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LeBron James outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo, leads Lakers to signature win

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LOS ANGELES — Before the Staples Center crowd had their beers and had settled into their seats, Giannis Antetokounmpo tried to take over the game. From the opening tip he was aggressive, playing downhill, getting up a head of steam then getting to the rim. He opened the game shooting 3-of-4, and he racked up 10 fast points.

Plus Antetokounmpo drew two early fouls on Anthony Davis.

That is when the game changed — LeBron James switched over Antetokounmpo on defense.

“My sidekick here, he picked up a couple of early fouls,” LeBron said, pointing at Davis. “So that was my opportunity to pick up the challenge. I didn’t want him to get another one.”

“What was more impressive (than his 37 points) to me was his defense on Giannis,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said after the game. “Starting in the first half, when AD got in foul trouble, we needed someone to step up. For him to take on that assignment and still do what he did offensively, it’s just an incredibly remarkable performance, a two way performance.”

That switch meant fans got what they wanted — LeBron vs. Antetokounmpo going head-to-head. At points, the Staples Center crowd stood and cheered as the two leading MVP candidates went at each other.

Friday night, LeBron and the Lakers got the best of the battle.

The Lakers used an 18-0 run and a 14-point third quarter from LeBron to pull away, then they held on for the 113-103 win.

It was a game played with late-May playoff intensity but officiated in an early March style — the constant sound of whistles sucked the flow out of much of the game.

That worked for the Lakers, who were able to slow the Bucks tempo down — the Lakers are not a great transition defense but have an elite halfcourt defense, one that frustrated the Bucks.

“We were playing slow… We were playing against LeBron, AD, and (JaVale) McGee in the half court, so it’s kind of hard,” Antetokounmpo said.

Antetokounmpo finished with 32 points on 21 shots, plus 11 rebounds. He also went down late in the fourth quarter on a foul, yelling and grabbing his left knee. Antetokounmpo got back up, walked it off and finished the game, however, after the game he spent extra time in the training room and was walking with a slight limp. When asked how his knee was, all he said, “good.”

Antetokounmpo was less concerned with his knee and more concerned with how his team got taken out of their game against the Lakers. And he didn’t like all the fouls the Bucks committed.

“We definitely did not play smart,” Antetokounmpo said. “We obviously tried our best, we fight every game, we try to stay in every game, but we gave them 31 free throws. We put them at the line so easily.”

Those calls got in the Bucks’ heads at a point during the decisive third quarter, resulting in an 18-0 Lakers run. That spurt took the Lakers from down five to up 13 midway through the quarter.

The Bucks showed resolve and got back within four late, but Davis made a defensive play that kept the Lakers in front.

Donte DiVincenzo had a breakout game with 17 highlight-worthy points for the Bucks.

The Lakers got 30 points and 11 rebounds from Davis backing up LeBron. The Lakers also got 50 points in the paint, way more than the league-best 38.6 Milwaukee traditionally gives up. The Lakers were the aggressors and it showed.

Finals series are not decided in March, but this game laid out the blueprint for a potential Finals matchup should it happen.

And it should give the Lakers a boost of confidence — they had the best player on the floor Friday night.

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
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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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.