Kyrie Irving and LeBron James
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Kyrie Irving returning for Nets to face LeBron James, Lakers

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LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were teammates for three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, with each campaign ending in the NBA Finals. In the 11 times they have opposed each other, whatever team James was leading holds the edge over Irving’s team.

The 12th meeting between the former teammates occurs Thursday night when James and the Los Angeles Lakers attempt to improve on the Western Conference’s best record when they visit Irving and the Brooklyn Nets, who are experiencing some massive struggles of late.

James returned to Cleveland in 2014 following four seasons with the Miami Heat. During his time in Miami, the Cavaliers drafted Irving with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, and when James returned to Cleveland, the duo reached the NBA Finals each time as teammates, highlighted by the 2016 championship, when James had a clutch block on Andre Iguodala and Irving hit the game-winning shot in Game 7 in Golden State.

A year later, their partnership was over when Irving wanted a trade and was dealt to the Boston Celtics. James spent one more season in Cleveland and reached the NBA Finals again in 2018 before heading to the Lakers in free agency. Irving spent two seasons in Boston before signing with Brooklyn along with Kevin Durant in July.

James is 9-2 all-time against Irving and is averaging 25.5 points in those games. Irving’s two wins occurred as a Celtic on Jan. 3, 2018, and March 9, 2019.

Heading into this meeting, the Lakers have won 35 of their first 44 games. They rebounded nicely from allowing 139 points on Monday in a blowout loss at Boston by recording a 100-92 road victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

James scored 21 points Wednesday, and he enters his visit to Brooklyn with 33,599 points, 44 behind Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list, making it likely he will surpass Bryant on Saturday in Philadelphia. Anthony Davis scored 28 points in his second game back from missing five games due to a bruised gluteus maximus.

“I was more of a facilitator in the second half,” James said. “I wanted to get AD going. He looked a little out of rhythm in the first half, so it was a point of emphasis for me in the third quarter and the fourth quarter to get him going. And that was the difference.”

Irving is averaging 26.5 points, but injuries have limited him to 15 games. He missed 26 games due to right shoulder impingement, and the Nets went 13-13.

Irving also missed Brooklyn’s 117-111 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday due to right hamstring tightness. He is listed as available for Thursday.

DeAndre Jordan and Nicolas Claxton are out.

The Nets are hoping to end a four-game skid and a 2-11 slide while facing one of the NBA’s best defenses.

“They’re an elite defense,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said of the Lakers. “(JaVale) McGee and (Dwight) Howard are absolutely playing, really protecting the rim. They obviously have elite perimeter defenders with LeBron and Danny Green and all those guys.

“Listen, Anthony Davis, we all know, he’s turned into really a two-way player in this league, and I’m really impressed by his evolution over the years where he’s become really hard to score on on the other end. Great challenge for us.”

Brooklyn is 0-4 in a stretch of five straight games against upper-echelon teams, and the Monday loss to Philadelphia was the closest final margin. The Nets were unable to stop Ben Simmons from getting a 34-point triple-double, and they committed 10 of their 22 turnovers in the fourth quarter.

All Cedric Maxwell got for winning NBA Finals MVP was this janky watch (video)

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Just two NBA Finals MVPs who are eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame haven’t been selected for induction:

  • Cedric Maxwell (1981 Celtics)
  • Chauncey Billups (2004 Pistons)

Andre Iguodala (2015 Warriors) could join them, but he at least has some Hall of Fame chatter surrounding him. Billups is absolutely a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate, even if not enshrined.

Maxwell, on the other hand, wasn’t on that level. He never even made an All-Star team. He was just a good player who had an excellent six games against the Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals.

Really, it’s a neat distinction to be the lone NBA Finals MVP who was never a star. Maxwell can cherish that.

And this watch, which he reveals in this entertaining video.

NBPA reaching out to players, getting feedback on return scenarios

Michele Roberts
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been in information gathering mode since the day he was forced to shut the league down. He’s gathered information from medical experts on how a return would work, talked to owners and GMs about the financial end and what they hope to see, and had conferences with the league’s broadcast partners.

Most of all, Silver wanted to know what the players thought. With the NBA closing in on a return strategy — Friday Silver and team owners will have a conference call that could lead to a decisive plan — players’ union executive director Michele Roberts is taking the return plans to the players for feedback, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It looks like the NBA will return to play in Orlando, with training camps starting in late June and games in mid-July.

