LeBron James is a Laker

 

In a move that absolutely nobody expected, LeBron James signed a 4-year $154M deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, per Klutch Sports Group.

Despite the sarcasm in the first sentence, the move to the Western Conference is moderately surprising, as his road to the NBA Finals won’t be as easy.

We can’t wait to hear what Lavar Ball has to say.

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Lakers in position for an exciting offseason

Dominating an offseason is not uncharted territory for the Los Angeles Lakers’ franchise.

In July of 1968, the Lakers traded for 76ers superstar Wilt Chamberlain who, in 1972, led Los Angeles to their first NBA championship. He was named the Finals MVP. In June of 1975, Los Angeles acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar via a trade with Milwaukee. As a member of the “Showtime Lakers,” Abdul-Jabbar helped win five titles. In the summer of 1996, the Lakers made their most successful free agent signing in history when they brought in Shaquille O’Neal. He went on to win an NBA MVP award and three Finals MVPs.

This summer, the Lakers have an opportunity to add multiple franchise-changing players, in hopes of receiving results similar to past successes. Free agency begins on July 1, with unrestricted free agents being able to officially sign on July 6.

However, before they can make a run at stars like LeBron James and Paul George, they have a chance to trade for a former Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year who is unhappy in his current situation.

Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs had a fallout last season regarding how the organization handled his quad injury. According to ESPN, Leonard would prefer to play in Los Angeles, where he is from.

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Despite Leonard being gone for most of last season, the Spurs still managed to earn a spot in the playoffs. Veteran bigs LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are locked in for next season, but San Antonio could use guard and wing help. The Spurs will certainly not give Leonard up without substantial compensation, but the Lakers have young pieces that San Antonio may find desirable. Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has always been against helping Western Conference rivals, but perhaps if Los Angeles provides the best offer for Leonard, it could force his and General Manager R.C. Buford’s hand.

The Lakers could package youngsters Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball to send to San Antonio, along with Luol Deng’s $18 million-dollar contract over the next two seasons and a draft pick for Leonard and perhaps a veteran guard like Patty Mills. The Lakers could also add restricted free agent forward Julius Randle to the mix to sweeten the deal, as long as he agrees to a sign-and-trade and the Spurs want to bring him in.

This way, the Lakers add an elite player (as long as he stays healthy) who came in third-place in the MVP voting in 2017, along with a guard who shoots well from the perimeter with a lot of playoff experience. They could also get rid of the noise that surrounds the Ball family which was a distraction last season, not to mention Deng’s lucrative salary.

Meanwhile, the Spurs get a couple of former second overall picks who could potentially blossom and lead San Antonio for years to come. Plus, it would be an improved roster from last season when Leonard was inactive for all but nine games, so they could theoretically contend for a playoff spot again.

Salary-wise, as long as the Spurs willing to take Deng’s contract, Los Angeles should come out of the trade in a very beneficial financial situation. President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka would be left with enough cap room to add two max contracts without going far into the luxury tax.

 

If this hypothetical exchange goes through, then the Lakers would head into free agency with Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Kuzma coming off of a very productive rookie season, Josh Hart who also looked good as a rookie last year, and Patty Mills to lure in available talent.

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Photo via @kylekuzma

That cast could certainly be a compelling one, especially for someone who came from a team with lackluster support as LeBron James did.

James is referred to by some to be the greatest player the NBA has ever seen, and should be the Lakers’ number one priority come free agency.

James is seemingly comfortable in LA, he even has two houses in Brentwood. Leonard is a great teammate to have help deal with the Warriors since he can defend many different positions at an elite level. Plus, the Lakers can give him his desired salary.

There is the possibility of a sign-and-trade between the Lakers and Cleveland, but that would be a better option if Leonard ends up elsewhere and the Lakers still had Ball, Ingram and Deng to give up. It still could happen even with the Spurs deal, but it isn’t likely that James would want weapons on his future team traded away when he is looking to win a title.

But, Johnson and Pelinka cannot be solely transfixed on getting James. Paul George is also available, and George-to-the-Lakers rumors have gone on for years. The timing is perfect it seems. A player who grew up rooting for the Lakers, and who has admitted that it would be fun to play for them, is a free agent in the same summer that the Lakers are looking to load up.

Cap wise, the Lakers have the space to take on James, George and Leonard, a hellacious amount of talent to add in one summer. But, they do all play the small forward primarily. Many NBA teams in recent years, though, have strayed away from traditional positions. The Golden State Warriors’ “death lineup” includes two guards, two small forwards and an undersized power forward.

