NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: LeBron goes bonkers vs. Bobcats — This far into his career, it seems there are few things LeBron James can do amaze those who follow him or are just NBA fans. But yet, last night in Miami, James found yet another way to add to his lore. He scored a franchise-record 61 points in Miami’s rout of Charlotte, nailing eight 3-pointers and fashioning a night of scoring wonder that harkened back to his days as a Cleveland Cavalier. Our Sekou Smith excellently details how James’ monster night has added a new chapter to a history that is already plenty robust:
What do you do for an encore of one of the greatest months in NBA history? When you’re LeBron James you turn in one of the greatest nights of your storied career.The Heat star had a February for the ages, becoming the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2003 to average 30 or more points and eight or more rebounds while shooting better than 57 percent from the field for an entire calendar month (a minimum of five games played). Toss in LeBron’s seven assists a game in February and only Wilt Chamberlain, in February of 1966 has had a wicked stretch of that sort.
That’s why LeBron going for a career-high 61 points in the Heat’s 124-107 home win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday ranks right up there among his greatest performances ever. He did it with a mask on, protecting his recently broken nose. He did it with Dwyane Wade resting in street clothes, as part of ongoing maintenance program. And he did it with work from all over the floor, including a career-high tying eight made 3-pointers.
He needed just 33 shots, 22 makes, to notch the 10th game of 50 or more points of his career and his first outing of 60 or more. He’s one of just five players to reach the 60-point plateau shooting better than 65 percent since the 1985-86 season — joining Carmelo Anthony from earlier this season, Shaq in 2000 and Tom Chambers and Karl Malone (both in 1990) as the only players to accomplish that feat.
How many other guys can get 60-plus points without it becoming an absolute hysterical exercise from one basket to the next? If you watch the highlights, it looks just like any other night from LeBron … save, of course, for the 3-point storm he rained down on the Bobcats.
No. 2: Nash likely done for season — Recurring injuries to the roster have sapped any overall sense of hope the Los Angeles Lakers might have had for 2013-14. On the top of that list of injuries has been point guard Steve Nash, who has played in just 10 games this season. He’s unlikely to be back in the lineup before the end of this campaign, writes ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin:
Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni thinks we’ve seen the last of Steve Nash on the court for the 2013-14 season. Does that mean Nash has played the last basketball of his brilliant 18-year NBA career?”I doubt it,” D’Antoni said after the Lakers’ shootaround Monday when asked if Nash would play again this season with 23 games remaining, starting with the Trail Blazers on Monday night. “I don’t think so. What’s the end game? We’ve talked about it. He’s not completely healthy. We have 23 games left. We’re not going to make the playoffs. So what’s his objective into taking minutes away from the young guys that we’re trying to develop? That’s kind of the theme that we’re talking about.”
Nash was noncommittal about his chances of playing again this season.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I couldn’t really make a prediction. If I get the chance, it would be great.”
Nash has missed the Lakers’ last seven games after returning from nerve root irritation to play a four-game stint in early February. During his short-lived comeback, he collided with Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich, with the point of impact occurring in nearly the same spot on his left leg where he suffered a fracture last season.
“That knee to [his leg], that was crazy,” Nash said. “It just flared everything up. But it’s subsiding, and I’m kind of working through it and coming back to where I was.”
Nash looked like his old self in a 112-98 win against the Philadelphia 76ers in a game played on his 40th birthday, racking up 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting with five assists and four rebounds.
“You look at an 18-year career and, like, one game against Philly [should not matter],” Nash said, “but it meant so much to me just to say, ‘OK, I showed I can do it still.’ Can I sustain it? That’s the next step, and I haven’t been able to prove that yet.”
Nash has one year remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.7 million. Under the collective bargaining agreement, L.A. could waive Nash via the stretch provision before the start of training camp and have one-third of the $9.7 million owed to him (approximately $3.2 million) counted against the salary cap for the next three seasons.
Nash commented on the possibility of being a stretch provision candidate in the second episode of his documentary series “The Finish Line” on ESPN.com’s Grantland.
“I’d imagine that’s the outcome,” Nash tells his agent, Bill Duffy, in the documentary, believing he will be waived.
Nash said Monday that the stretch provision was a key motivator in him coming back in February after being sidelined since Nov. 10 because of back, neck and hamstring discomfort because he did not know if this would be the last time he would get a chance to play professional basketball.
“The reality that next year’s not guaranteed made me realize that I had to take more risks with my training and try to get back on the court,” Nash said. “When you’re looking at potentially the last few months of your career, I didn’t want to just let that slide by without getting back on the court.”
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters shortly after the trade deadline two weeks ago that Nash’s future will be in the point guard’s hands.
