, either. He finished with 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks and was a team-high +23.

Davis’ 34 points rank among the among the highest-scoring NBA Finals debuts since the NBA-ABA merger:

  • 48 points by Allen Iverson in 2001
  • 36 points by Michael Jordan in 1991
  • 36 points by Kevin Durant in 2012
  • 34 points by Adrian Dantley in 1988
  • 34 points by Anthony Davis in 2020

Especially deep in the playoffs, teams have mastered using small lineups to flummox lumbering centers. But that’s not Davis. He’s mobile and skilled like a wing. And he still has size advantages at 6-foot-10.

Some shorter players can at least bother Davis, who prefers to avoid banging inside against stronger opponents. See de facto Rockets center P.J. Tucker. But a frontcourt featuring three of Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Jimmy Butler, Solomon Hill and Jones lacks the brute force to compensate for its height shortcomings against Davis.

Adebayo’s lingering shoulder injury hangs over Miami’s ability to match up. Though he has size, Olynyk is far from an ideal defender. Leonard, who got a DNP-CD tonight, might have to play in Game 2 Friday.

Lakers go on 75-30 run, blow out Heat in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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All-season long, one of the first things opposing coaches would say after facing the Lakers was, “it was so hard to adjust to their length and physicality.”

The Miami Heat learned that lesson the hard way Wednesday.

The Heat raced out to a 13-point lead early in Game 1 of the NBA Finals as they forced the Lakers to become jump shooters. Then those shots started falling, Miami started missing, the Lakers started running, and everything came apart for the Heat. The Lakers closed the first quarter on a 19-3 run.

That run became 75-30.

“It’s been that way all year long, whenever we start to miss a couple shots, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do on the other end,” Jimmy Butler said.

That was the ballgame.

The Lakers were physically dominant, shot 15-of-38 from three (39.5%), and blew the Heat out of the building in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 116-98. LeBron James finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. Anthony Davis added 34 points and added three blocked shots — Miami had no answer for him inside.

The Lakers led by as many as 32 before some good garbage time play from Miami — 18 points from Kendrick Nunn — made the final score look more respectable than the game itself was.

Game 2 of the Lakers vs. Heat Finals is Friday night.

“You know, from that moment when it was 23-10, we started to play to our capabilities,” LeBron said. “We started flying around. We started getting defensive stops. We started sharing the ball a lot better offensively and just got into a really good groove.”

“The Lakers set the tenor, the tone, the force, the physicality for the majority of the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward.

More disturbing for the Heat are the potential injuries to critical players.

Goran Dragic did not come out of the locker room for the second half and had X-rays on his foot. While there is nothing official, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports he tore his plantar fascia. He is officially TBD, but it will be a difficult injury to play through. It’s devastating blow for Miami.

With Dragic out Tyler Herro got the second-half start, and in Game 1 he tied an NBA Finals record being -35 for the game (Kobe Bryant, Game 6 of 2008 Finals against Boston).

In addition, Bam Adebayo went back to the locker room in the third quarter, appearing to have aggravated the shoulder issue he had against Boston. The team said X-rays were negative, but he did not return to the game.

This game turned on Adebayo. On media day Tuesday he said, “You got to be smart about ticky-tacky fouls.” He knew he couldn’t get in foul trouble, and yet he did, picking up a second foul in the first quarter, sending him to the bench. Up to that point the Heat were up three, but when he went to the bench the Laker run started.

“Our guys are just hustling their tails off, flying around on the defensive end, and then playing effort offense, as well,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said of the Lakers’ run through the second and third quarters. “Really pushing the tempo on the break, attacking the paint, and crashing the boards. Just the pace of the game really picked up in those two quarters, and obviously, they were the difference makers.”

The Lakers got 13 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and 11 from Danny Green (who hit three from beyond the arc).

Miami’s defensive game plan was to double LeBron when he drove, make him pass out, and dare the other Lakers shooters to beat them. The Lakers role players did and that was a key difference.

Miami got 23 points on 13 shots from Jimmy Butler, but he also tweaked his ankle during the game. Herro had 14 points but on 6-of-18 shooting, and as a team the usually sharp-shooting Heat shot 31.4% from three.

Because of the rapid pace of games in the bubble, the Heat have just two days to regroup and try to make this look more like a series — Game 1 looked like the varsity vs. the JV.

“We talk about how damn near perfect that we have to play, and that was nowhere near it,” Butler said. “There’s nothing to be said. We can watch all the film in the world, we understand, we know what we did not do, what we talked about we were going to do, we didn’t do. We didn’t rebound, we didn’t make them miss any shots, we didn’t get back, all of those things led to the deficit that we put ourselves in.”

Miami guard Goran Dragic doubtful to return to game with foot injury

Goran Dragic injury
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Goran Dragic, like seemingly every member of the Miami Heat, couldn’t find his rhythm in the first half — 3-of-8 shooting, three assists, but some missed defensive assignments as the Heat started to fall behind.

Part of that may have been a foot injury — Dragic did not come out for the second half and his return is doubtful with a left foot injury, the Heat announced.

There are no other details on the injury as of yet.

Tyler Herro started the second half for Miami in his place.

The Heat has struggled with the Lakers length — and Los Angeles can’t miss from three — with that has the Heat down 26 early in the third quarter.