With the facilitating skills of James and shooting ability of both George and Leonard, the three could mesh quite effectively. Defensively, all three have shown to be elite, with Leonard winning the Defensive Player of the Year twice and James and George earning multiple All-NBA Defensive honors each. The three can all defend different sized players as well.

Nevertheless, if Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka feel as if that is too many wing players, there are several centers on the market too. Perhaps instead of George, the Lakers could go after DeMarcus Cousins, an elite scorer with a six-foot-eleven frame. The problem with Cousins is his past of attitude issues, also the fact that he will be coming off of Achilles Tendon surgery and has been a defensive liability in the past.

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Clint Capela and DeAndre Jordan are slightly cheaper alternatives at center. They both finish very well around the rim. Capela led the league in field-goal percentage last season and Jordan led the NBA in the category for several seasons before that. They both defend the rim well too, with good size and awareness to block shots. Jordan is a better rebounder, but Capela is five years younger and could be more valuable down the road.

If Johnson and Pelinka do go with the three wings, then they could sign a cheaper big to plug in at center. Perhaps Leonard’s former teammate Aron Baynes, who just had an effective year in Boston and has playoff experience with the Celtics and Spurs, or by bringing back former Laker Ed Davis after three years in Portland. Both can defend the rim well, and should be able to benefit from the passing ability of LeBron James. Baynes can also shoot threes, adding another dimension to the offense. Additionally, in small lineups, Kuzma could plug in as a five for an athletic and strong scoring rotation.

From there, the Lakers would just have to worry about developing their bench beyond Hart, Kuzma and other players still under contract in LA, like Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant. They can fill the bench with veterans who would be willing to sign for the minimum, since some players do so near the end of their careers when looking for a chance at a ring, or by drafting a couple of players since they have picks 25 and 47 (assuming they aren’t traded to San Antonio but likely one would be).

 

The Cavaliers have a lot to do in order to keep LeBron James

The Cleveland Cavaliers could end up being the NBA’s biggest losers of the offseason. Losing LeBron James in free agency would turn this perennial title contender into a mediocre team that could struggle to make the eighth seed in the East.

James is coming off of one of the greatest playoff runs in NBA history. He averaged 34 points per-game with nine assists and nine rebounds per-contest. He led an otherwise struggling Cleveland team into the Finals for the fourth consecutive year. He also scored 51 points in a losing effort in Game 1 of the Finals.

James will have a lot of options to choose from this summer, and the Cavs don’t appear to be the most appealing. The most prominent reason why is because they will have a difficult time improving their roster that got swept by Golden State.

The Cavaliers paid well over the salary cap this season and are scheduled to still be over the cap in 2018-2019, regardless of whether James re-signs or not.

This is because the Cavs owe Kevin Love over $24 million next year, they owe George Hill $19 million, Tristan Thompson will get $17.5 million, J.R. Smith will get over $14 million and Jordan Clarkson will earn $12.5 million.

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The Salary cap sits at $99 million, and those five players will make $87.8 million combined. Another $14 million is owed to four others. There is no money to work with for General Manager Koby Altman, which is a problem since the talent surrounding James this past season proved lackluster in the playoffs.

The most exciting thing they can do this offseason with the roster they have, besides possibly bringing back James, is drafting the eighth overall pick that they received from the Kyrie Irving trade.

Adding one young player most likely won’t be substantial enough to bring back James. The best chance Cleveland has is to try their best to trade some of their big contracts and create cap room.

This could prove tough. Hill is now 32-years-old and had his worst statistical season since 2012.

Thompson also experienced the worst year scoring wise of his career, and his rebounds-per-game were the lowest since his rookie campaign.

Also, there are cheaper options for teams to sign at shooting guard than J.R. Smith, so many teams will likely pass on him unless given draft compensation. Marco Belinelli, same age and position as Smith, scored more points and shot more efficiently for Atlanta this past season. He made half as much money as Smith last season, and he is a current free agent.

Lou Williams was just re-signed by the Clippers for $8 million per year. He scored 22 points-per-game while leading the Clippers in assists this season, and he will be paid just over half as much as Smith next year.

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Now, if James leaves, then the Cavs will need their eighth overall pick. Historically, players like four-time All-Star Tom Chambers, three-time All-Star Detlef Schrempf and three-time Sixth-Man of the Year Jamal Crawford have been selected there, so a high quality young player could fall to them.

Trading future picks could also prove dangerous because if James leaves, then those picks get higher and more valuable.

But, in order to keep “The King,” they will need to deal some of their picks away with some of their big contracts. A rebuilding team could possibly be willing to eat up Thompson or Smith’s deal if that means they get a future pick.

