Posts Tagged ‘Ray Allen’

LeBron, KD Top Early Fan Voting

The first returns of NBA All-Star balloting 2014 are in and to little surprise, Miami’s reigning MVP and the Finals MVP, LeBron James, is the overall leader with 609,336 votes. West rival Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder is close behind with 607,407.

And if there was any question just how beloved Kobe Bryant remains throughout the world, the 35-year-old coming off Achilles surgery (and back for just two games prior to the release of the first balloting) is the leader in the West backcourt with 501,215 votes. His Los Angeles neighbor, Chris Paul of the Clippers, is second with 393,313.

All-Star weekend returns to New Orleans with the game on Feb. 16 at New Orleans Arena.

In a bit of a strange twist, the 6-foot-9 James could essentially be the Eastern Conference’s starting center. He, along with New York’s Carmelo Anthony (424,211) and Indiana’s Paul George (489,335), are the East’s top vote-getters for the frontcourt. All three are essentially small forwards. Last year, the NBA did away with selecting a true center and designated players as simply “backcourt” and frontcourt.”

Indiana’s Roy Hibbert leads all true centers in East voting and is fourth overall among frontcourt players with 208,369. Brooklyn’s Kevin Garnett, who technically started at center for the East last season as a member of the Boston Celtics, sits sixth with 102,825.

The East backcourt is headlined by Miami’s Dwyane Wade (396,279) and Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving (365,712), who made his All-Star debut last year. Chicago’s Derrick Rose, who missed last season’s game due to an ACL injury, is third in fan-voting. He is again sidelined by another knee injury. Washington’s John Wall, Miami’s Ray Allen and Boston’s Rajon Rondo, who is still recovering from ACL surgery, and Brooklyn’s Deron Williams round out the top seven.

The West’s frontcourt will likely have a true center starting for a second consecutive year under the new rules as Houston’s Dwight Howard is second in fan voting behind Durant. Howard started last year’s game in Houston as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The third starting spot will be an interesting race to watch. Clippers forward Blake Griffin has it with 292,925 votes, 17,149 more than Minnesota’s Kevin Love. San Antonio’s Tim Duncan is fifth and the hometown kid, the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, is a distant sixth.

Behind Bryant and Paul in the backcourt is Golden State’s Stephen Curry (327,449), who received the most attention last year as a snub, followed by Houston’s Jeremy Lin and James Harden.

Blogtable: The Super-est Sub

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Big Apple busts | First off your bench | Blazers-Pacers


Ray Allen of the Miami Heat

Ray Allen of the Miami Heat (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

You have a solid, balanced starting five. Who is the one reserve you want first off your bench?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comJamal Crawford. Isaiah Thomas is bringing scoring so far off Sacramento’s bench but I’d like a bigger sample size and, speaking of size, a bigger player (he’s 5-foot-9). I’m assuming Ryan Anderson will be racking up starts in Anthony Davis‘ broken-hand absence in New Orleans. I’m partial to game-changing big men off the bench, such as Denver’s Timofey Mozgov and Chicago’s Taj Gibson. But of the 100 or so true “super subs” (at least a dozen appearances, four starts or fewer) so far this season, Crawford remains the gold standard. At 16.0 ppg, 38,6 3FG% and 26.9 mpg, this is his side of the street – other guys are just working it.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You said I already have a solid, balanced starting five. So I’ll take Ryan Anderson off the bench filling up the hoop with all those 3s. That’s a valuable wild card.

