LeBron James will return to Cleveland for the second time with a new team. Like in 2010, the Cavaliers stink, and LeBron’s new team – though flawed – is in far better shape.
The big difference: LeBron will likely receive a standing ovation tonight.
The last four years healed a lot. LeBron returned and led the Cavs to a title. The bitterness of his initial departure subsided and has been replaced with warm memories. When LeBron left again, Cleveland fans were more numb to the experience of losing him.
In 2010, they were heated. In LeBron’s first game back with the Heat, fans booed him relentlessly, participated in profane chants and even hurled items toward the court.
“We brought four team security members and then we used Cleveland police officers. There were reports about us going on a scouting mission to set up security beforehand — that was all made up. We went with the regular team security and then asked Cleveland for assistance. What wasn’t made up were the 9-volt batteries being thrown on the court. I remember a member of the NBA’s security team wanted to call the game because there was so much coming at us during the game and we were basically ducking behind the scorer’s table just to not get hit.
Bill Reiter, CBS radio host and writer who covered the Heat for Fox Sports in 2010: “Joe Goodman (Miami Herald Heat beat writer) and I were running to our seats for the start of the game, and we get in the elevator and a security guard holds the door for us. There was all this extra security for LeBron that was run by the authorities there. A walkie-talkie crackles and someone asks, ‘Where’s LeBron?’ You hear a security guard say, ‘The enemy has left the locker room. I repeat, code name ‘The Enemy’ has left the locker room.’ I look at Joe, and it hits me, the people protecting LeBron James have labeled him the enemy. A security guard looks at us and shrugs with one of those looks.”
Sometimes, it amazes me LeBron returned to Cleveland, especially because the ringleader for that hate – Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who wrote that infamous letter – still owns the team. I wouldn’t have blamed LeBron for feeling unwelcome there forever.
But he forgave Gilbert and the fans enough to return. LeBron found satisfaction and built his legacy, and everyone involved was rewarded with a championship.
And then LeBron left for the Lakers, which wasn’t exactly welcome news in Cleveland (at least in most corners), but probably won’t produce anywhere near the same level of vitriol as 2010.
Report: Celtics were ‘very much enamored’ with Tyler Herro, whom Heat took one pick before Boston
Of course, it’s far too early to declare either player will absolutely have a better career than the other. Besides, Boston never chose between Herro and Langford. The Heat got the choice and took the player both teams seemingly agreed was better.
Down 2-1 to Lakers, Nuggets sense a familiar bubble series pattern
Not just down 2-1 in an NBA bubble playoff series and having to come from behind, but the pattern of it — his team getting stronger and figuring things out while the opponent falters.
“This is to me kind of similar to the last series,” Malone said after the Nuggets’ Game 3 victory. “Game 1 the Clippers blew us out. Game 2 we win. Game 3, we felt we gave that game away against the Clippers.
“[The Lakers] blew us out in Game 1. Game 2 we gave away at the end. We had to right that wrong and try to get a game under our belt, which we did tonight. This gives us that much more confidence going into this series letting them know that we’re here, we’re in this for the long haul. We’re going to continue to fight and do whatever we can.”
“You definitely learn more about your opponent, what to try to look for, tendencies, and all that…” Jamal Murray said about why Denver improves as the series gets longer. “Like I said, just taking care of stuff that we can control, whether it’s turnovers, communications, switches, rebounding. Areas that we should control, we got to do that if we want to win. If we’re consistent in our play, like we touched on earlier, we can win a lot of games, put a lot of pressure on other teams.”
Those tendencies and patterns, that history of success, has Denver feeling more and more like this is a series they can win. There is a confidence that is brimming from the Nuggets stars, especially Murray. He has stepped up his game, and it’s not just the three-point shooting — 34.6% in the regular season 47.7% in the playoffs — it’s his aggressive attacks and finishing at the rim. Murry, an inconsistent finisher at the rim even during this regular season, has been lights out when he gets inside in the playoffs. It stems from confidence.