They could use their picks to trade for a star talent to pair with James possibly. Perhaps the Charlotte Hornets would give up 2018 All-Star point guard Kemba Walker for the eighth overall selection, perhaps a second rounder and then a contract like Thompson’s.

Walker is no Kyrie Irving, but he a talented guard on a team who could be willing to sell. He averaged 22.1 points-per-game this past season and shoots well from three.

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Or, perhaps the Cavs could try to trade their picks and contracts for cheap role players and create cap to go after free agents that James may like to play with. But, that would require a lot of maneuvering, and maybe force Cleveland to deal more picks than they are comfortable with.

Altman and the Cleveland front office have a critical summer ahead of them, and they’ll need to be active from the start in order to have a chance to keep LeBron James.

What does the bizarre ending to Game 1 mean to Game 2?

Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals was unlike anything people expected.

The spread in Las Vegas before the game favored Golden State over Cleveland by 13 points, the largest odds against LeBron James in a single game in over a decade.

Despite the odds though, Cleveland, backed by James’ NBA Finals career high 51 points, outplayed the Warriors in the majority of the game. The Cavs even led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter.

This was largely due to LeBron’s brilliance as well as the fact that Cleveland was the more physical team. They dominated the boards, especially on the offensive end.

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Photo via @KingJames

But, Golden State did not turn the ball over and shot better from three, which kept them in the game.

Still, in the last minute, the game was Cleveland’s to lose. And three things went horribly wrong for them.

The first was with just 36 seconds left. The officials overturned a very close block/charge call thanks to a fairly new rule that those plays are reviewable. Instead of Cleveland retaining possession up by two, Kevin Durant got to knock down two free throws to tie the game.

The next was with 4.7 seconds left. Cleveland was down by one and James rifled a pass underneath the basket to George Hill, who would have an open layup if he weren’t grabbed by Klay Thompson.

Hill was 81 percent from the line this year. After tying the game with the first free throw, he missed the second, missing the opportunity to go up one and force the Warriors to hit the final shot.

And the final was the blunder heard around the world, where JR Smith grabbed the offensive rebound after Hill’s miss and dribbled the clock out.

According to Cleveland Head Coach Tyrone Lue, he though the Cavs were ahead and was running the clock out.

If one of those three things does not happen, Cleveland probably steals Game 1. Instead, they lost in overtime. Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr said that his team got “Lucky.”

With the wacky ending to the first one, how will both teams come out on Sunday? Did the bizarre fashion that Cleveland lost game one sink them for Game 2? Or could it motivate them?

With that, let’s look at history.

LeBron James teams have won the first game of the Finals once… in 2011. In all of his Champion seasons, he trailed in the Finals from the beginning.

In this year’s playoffs, the Cavaliers lost Game 1 twice, to Indiana and Boston. In 2016, Cleveland’s championship year, the Cavs dropped the first two games. He won all of those series in seven games.

Obviously, this year is different, with James having perhaps his worst Finals supporting cast yet and going against Golden State with Kevin Durant who wasn’t there in 2016. There is more of an uphill climb this year.

Nonetheless, after seeing his opponents in Game 1s, James has scored 43, 46 and 42 in his three Game 2s this year. Especially after Thursday’s loss, a similar performance to those seems very likely.

Andre Iguodala usually guards Cleveland’s superstar when these two met in the past, but he has missed the past few games and has been ruled doubtful for Game 2.

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Without Iguodala’s help, James can continue to take advantage of his matchups, especially when Golden State switches.

What will James get from “the other Cavs” though.

Kevin Love was solid coming back from his concussion, another double-double will be needed from him. Sometimes defensively against the Warriors, Love has gotten exposed on switches. But, offensively and on the boards, he should be able to duplicate his Game 1 efforts.

JR Smith is going to need to make up for his error. The criticisms of him should lead to him being aggressive in Game 2.

If he catches fire, it can give Cleveland a huge tool. But he has shot very poorly this postseason, especially on the road. With that, we could see a lot of bricked threes coming his way.

For Golden State, Kevin Durant was not productive on Thursday. He took a lot of contested mid-range shots and shot a poor 8-22.

Durant was great throughout the playoffs mostly, but he is in a funk right now. He has shot under 40 percent in three of the past four games. If Cleveland defends him well again from the get-go, his rhythm could continue to be thrown off.

Golden State’s “Splash Brothers” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson did their part in opening game, they shot 10-21 from deep.

Heading into the next game however, Thompson has a sprained ankle and bruising. According to Bleacher Report, he plans to play, but the discomfort can limit him defensively and perhaps hurt his shooting rhythm.

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Anything can happen in Game 2 from a gritty Cavs win to a Warrior blowout.

