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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

Report: Rod Thorn to enter Basketball Hall of Fame

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Rod Thorn drafted Michael Jordan with the Bulls, built the Nets teams that reached back-to-back NBA Finals, ran the 76ers and served for years in the league office. He also played eight seasons in the NBA and even served as interim coach of Chicago.

Now, he’s getting a major honor.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Thorn is well-liked around the league and has worked in it for decades. That’s a sure ticket to the Basketball Hall of Fame as at least a contributor.

Maryland’s Justin Jackson, potential first-round pick, entering NBA draft despite shoulder injury

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Maryland sophomore forward Justin Jackson had season-ending shoulder surgery in December, complicating his NBA aspirations.

He’s still turning pro, though.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

Maryland sophomore Justin Jackson is foregoing his final two seasons of eligibility and declaring for the 2018 NBA draft.

Jackson will hire an agent in the near future.

Unfortunately for him, his sophomore season was derailed by by a torn labrum injury in his shoulder he suffered in August

According to Jackson, the timetable for his recovery was approximated at six months following his surgery, meaning he will be ready to play competitive basketball at the NBA combine in May. He is close to being cleared for basketball activity in the next few weeks and will be available to participate in drills during private NBA workouts.

If Jackson suffered the injury in August, that could explain his poor 3-point shooting this season – 25%, down from 44% last season. Those are both on small samples (40 attempts this year, 105 attempts last year), so teams will deeply evaluate his shooting. That skill is most important to his pro prospects.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and impressive strength, Jackson is a versatile forward who can defend multiple positions. He just needs that outside shooting to bring his game together. He doesn’t have the skill and feel for a bigger offensive role, but 3-and-D forwards are in-demand and easy fits on any team.

Depending on evaluations of his shoulder and how his shot looks when healthy, Jackson could climb into the first round. He also might go in the second round. With those two major questions, his range is wide.

Kevin Durant: I celebrated title with Taco Bell that ‘ran through me just like it would a normal person’

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Sometimes, Kevin Durant embraces his villain status.

Other times, he tries to paint paint himself as an everyman.

This is an example of the latter.

Durant on The Bill Simmons podcast, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“People tell us we’re superstars, and we really aren’t … after we won the championship, I had Taco Bell and it ran through me just like it would a normal person. I’m like, ‘Oh sh*t. I thought I had a golden stomach (joking). I thought I was immune to everything, but no.

“That’s the perception of it all — we’re just immortal. We’re normal fu**ing people who are really good at what we do. But at the end of the day, we go to sleep just like everybody else. We really put on our pants just like everybody else … it made me realize that I am not king anything because we won a championship.”

You might celebrate a championship with Taco Bell! The food might run right through you! Durant, he’s just like you!

Except absolutely dominant at basketball, a multimillionaire and incredibly famous/infamous.

As much as Durant wants us to relate to him, there are major impediments. We’re all human, sure. And we collectively should probably see him more through that lens. But there are major differences in lifestyle not easily overcome.

In another exchange, Durant introduced my new favorite term – “blog boys.”

Durant:

“I don’t like analytics at all. I like field goal percentage defense, I like field goal percentage, I like turnovers, I like rebounds — the real stats. The true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage and all that stuff. Come on man. It’s flawed. PER. It’s flawed.

“You can’t look at numbers first and then watch. (People) are lazy. They don’t want to watch games. It’s too long, it’s too hard to watch a game. There’s a bunch of coaching vultures in the game right now. It’s a bad place.

“Can I make a PSA real quick? All your blog boys and your fanboys that’s gonna use everything I say and create an article — watch a basketball game. How about you write that. I just want to say that, because all these guys are gonna write articles and get real mad about what I said tonight … they’re gonna put their emotions into it. It’s not about you. Watch a basketball game. Enjoy the game. Stop worrying about me so much. I just wanted to say that.”

Durant says true shooting percentage (which accounts for the value of 3-pointers and free throws) and effective field-goal percentage (which accounts for the value of 3-pointers) are flawed but touts straight field-goal percentage as a “real” stat? OK. This debate has been settled years ago – in the other direction.

If he shoots 5-for-10 while making all 3-pointers he should get more credit than if he shoots 5-for-10 while making only 2s. That’s just common sense.

All stats are flawed. Advocating for traditional ones just because they’ve been popular longer is just stubbornness.

And there’s nothing wrong with looking at numbers then watching a game. The numbers can help determine where to pay attention, and watching adds more context.

I’m not sure Durant believes any of this. He sounds like someone who just wants to gripe.

But I’m happy he went on this rant for no other reason than it produced the term “blog boy.”

Stephon Clark’s brother says protesters shouldn’t block entrance to Sacramento Kings games

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People protesting the death of Stephon Clark – an unarmed black man shot by police while they pursued him on suspicion of breaking into cars – have twice blocked fans from entering Sacramento Kings games.

The Kings played both games in front of sparse crowds, told fans stuck outside to go home and refunded tickets. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive spoke before the first game, offering sympathy to Clark’s family and support to the protesters. The Kings have formally partnered with Black Lives Matter Sacramento and the Build. Black. Coalition.

What will happen when the Kings host the Pacers tonight?

Stephon Clark’s brother, Stevante Clark, urges protesters to pick a different method.

Frances Wang of ABC 10:

Stevante:

The second time, it was not cool. But that’s not cool. We don’t support people shutting down our businesses. The Sacramento Kings love us. They could have left and went anywhere, but they stayed here in our city. We should respect them and love them. If you love me, you will love the Kings. If you shout Stephon Clark, you will never protest at the Kings’ arena again. If you do, you do not love me, period. Because I asked you to do something, and you didn’t do it.

I’m open to peaceful protests that purposefully make people uncomfortable. Black people face discomfort that others don’t every day.

Ticketholders denied entrance to the arena by protesters can validly feel upset. But they should also ask themselves whether they’re more upset about missing a basketball game or the racism that limits and even sometimes kills people.

But a consequence of this protest is hurting a supportive business. (Ranadive’s comments and actions show a commitment to the cause. I’m not impressed with his morals just because he made a business decision to keep the team in Sacramento after the city spent a ton of taxpayer money on a new arena.)

Protesters obviously aren’t obligated to share Stevante’s view, but he has taken a leadership position in this movement. We’ll see tonight whether tactics have changed.