“It’s really his decision,” Kupchak said. “He’s under contract to play basketball next year. There’s a lot of moving pieces in something like this. For us to sit down and influence one way or the other is not ethical.”
No. 3: Ilgauskas’ jersey retirement may have special guest — Former All-Star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas spent 12 of his 13 NBA seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and, upon his retirement from the NBA after the 2010-11 season, stands among Cleveland’s all-time leaders in points, games played, rebounds, blocks and more. His No. 11 jersey is set to be retired by the team on Saturday and one of his famous former teammates — LeBron James — says he’d like to attend Ilgauskas’ ceremony if possible:
LeBron James is considering a return to Cleveland. Well, for one night, anyway.James has been asked to attend Saturday night’s Cavaliers jersey retirement ceremony for his former teammate and longtime friend Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who now works for the organization.James and Ilgauskas were teammates in both Cleveland and Miami.The timing works for James, at least with regard to the Heat schedule. Miami is at San Antonio on Thursday, is scheduled to be off Friday and then hold a practice in Chicago on Saturday afternoon in advance of its Sunday afternoon game there against the Bulls.
That would afford James plenty of time to make the short flight to Cleveland for Ilgauskas’ big night.
“I want to be there, but we’ll see. I’m not sure just yet,” James said. “But I think it’s going to be a great day for my friend, a real dear friend of mine. And I’m excited for him.”
James spent the first seven seasons of his career in Cleveland, and his trips there with the Heat have been highly anticipated by Cavs fans ever since. The venom many felt over his departure for Miami seems to have tapered considerably since the summer of 2010 – even a smattering of cheers have been heard at some recent Miami-Cleveland games – but still his presence at such an event could potentially overshadow the guest of honor.
James said if he goes, he hopes all the attention remains where it should be, on Ilgauskas.
“I hope it doesn’t, if I’m able to make it,” James said when asked if he was worried that his presence would overshadow the former center. “I hope it doesn’t. It’s not my day, it’s not about me. It’s about Z. But it wouldn’t matter to me. Obviously I’m there for a dear friend, to be able to support him, if I’m able to make it, and that’s the main thing.”
No. 4: Familiar faces from past may try to help Bucks’ future — The Milwaukee Bucks have been in town since the 1968-69 season and have an NBA title, multiple division championship banners and a storied legacy of legendary players to show for their time in the league. But the Bucks are dealing with an uncertain future of sorts as they search for funding and support for a new arena to replace the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center. Team owner Herb Kohl remains steadfast in keeping the team in town and is only interested in selling it to a buyer who would be committed likewise. Two names from the Bucks’ past, players Junior Bridgeman and NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, may be among those interested in getting in on owning the team, writes our own Steve Aschburner:
First it was Junior Bridgeman, a Bucks alumnus who dropped by Milwaukee over the weekend and fueled speculation that he might buy a chunk of the franchise from owner Herb Kohl to keep it in town.
Now it’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, talking in more general terms about his interest in NBA ownership but doing so on the day he’s back in Milwaukee, too.
Abdul-Jabbar, the Bucks’ first and greatest superstar, acknowledged to the Milwaukee Business Journal on Monday that he hasn’t talked with Kohl about investing in the Bucks.
It also sounded as if his commitment — whenever, wherever and if ever — would have more to do with reputation and perhaps sweat equity than the deep pockets Bridgeman can bring to any deal. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387 points) and six-time champion talked with the Business Journal’sRich Kirchen more about his fit as a minority NBA owner than about securing the Bucks in the city he left after six seasons.
Abdul-Jabbar was in Milwaukee on Monday to promote his role in a new Wisconsin Department of Tourism ad campaign that teams him with “Airplane!” co-star Robert Hays and directors David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams. In the retro commercial, Abdul-Jabbar reprises his role as pilot “Roger Murdock,” with he and Hays’ character marveling at Wisconsin scenery from their cockpit view.
Part of the joke is Abdul-Jabbar’s mock second-guessing of his decision after six seasons to leave Milwaukee in 1975, when he pressured the Bucks into trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers. He won five more championship rings by teaming up with Pat Riley, Magic Johnson and the rest of the “Showtime” Lakers, but the Bucks haven’t returned to The Finals since winning the title in 1970-71 with a team featuring NBA legend Oscar Robertson and a young Abdul-Jabbar.
So it rang a little hollow when the Hall of Fame center spoke with Kirchen about the challenge faced by Kohl to build and maintain a winner in a small market.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tayshaun Prince had a bit of a throwback performance in the Grizzlies win in D.C. last night … Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova got off the schnide a bit with his 31-point game against the Jazz … Kings rookie Ray McCallum draws praise from the coaching staff for his play of late …
ICYMI of the Night: Sit back and enjoy as the Blazers’ Robin Lopez powers down a ferocious jam over the Lakers’ Robert Sacre …