In order for Cleveland to win they will need “The King” to dominate once again. They will need to control the boards and limit their turnovers to create more shots. They will need another productive game from Kevin Love. The will need another role player to step up, whether that is Smith redeeming himself, Korver playing more than 16 minutes and hitting his threes or Jeff Green playing like he did in Game Seven at Boston where he scored 19. They will need Durant or Curry to struggle. And they will need a little luck.

In order for Golden State to win, they just need to play their usual game, with good production from their stars and solid defense on everyone except James since that is close to impossible. If he is the only one hurting the Warriors, then they are in good shape.

The odds are stacked against James’ Cavaliers, but as we saw in Game 1, they can beat Golden State. Just a lot has to go right. And they have to come out with an intensity we have yet to see.

NBA Finals: Who will win?

At various points throughout the season, it seemed nearly impossible that we’d be faced with yet another incarnation of the Warriors vs Cavaliers saga which has engulfed the NBA for almost half a decade. Entering June, however, here we are. The league appears to be stuck in a Groundhog Day-like cycle from which it may never exit, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited for this matchup. Though the two teams are an incredible mismatch on paper, this rivalry has created some incredible moments in the past. It would take a monumental effort from LeBron James and his supporting cast to make a series out of this edition, but this is sport, and stranger things have happened. Many may think that the outcome of this series will depend solely on whether LeBron can defeat four All-Stars single-handedly, and while this is true to an extent, it isn’t the only thing worth discussing in the lead up to the 2018 NBA Finals.

Keys to the NBA Finals

When does Iggy return?

As strange as it seems to talk about Andre Iguodala before any of Curry, Durant, Thompson or Green, the health of the fifth member of the Hampton’s Five will have a huge impact on the series. Iguodala is the ideal final piece of the Warriors starting lineup, particularly against the Cavs. He is a competent enough ball-handler and passer to warrant attention and help to space the floor at the offensive end, and he is comfortably the Warriors’ best option to guard LeBron James.

A report by ESPN highlights just how much impact Iguodala’s defense can have on LeBron’s effectiveness. In last year’s Finals series, James managed only (“only” being by his standards) 31 points per 100 possession on 52.9% effective field goal percentage when Iggy was guarding him. Durant is the Warriors next option to take the King, and these numbers jumped to 42 points and 64.7% with this matchup.

LeBron’s supporting cast

Obviously LeBron himself will be the single most important player for the Cavs by an absurd margin. If the Cavs are to stand any sort of a chance though, he will need some serious help from his teammates. LeBron will perform to an incredible standard, that is a guarantee, but that alone won’t be enough against the juggernaut that is the Warriors.

Love is comfortably the most competent “other” on the Cavs, and his availability as he recovers from concussion will be a huge factor. He shouldn’t miss more than a game though, and his return will be a welcome one for Cleveland. For all of the criticism he cops, Love is a five time All-Star; a legitimate scorer and an excellent rebounder. He may have his flaws, but he is a far better player than he is often given credit for, and he will need to stand up this series.

Guys like Hill, Thompson, Korver and Smith won’t provide consistent offense for Cleveland, but all are capable of having big games and big moments. If the Cavs manage to win any games, they will be accompanied by a box score in which at least a couple of these guys come up big.

The big dogs

Of course, for all the discussion of the Iguodala’s, Love’s and Hill’s of the world, it’s the stars who will have the biggest say in the outcome of the series. Fortunately for the Warriors, of the five such players in this series, four belong to them. LeBron is the number one guy, but Golden State have numbers two, three, four and five. Essentially, what this means is that if they play to anywhere near their best then they will win the series. Certainly not a statement which elicits a whole lot of excitement for the matchup, but a valid one nonetheless.

LeBron has shown a remarkable ability to put a team squarely on his own shoulders and carry them to victory, and to even steal a couple of games in this series, he will need to do something phenomenal. Expect multiple 40+ point games and very few minutes on the bench as he tries to achieve what would probably be his greatest accomplishment yet.

After disappointing performances in Games 2, 3 and 4 against the Rockets, Thompson reminded everyone that he is far from an afterthought on this incredible team, putting up 23 points in Game 5 before exploding for 9 3-pointers and 35 points in Game 6. With Curry also hitting decent form, these kind of performances make it nearly impossible to beat the Warriors. Highlighting this point is the fact that in the past two games of the Rockets series, the Splash Brothers combined for an incredible 24 3-pointers on 60% shooting. With Durant also chugging along for a lazy 30 points a game and a very well-rounded defensive lineup, it’s easy to see why Cleveland are major underdogs.