“I think what I’ve seen from Jamal this year, aside from the growth defensively, which has been tremendous, I’m so proud of him in that regard, but now I know every night what I’m getting from Jamal,” Malone said. “Last year we knew what we were getting from Nikola, but what kind of game would Jamal have. That’s no longer the case. We have two superstars in Nikola and Jamal and a lot of young, talented players behind them.”
It should not be a surprise to anyone that the Nuggets played their best basketball with their backs against the wall — this team has been in four straight seven-game playoff series, winning three. They are used to the pressure. Nor should it have caught anyone off-guard that they would not go away quietly. Some in Lakers’ nation thought Anthony Davis‘ game-winning three to put the Lakers up 2-0 was a gut punch that would floor the Nuggets.
Malone made sure that was not the takeaway from the game.
“[Monday] when we met and we watched the film, I started off by watching the last play of the game,” Malone said. “Get the elephant in the room out of the way. Let’s talk about the play, what happened. When we’re in this situation again, let’s learn from it. Yes, we all take ownership. Let’s learn from it.
“After that, my goal was when we got done with that film, they saw so many positive clips of us doing the right things, which put us in a position to win. Now we had to do that for more than just a second half. We had to do it for four quarters.”
They did it for three, but that was enough to get the win thanks to some late heroics from Murray.
The key to the remainder of this series is defense. For both teams.
Denver is not an elite defensive team, they were middle of the pack for the regular season. What they can do throughout a series is become more disruptive. They have done it this series, quieting the Lakers’ halfcourt offense. The Lakers scored less than a point per possession — 92.8 points per 100 possessions — in their halfcourt in Game 3 (stats via Cleaning The Glass). Add to that the fact LeBron James is fading as games go on — he is dominant in the first quarter but struggling more in the fourth. Denver got a fantastic game from Jerami Grant in Game 3, they will need more of those games, but the Nuggets have a plan that works and that they can execute.
The heart of that plan is keeping the Lakers out of transition, which brings us to the other side of the equation: The Lakers intensity and physicality on defense almost won them Game 3. The Lakers forced turnovers — six in a row at one point — and turned those into transition buckets. The Lakers are as good a transition team as there is in the league and the Nuggets are terrible at defending it. When the Lakers run, they win. It’s just harder to do that when you’re taking the ball out of the basket each time down, the Lakers need stops.
Expect the Lakers to come out with intensity in Game 4, maybe helping them race out to a big lead. Maybe. But even if that happens, the Nuggets will not be phased — they came from 16 and 19 back against the Clippers to win last round.
Denver has seen this movie before, and they liked the ending.
NBA playoff schedule 2020: Dates, times, matchups for all games
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsetsgalore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.
Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:
• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
• Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams and their target is still a Sept. 30 Game 1. If either conference finals goes seven games that date will need to be pushed back.
Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):
Dwight Howard is thriving in his role as enforcer and Nikola Jokic antagonist for the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals — and he’s talking a lot on the court to let everyone know it. Based on NBA.com matchup stats, Jokic is 3-of-7 shooting while guarded by Howard, with another 10 points at the free-throw line, which means he’s doing better than JaVale McGee or Anthony Davis (and he’s keeping Davis out of foul trouble).
Dwight Howard has been a spark of energy for the Lakers in that role, but he almost got ejected in the first half of Game 3 because of his language, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Howard already has one technical because, with 7 minutes left the second quarter, Howard picked up a foul guarding Jokic and, in frustration with the call, threw the ball in the air, which will get any player a technical for showing up the referee and delaying the game.
Jerami Grant, who finished with 26 points, was at the free-throw line midway in the second period, and Howard uttered an obscene remark in the direction of the officials. It was apparently so off-putting that official Marc Davis shouted, “Hey, cut that out now! Are you serious? I’ve heard that twice now. Twice. Cut it out now!”
Howard got off with a stern warning, but he was visibly irritated.
Rajon Rondo had to get Howard’s attention before he made another mistake in terms of who to body up with on the free throw.
The Lakers will need better focus and play across the board to win the series than they have shown the last couple of games, particularly on the defensive end — the Lakers need stops and transition opportunities because their halfcourt offense continues to bog down. Howard can be a big part of that guarding Jokic, but he can’t step over the line and hurt the team.