Jamal Crawford

Jamal Crawford
(Noah Graham/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comJamal Crawford. Instant offense. The guy averages 16.0 ppg in 26.9 mpg. He’s devastating beyond the arc, can break ankles and can dish it, too. What else is there?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: If I don’t have any obvious glaring holes in the opening lineup that create an obvious need – scoring, rebounding, playmaking, etc. – I want someone who can play multiple positions. To be able to plug my top reserve into two spots, depending what is needed at the moment, is an obvious advantage. Wanting versatility and someone who can make a quick impact brings me to Jamal Crawford. A former starter at the point, a former starter at shooting guard, a current scoring threat.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Ideally, I’d like a guy who can shoot and play defense. But I can’t find a bench guy out there who does both at an above-average level. So give me Ryan Anderson, an elite shooter who will complement the playmakers in my starting lineup. He’s not a good defender, but he can rebound. Depending on the exact makeup of my starting lineup, I’d also consider Omer Asik for rim protection.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comWow. Great question. And with the entire league to choose from, that would require me to know exactly what my starting five looked like and what sort of reserve help I needed (scorer/floor spacer, defender/rim protector, rebounding specialist, etc.). Whoever the guy is, I need him to be a game changer who has the experience and savvy to aid my team in whatever capacity is asked of him. I need a guy like Ray Allen, who even at this stage of his career can still work at a high level and in clutch situations (see his work in The Finals last season). If my starting five is as solid and balanced as described, I’d have the luxury of deploying a specialist and floor spacer like Allen into my lineup as a sixth man without worry that he’s not a great defender and doesn’t have the greatest size or range to work at several different positions. But I’d take solace in the fact that he’s arguably the greatest shooter the game has seen and has championship pedigree oozing out of his pores. There are plenty of guys who are younger and could probably do more on both ends. But when I needed that clutch corner 3, well …

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog:  Elton Brand. I know he’s kind of toiling in obscurity with the Hawks this season, but whenever I see the Hawks play I’m struck by Brand’s versatility and professionalism. It’s hard enough to find quality bigs in the NBA, but to have a guy who can play the 4 or 5, who is smart enough to be physical without immediately fouling out, is a bit of a luxury. Also, Brand would be fun to have around just to explain technology to him.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: That seems opportunistic since I just posted a Sixth Man of the Year ranking on NBA Brasil! Still, even though I have Isaiah Thomas as the best reserve so far and Manu Ginobili isn’t even in the top 10 for this season, I’m always picking Ginobili when you ask me this question. Ginobili was a borderline franchise player when he got to the NBA, and even as he’s gotten older and injuries have slowed him, he still has such a great basketball IQ that he makes the game easier for everybody. He’s not as fast as he used to be, but still hustles on defense and gives you his best. And even though he looked like he was done for much of last season’s playoffs, he’s been pretty good so far this season with the Spurs.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Jamal Crawford deserved to win the Sixth Man Award last year and he sure is a contender this season as well. I know there is a lot of buzz about Nick Young, Mo Williams, Nate Robinson, but Crawford is averaging 16.0 PPG while playing on a Clippers team that has scorers all-round. Crawford is my man.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: I like the way Taj Gibson has been playing for the Bulls lately. He is a really solid big man off the bench. He defends well, grabs boards and scores in an efficient manner. He knows his role and plays within his limitations. But Jeremy Lin when healthy is a great option as a sixth man because he can really run a team on offense — if he can improve on his defense he will be the perfect player off the bench for the Rockets.

O’Neal, Warriors Need Each Other

Six-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal is looking to cap off his stellar career with a ring.

Six-time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal is looking to cap off his stellar career with a ring in Oakland.

DALLAS – Jermaine O’Neal has in motion multiple business ventures ranging from technology to restaurants to real estate. A “retirement house” — his words — under construction in an upscale suburb northwest of Dallas is less than a month away from completion. His wife, 7-year-old son and a 14-year-old, nationally ranked volleyball-playing daughter are already settled in their strategically chosen retirement city.

O’Neal, 35, has spent the past six years meticulously planning each detail of his family’s approaching future together beyond basketball.

“Sometimes as a black athlete we get judged by what we can do with our feet and our hands and not enough of what we can do with our minds,” O’Neal said. “I want to show people just how successful I can be away from basketball.”

Still, one nagging detail hovers over an NBA career that started in 1996. O’Neal sought out the team for what is likely his final season as thoughtfully as he went about setting up the next chapter for his life. The Golden State Warriors, a young team bursting with talent and expectation, seemed the logical landing spot for a wise, grizzled veteran to share battle stories and hunt down team glory one last time.