As unsatisfying as it is to say, at the end of the day the Warriors will win this series in a canter if they play anywhere near their best. Having said that, the Rockets showed that they are not the unbeatable force they are generally purported to be, and even if Houston is a far better all around side than Cleveland, this is enough to at least add a little excitement to this matchup. The Warriors will win this one in five, but I hope I’m wrong and the Cavs can make a series out of it.

Why injuries are the worst thing ever (The worst NBA injuries this season)

 

NBA players get injured a lot, and that sucks. Those injuries take a lot of things away from the players, teams, and fans all around the NBA. Basketball fans have been deprived of a lot of things, so I’m going to complain about some of the things we’ve been deprived of.

  1. Kyrie vs. LeBron (duh)

“A playoff series doesn’t start until someone wins on the road.” What? Neither team can win on the road? Can we make the series 11 games? Ugh. Terry Rozier is REALLY cool, don’t get me wrong. I love me some good old fashioned 90’s Patriot Quarterback-related beef. But Kyrie being “the guy” on the Celtics was so fun and then his knee had to ruin it! What even is “minimally invasive surgery” anyway!

This Cavs-Celtics series would be SO FUN if Kyrie was trading daggers with LeBron and the 8 other players on the floor just kind of watched in awe. But, instead, we have a really interesting series where talented young guys defy all odds. Booooooo. Boring.

 

  1. Butler College Reunion Tour

Speaking of the Celtics, there’s another guy that got hurt. He has really nice hair, he’s good at League of Legends, and his feet were turned two different directions for a brief few minutes at the beginning of this year. Injuries suck. I want Gordon Hayward and Brad Stevens. Bring him back. (Sarcastic article tone aside, please PLEASE let Gordon Hayward have his deadly scoring instincts and quick first step and please let him get back into basketball shape quickly.)

 

  1. Boogie vs. Draymond and Javale

This one is one people don’t think of a lot. The Pelicans played the Warriors in round 2 of the 2018 playoffs, in case you’ve already forgotten amidst one of the best Western Conference Finals series of all time. The Pelicans have a center named DeMarcus Cousins on their roster, but he ruptured his left achilles tendon during the regular season, keeping him out for the playoffs. Bad! He has a little bit of an attitude, something he shares with Golden State forward Draymond Green. He keeps things very heavy and serious, something he does not share with rat-tail champion and Golden State center Javale McGee.

Either one of those fine Golden State gentlemen defending the personality and complaint-filled DeMarcus Cousins would have been must-see TV. High tensions against a tough defender like Draymond. Frustration against an aloof and smiling Javale. Gold. Thanks injuries.

 

  1. WCFull of Missed Opportunities

Chris Paul and Andre Iguodala being injured is bad for basketball. There’s not much else to it. Both of those guys make their teams so much more fun, and I wanna see Chris Paul shimmy in front of Steph again as much as I wanna see Iggy turn back the clock and dunk on a lackluster Rockets defense. Those guys make basketball fun and they will be missed dearly as long as they’re out. Also, Chris Paul and/or one of his teammates has been injured in the playoffs an unfair amount of years in a row.

 

  1. Kawhi Komplications

This one kind of hurts my heart a lot. Kawhi Leonard is now searching for a new home away from the coach and team that made him who he is, mostly because of injuries and mismanagement leading to issues behind the scenes. Leonard’s injury was one of the more influential ones this year, and it’s leading to a potential move to Los Angeles in the offseason. The Spurs are probably gonna miss the playoffs for the first time in a millenium because Kawhi’s shoulder (leg? something?) doesn’t work right. Cool.

 

  1. Tall European Big Man Falls Down

Kristaps nooooooo. Despite this leaving room for Michael Beasley to prosper, this one hurts a lot. Kristaps was putting together a good bid for an All-NBA team and maybe even an All-NBA Defensive team nod. His spectacular season was cut short, and it sucks that any of us has to be worried about his recovery process for the coming season. If he doesn’t play with new Knicks head coach Dave Fizdale I’m going to be very upset. The fact that THIS is even a THING is pretty awful.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Dion Waiters: I love Dion Waiters! Why didn’t I get to see him play more!

Donovan Mitchell at the end of Game 5: It probably wouldn’t have helped them win but I hate to see that guy go down. I like him a lot! Injuries are bad!

Brandon Knight: I’m not super upset about this one but it would have helped to have a point guard instead of having absolutely none in Phoenix.

Jimmy Butler: The Wolves almost didn’t make the playoffs because Tom Thibodeau runs the muscles off the bones of his players!

Derrick Rose: This isn’t necessarily this year, this one is just a bummer across the last few years in general. At least his dreadlocks look nice.