The questions to be answered are:

• Do all 30 teams report to Orlando to play a handful of regular season games, getting teams over the 70 game threshold?
• Do just the top 16 teams report with the league jumping straight to the playoffs?
• If the league does go straight to the playoffs, how will that impact player pay, which is tied to the regular season?
• Will there be a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds?
Should the NBA do a 1-16 seed playoff format, or keep the traditional Eastern/Western conference format?
• Will each playoff round have seven games, or will the first round (or two) be best-of-five?

Everything option is still on the table (as officials will be quick to say). However, the buzz around the league has grown louder that just the top 16 teams will go to Florida, and there will be seven-game series for every round, as the league tries to squelch any asterisk talk.

We may know a lot more on Friday. And the players will have their say.

Michael Jordan on tape saying he wouldn’t play on Dream Team with Isiah Thomas

Pistons guard Isiah Thomas and Bulls guard Michael Jordan
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In “The Last Dance,” Michael Jordan was asked to react to Isiah Thomas’ explanation of the Pistons’ infamous walk-off. Jordan replied immediately:

I know it’s all bulls—. Whatever he says now, you know it wasn’t his true actions then. He’s had time enough to think about it. Or the reaction of the public, that’s kind of changed his perspective of it. You can show me anything you want. There’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an a—hole.

Maybe there was some projection in that answer.

For years, Jordan has denied any involvement in Thomas not making the Dream Team. Rod Thorn, who was on the selection committee for the 1992 Olympics, has backed Jordan’s version of events.

But Jordan once revealed a different story.

Jordan on Jack McCallum’s “The Dream Team Tapes:”

Rod Thorn called me. I said, “Rod, I won’t play if Isiah Thomas is on the team.” He assured me. He said, “You know what? Chuck doesn’t want Isiah. So, Isiah is not going to be part of the team.”

Yes, the Pistons were being poor sports when they left the floor without shaking the Bulls’ hands in the 1991 playoffs. But that neither began nor ended the story.

The Bulls repeatedly disrespected the Pistons while finally overcoming Detroit. That particularly bothered the Pistons, because, on their way up, they paid deference to to the Celtics and Lakers. So, while the walk-off was – even according to Thomas – regrettable, it happened for a reason.

Jordan carrying his vendetta to the Dream Team only escalated matters. Yet, unlike the Pistons for not shaking hands, Jordan receives minimal scorn for his poor sportsmanship. Threatening not to play if a rival player is also included is the antithesis of what people want the Olympics to stand for.

And Jordan is now on published audio admitting that’s exactly what he did. You can listen to him for yourself.

As the best player and marketing giant, Jordan had the power. Thomas felt the consequences.

In 1992, Thomas was a marginal choice for the Dream Team. He wasn’t clearly better than the players who made it on current ability. He wasn’t as great as the players – Magic Johnson and Larry Bird – who made it on career accomplishments. It would’ve been fine to select Thomas. It would have been fine to omit him.

But it’s a shame he never got proper consideration on merit.

It’s also a shame Dream Team coach Chuck Daly, who coached Thomas in Detroit, is no longer alive to give his account. Did Dally really tell Thorn not to put Thomas on the Olympic team? Did Thorn really tell that to Jordan? Jordan and Thorn are just so untrustworthy on this matter.

Kendrick Perkins: LeBron James-Paul Pierce rift stems from Pierce spitting at Cavaliers bench

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In 2004, Celtics forward Paul Pierce got fined for spitting at the Cavaliers bench during a preseason game.

Why did Pierce do that?

Apparently, LeBron James.

Kendrick Perkins, via ESPN:

When LeBron was coming into the league, he was getting a lot of heat from players. “Oh he’s not going to do that to us. The Chosen One. Wait til he play against grown men.”

So, Paul is talking noise to the bench, right? He’s talking big noise to the Cavs bench. And they’re sitting over there. Bron and them, they’re all sitting over there.

Paul actually spits over there at the bench, right? The ultimate disrespect, OK?

It ended up turning up. After the game, both teams were meeting in the back. Guys was ready to fight. We had to hold people back. It went up from there.

Ever since that moment, LeBron James and Paul Pierce hate each other. They don’t speak to each other.

This was entering LeBron’s second season, not his rookie year. But Pierce was still the established star, LeBron the riser trying to prove himself. As we’ve seen since, Pierce is very protective of his place in the game.

The feud deepened over the years as Pierce’s Celtics battled LeBron’s Cavaliers and Heat in the playoffs. Pierce took other shots at LeBron, even indirectly. Most recently, Pierce named a top-five list that didn’t include LeBron.

But spitting? That’s low.

There’s just something about Boston players from that era.