In this respect, O’Neal needs the Warriors right now as much as they just might need him.

“He’s a guy we went and got for that reason,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.

“I don’t have very many regrets because the NBA has been a life tool for me in many different ways, but one thing I do regret, and I tell these guys a lot, is not respecting the moment,” O’Neal told NBA.com last week during the stop in Dallas. “The moment is when you get an opportunity to be a great team, have a chance at doing something that’s extremely special, that’s very difficult to do. Not capturing that moment and doing what’s necessary to seize that ability, that championship smell and everything, thinking that you’re going to have next year and the year after and the year after; that next year may never come.

“Here I am in my 18th season still looking for that moment.”


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal scores on a driving layup vs. the Pelicans

O’Neal, averaging 6.5 ppg and 4.6 rpg in 18.8 mpg backing up starting center Andrew Bogut, reflects on the nonsensical twist his greatest shot at a title with the the Indiana Pacers took as if it were yesterday.

“We were young and we were built to be good for a very long time. You couldn’t have told me at any point that we weren’t going to be able to compete, and then the brawl happened (at Detroit in 2004), I got hurt and then it was all downhill after that,” O’Neal said. “As a player you respect every player that wins a championship, but you envy it sometimes because you know the time you put in, you know the heartache, the blood, sweat and tears you put in over many, many years and you haven’t got the opportunity to taste that champagne, feel the emotions of winning it, having the tears of joy.

“That’s one thing that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Warriors second-year forward Draymond Green figures he was six or seven years old when he first remembered watching a young O’Neal play for the Portland Trail Blazers. Growing up in Michigan, Green watched O’Neal dominate in the Eastern Conference with the Pacers. From 2001-07, the 6-foot-11, six-time All-Star recorded six consecutive seasons of 19-plus points, eight-plus rebounds and at least two blocks. In the first three he averaged a double-double.

O’Neal is one of five first-round picks from the ’96 Draft still going: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and Derek Fisher. Warriors forward David Lee laughed as he suggested that George Mikan was also in that class. And before Green could answer the question about the first time he recalled seeing O’Neal play, Lee butted in: “I was in my crib” — no slang intended.

That’s OK because O’Neal not only accepts the role of wise, old veteran, he relishes it. He’s been exceptionally vocal in the locker room recently as an already wounded team lost defensive ace Andre Iguodala to a hamstring injury.  Adversity has come early in a season that, at 10-8, hasn’t followed a championship script.

“I keep telling the guys these are the things that build the character of a team,” O’Neal said. “You go through the trials and tribulations to start the season and you learn how to depend on your team rather than depend on just two or three guys. We don’t have any conference finals, NBA Finals experience outside of me, so it’s my job to give these guys the stories and sometimes the hard love of what it takes to get to that level because it’s a very difficult thing. And they listen. This is a situation where everybody really likes each other. I was kind of blown away when I got here just how good these young guys were and what the limits were for our team, and the sky’s the limit for our team.”

Following last Friday’s loss at Dallas, O’Neal sat at his locker with ice bags wrapped around both knees and his right thigh. He flexed a sore wrist. All-in-all though, the oft-injured center who recently missed five games with a knee bruise and a groin strain, said he’s feeling pretty good.

He nearly retired two seasons ago. His knees ached so badly he played in just 49 games in two seasons for the Celtics. With two surgeries already on his left knee, O’Neal said he was on the verge of retirement. That’s when Kobe raved to him about the treatments he’s received in Germany, and urged him to try the Regenokine therapy that has yet to be approved by the FDA. O’Neal has gone to Germany the last two summers and swears by the treatment, resuming workouts he said he abandoned many years ago.

Still, this is it O’Neal truly believes. His business ventures are in place. The house is almost finished. His family is entrenched in the Southlake, Texas community, and is ready for him to become a permanent fixture in their lives.

“I tell these guys all the time that I’m one of the rare players that sat on probably every aspect of professional basketball, all the good, all the bad,” O’Neal said. “You look at one point we were rolling — shoe deals, commercials, max deals, whatever it was — to being broken down physically and mentally with injuries; to being rolling with a team, being one of the best teams in the league to basically being devastated by the brawl.”