Anyways, injuries are really bad, and we as fans definitely saw the effects of the injury bug this year. Maybe next year something will change, and really good players will get to play more. Bring back Dion Waiters! That’s what everyone should get out of this article.

(Seriously, though. NBA players are human, and they’ll be back sooner than you know it. Next year is going to be really fun.)

LeBron James’ Greatest Moments

Even before Cleveland inbounded the ball with the scores tied and just over eight seconds remaining in Game 3 against the Raptors, there was an air of inevitability about the outcome. LeBron has made a habit of destroying Toronto in recent years, though the Raps are not alone in having their hearts broken by the King. In the wake of yet another playoff series in which he has placed his Cavs teammates squarely on his back, it seems like an apt time to take a look back at some the greatest moments of his career.

Game 5 – 2007 Conference Finals v Detroit 

It’s difficult to go past this 13 minute stretch of game time as the best of LeBron’s career. As a 22-year-old, he was yet to lead his Cavs to the NBA Finals, but locked at 2-2 in the Conference Finals against the Pistons he had perhaps his best chance yet .

Detroit seemed destined to take the series lead in front of a rambunctious home town crowd when they led 88-81 with 3:01 seconds left. Destiny, however, clearly meant nothing to the young LeBron James, who scored 9 of Cleveland’s 10 points in these last three minutes, including a game-tying dunk with less than 10 seconds to go to send the game to overtime.

The first overtime period saw both teams score 9 points, or, more accurately, Detroit score 9 points and LeBron score 9 points. The first 4 minutes and 58 seconds of the second overtime saw a similar story unfold; Detroit scored 7 points, and so did LeBron. With 2.2 seconds left though, James charged into the lane, made a game-winning layup, and gave his Cavs a 3-2 lead which they would never relinquish.

To summarize: in what was an extremely important, conference-deciding matchup, James scored 29 of the Cavs’ last 30 points to drag them back from a seven point deficit, and also hit the game winner with just two seconds left. Not bad.

Game 2 – 2009 Conference Finals v Orlando

This was probably the single greatest shot of LeBron’s career to date. After losing Game 1 of the Conference Finals despite 49 points from the King, a loss here would have made it difficult for the Cavs to advance out of the east. With exactly one second remaining in the game, it seemed that was the way things were headed.

Hedo Turkoglu dropped in a jumper with just a second to go to give his Magic a 95-93 lead. The Cavs promptly called a timeout, during which one can only assume LeBron told inbounder Mo Williams to pass him the ball and everyone else to get out of the way. As Williams stood with the ball waiting to inbound, a few half-arsed screens and irrelevant motions were run by his teammates, while LeBron hopped back and forth around the foul line.

He then took three quick steps to his left, caught Williams’ pass, and with a sizeable hop back, put up a shot that would send the roof off of the Quicken Loans Arena and nearly break the vocal chords of Marv Albert. It dropped, the Cavs won, and the series was tied at 1-1. Unfortunately they then went on to lose the series, effectively rendering the shot irrelevant, but it makes for a better story if we all ignore that.

Games 5, 6 and 7 – 2016 NBA Finals v Golden State

Whether or not it’s reasonable to include three whole games as a ‘moment’ is debatable, but they were all so impressive that I’m going to do it anyway. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the background – a small-town boy from Akron making it big in the success-starved city of Cleveland, only to leave them for the glitz and glamor of Miami, only to return. Could he finally bring them that elusive Championship for which they so yearned?

Down 3-1 against a team boasting the likes of Curry, Thompson and Green, it seemed like the answer was no. Enter LeBron. Game 5, in front of a rabid Oakland crowd, staring down the barrel of a 4-1 Finals loss, James went 16-for-30 from the field, 4-for-8 from downtown, and accumulated 41 points, 16 boards, 7 dimes, 3 steals and 3 blocks. It’s worth noting that he received a little help from Kyrie, who also managed 41 points (on 17-for-24 no less). Series still on.

LeBron obviously took a liking to the number 41, because in Game 6 he once again scored that many points. This time it was on 16-for-27 shooting, to go with 8 boards, 11 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. He had forced a Game 7 out of pure will and dominance, but still the Cavs had to manage another win in Oakland for the fairytale to be complete.

LeBron’s stats in Game 7 were comparatively poor, which is funny considering he had 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks. The most important of all these stats, of course, was ‘the block’ which he executed with 1:50 left in the season. Tied at 89, Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala were steaming up the court. Steph led Andre into a relatively open basket, but LeBron promptly came out of nowhere and slammed the ball into the backboard. Irving then nailed a dagger up the other end, and Cleveland’s long drought was over.

Considering the context of this scenario, namely the historical ineptitude of Cleveland-based sporting teams, this might be the most memorable stretch of his career.

Game 2 – 2018 Conference Semis v Toronto 

Maybe (definitely) there’s a little bit of recency bias here, but that performance last week was so ridiculous that I want to write about it. LeBron went 19-for-28 from the field on the way to 43 points, dished out 14 assists along with just a solitary turnover, and grabbed 8 boards in a complete decimation of the poor Raptors.

LBJ’s shots were a joke. I don’t know if he’s ever shot as well in his life as he did this game. He went 6-for-9 in the third quarter, hitting a couple of 3’s and a tough turnaround jumper, which was nice. In the fourth, he went bananas. He connected on 6 more mid-rangers, and virtually all of them seemed like extremely low percentage shots. Low as in you might make them one out of ten times, but he made them almost every time. Toronto actually played reasonably well, but got belted by 18 points. This was a one-man show if ever there was one.

LeBron is pretty good. Everyone knows that, and his past couple of weeks of dominance aren’t particularly unexpected. With two game-winners and another extraordinary statline or two in the first two rounds of the 2018 playoffs though, he’s poised to grow his reputation even further. Most likely, the Cavs will make it out of the east and run into a Warriors machine which will slice them into pieces, but if James can somehow, miraculously lead his side to victory, MJ will be getting sweaty.

The Conference Semis: What to Watch For

Round 1 of the playoffs saw most things go as expected. LeBron James lifted his game a notch or two, Russell Westbrook took far too many shots, and the Warriors won without breaking stride. All of this was pretty predictable, which just goes to show that the playoffs never lie. Here’s a few other obvious truths you can expect to be laid bare in the Conference Semis.

The Warriors are easily the best team in it

This couldn’t be more clear, but for some reason a narrative seems to have developed throughout the course of the season that they’re vulnerable. Before the playoffs tipped off, betting agencies even had them listed as only $2.20 favorites to win the Championship. For those of you who aren’t familiar with punting, this means that they were apparently more likely not to win the title than to win it, which simply wasn’t, and isn’t, true.

There has justifiably been a lot of excitement about the Pelicans. Their starting five is really, really good, AD is extraordinary, and they absolutely annihilated a Portland team which went 17-7 after the All-Star break. They are a talented unit in excellent form, and in Game 1 the Warriors tore them to pieces – and did so without Steph Curry on the floor. Game 2 was a little closer, but Golden State lifted a gear in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line, which they can do because they have four of the best 15 players in the league on their team.

Houston are an excellent team, and – assuming both they and the Warriors advance – will probably give us an exciting Western Conference Finals series, but the Warriors should still be strong favorites against them in a seven game series. After that, the winner of the east beckons. It goes without saying, that team won’t be expected to win.

The Raptors suck at the playoffs, and LeBron is very good at them

It’s easy to say this after a Game 1 which saw Toronto give up a 14 point second quarter advantage to eventually go down in overtime, but even before that happened, all the evidence pointed in the same direction.

A quick recap on the Raptors recent history: in the past four seasons, they’ve won at least 48 games in the regular season and haven’t finished outside the top 4 in the east. In this time though, they’ve twice been bundled out in Round 1, and haven’t made it past the Conference Finals. Sense a pattern? Lowry and DeRozan are both stars and are the reason for Toronto’s regular season success, but neither of them has been able to consistently step it up to the required level in the playoffs.

LeBron James, in contrast, loves the postseason, and has enjoyed feasting on the Raptors in the last couple of years. Last season, he averaged 36 points in Cleveland’s sweep of Toronto, shooting an outrageous 57.3% from the floor and 48.1% from downtown. The season before he only averaged 26 points and 6.7 assists, but this came when he actually had two other good players in good form on his team, and as a result his usage was way down. He racked these points up on a ridiculous 62.2% shooting, and his 6.7 assists were accompanied by just 2.3 turnovers a game.

For these reasons, Game 1 didn’t bode well for the rest of the series for the Raps. Though James had 26 points, 11 boards and 13 assists, he wasn’t anywhere near his best offensively. He settled on eight 3-point attempts and seven more from mid range, and didn’t hit a whole lot of them. He went 12-for-30 from the floor, something he won’t do again this series, and yet still the Cavs got over the line on the Raptors home floor – despite Toronto having about 11 bites at the cherry to make a game winning layup in the final seconds. He’ll lift, the Raptors won’t, and it will be another early exit for the boys from Canada.

Brad Stevens is a genius

A look at Boston’s current available roster shouldn’t fill Celtics fans with a whole lot of belief, and yet here they are, having warded off a far more talented Bucks outfit, and up 1-0 against a far, far more talented 76ers outfit.

Sure, Al Horford is a terrific player and a major reason for their prowess at both ends of the floor. Terry Rozier isn’t a star, but he’s playing out of his skin. Smart is just about the best hustle player in the league, and Tatum and Brown have a lot of talent. These are all nice pieces, but not Conference Semi-Finals level pieces, and certainly not Conference Finals pieces. And yet here they are.

Most sides would fall to pieces if they lost their two best players, but the Celtics haven’t, because their coach is a genius. To compensate for their relative lack of talent, Stevens’ offense relies on a whole lot of dribble handoffs and off ball action to get the ball moving, and to keep everybody involved. At the other end of the floor, his players know their defensive rotations better than anyone, and with one of the more switchable starting lineups in the league it’s nearly impossible for oppositions to get any sort of mismatch.

On talent alone, the Celts shouldn’t get close to the 76ers. Already though, they’re 1-0 up. Philadelphia are still deserved series favorites, but if Game 1 taught us anything it’s that they won’t have it their own way. Boston will force a tight series at the very least, and for that you can thank Brad Stevens.

 

The playoffs are starting to heat up, and our partners, children, parents – anyone who doesn’t follow the great game – are wondering why they’ve suddenly been forced to play second fiddle to basketball. They better get used to it because we’ve still got well over a month to go, and even if the Warriors are probably going to win, it’s still sure to be compelling viewing.

The King’s New Throne

The King has been dethroned. Yes, LeBron James remains the NBA’s best player, but make no mistake, the league belongs to the Golden State Warriors. While James’s Cavaliers toil in third place in a weak Eastern Conference, the Warriors are a half game back in the West, comfortably ahead of San Antonio and unafraid of losing home court to Houston. If the season ended today, Cleveland would likely face a gauntlet of Milwaukee, Boston, and Toronto just to make it to the Finals, where they will inevitably be annihilated by Golden State. To make matters worse, with the departure of Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers clearly lack a championship caliber second option. While Kevin Love remains a perennial All-Star, he lacks the ability to take over playoff games. To put it frankly, Cleveland just isn’t good enough. The Cavaliers do not have the tools to reload around LeBron. Putting Tristan Thompson on one of the worst contracts in NBA history has left them highly inflexible. They are already paying record luxury tax figures, so even if they were able to trade the Brooklyn pick for another star, they wouldn’t be able to pay him. Additionally, LeBron’s relationship with Dan Gilbert has apparently imploded. The writing is on the wall. It’s best for both sides to move on.

The Cavaliers have a high pick in an absolutely loaded draft and have acquired several young assets to move, either for new picks or simply to get back under the salary cap. LeBron has the ability to pick any team he wants and let them figure out how to make it work. With all this being said, let’s take a look at the top five destinations for LeBron James.

5. New York: Even though Kristaps Porzingis is injured, a Porzingis – LeBron frontcourt is the stuff of dreams in the modern NBA. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee are more than capable off-ball shooters as well as good defenders; perfect for playing with LeBron. Plus, Knicks fans have suffered enough, and it would be great for the league to have contenders in Madison Square Garden. Added bonus: LeBron gets to stay in the East, which has basically been handing him Finals appearances on a platter since he went to Miami.

4. Portland: There may be some juggling to be done in terms of salary cap, but Damian Lillard would be the perfect scoring guard to compliment LeBron as a second option. As much as he’s accomplished as the number one option, he would be a truly elite number two. Imagine what Nike could do with their billion dollar man less than thirty minutes away.

3. Los Angeles (Clippers): While the Clippers lack the talent of the other options on this list, they have a lot more flexibility. LeBron could seamlessly replace Doc Rivers as coach and GM, and if they can get Paul George to detour from the Lakers. You could do a lot worse than George, LeBron, and DeAndre Jordan as a frontcourt.

2. Los Angeles (Lakers): This is the option that has me the most excited. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram both look like future All-Stars, and while they might not be ready to fill that role next season, they will both be excellent role players for LeBron. #PG2LA might as well be written in stone, and a small ball lineup of Ball, Ingram, George, LeBron, and Kyle Kuzma should have every hoops fan drooling.

1. Houston: Two words. Banana. Boat. Given how competitive Houston has been this season with Golden State with their current roster, I’m already salivating over a Houston – Golden State Western Conference Finals. It reads like a superhero movie. LeBron reemerging after defeat rearmed with enough ammo to take down the team we all love to hate. I’d even go so far as to say Houston plus LeBron would be favored in that matchup.