So now here he sits, knowing this is very likely one-and-done, knocking on wood, telling his stories and hoping for the best.

“If I can get an opportunity to play for that championship,” O’Neal said, “it would almost be storybook-like.”


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal explains why he signed with the Warriors

13 NBA Reasons To Be Thankful


VIDEO: NBA players give thanks for their communities and more

Before we dig into the turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie, here’s a baker’s dozen things on the NBA plate to appreciate on Thanksgiving Day:

Kobe Bryant: We get two more years — at least — of the most ruthless, relentless, never-show-a-weakness competitor the league and maybe pro sports has seen since Michael Jordan was chewing up the scenery and opponents in Chicago. In the wake of his signing a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension, we also got a slew of critiques about impact on the salary cap and physical limits of your average 35-year-old body that overlook his unquenchable thirst to play, his drive to get back onto the court for the Lakers. Love him or hate him, you’ll miss him when he’s gone.


VIDEO: The Starters talk about Kobe Bryant’s new deal

The Heat Wave: Never mind that the Celtics did it in 2008 with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Celtics did it in 1980 with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, the Celtics did all through the late ‘50s and 1960s with Bill Russell and an entire wing of the Hall of Fame and the Lakers did it with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. The Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami is just what the doctored ordered in the overreactive, hypersensitive age of social media — something to cheer, complain and obsess about. And, oh yeah, they’re damn good.

LeBron James: For all of the disappointment over not getting to the top in Cleveland, bad judgment and bad taste of “The Decision,” he took his talents to South Beach and has delivered on the promise. Would Jordan or Bird or Magic or Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell have stood up to the 24/7 scrutiny under which James has played his entire career? Be thankful you get to see him now, because 20-30 years from now you’ll be bragging to the grandkids that you did.


VIDEO: LeBron James is off to a monster start again this season

Riquickulous: It’s not just a clever TV commercial for Nike. On almost any night he laces up his sneakers, it never gets old to know that the game’s greatest ball handler and top point guard Chris Paul is quite likely to pull off a variation of the “the pull-back-hop-step-under-the-left-leg-behind-the-back-right-hand-two-dribble-half-pokey-crossover-between-two-defenders-drop-step-take-tweet-through-over-the-shoulder-pop-pass-into-the-sidestep-power-jump-stop-double-clutch-offhand-reverse-floater-layin.”

Anybody need me to repeat that?


VIDEO: Chris Paul puts a ridiculous move on the Rockets’ Jeremy Lin

The Spurs Way: They’re the often unseen lining on the inside of an expensive fur coat, the overlooked soles on the bottom of a pair of $1,000 designer shoes. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and all of the stability and professionalism they stand for in San Antonio prove that you don’t have to live in the headlines to be deserving of them.

John, Paul George & Ringo: Because of where they’re from, because of who they are, the Pacers will likely never be known as the Fab Four or Five, even if they’re lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. It’s a team-wide commitment to the task that has the Pacers steely-eyed and focused on the rolling up the best record in the league. But watching the growth and transformation of George from talented rookie into team leader and MVP candidate has been nothing short of breathtaking.


VIDEO: NBA Action takes a closer look at Indiana’s fast start to 2013-14

LaMarcus Aldridge: Another MVP candidate from another team with a geographical handicap that keeps the world of headlines and acclaim from beating a path to his door. The Blazers forward could have become discouraged and looked to bail out of Portland after three straight non-playoff seasons in the prime of his career. Instead he’s doing it all and having his best season in the NBA Go ahead, tell me you saw 13-3 coming.


VIDEO: The Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge has helped Portland start off solid

Gregg Popovich vs. Craig Sager: Those terse, contentious in-game chats on TNT between the acerbic Spurs coach and a guy wearing one of Secretariat’s old stable blankets are some of the most uncomfortable and hilarious bits in the history of television. Other sideline reporters have tried to horn in on the act, but this is Ali-Frazier of the genre.

Russell Westbrook: Yes, he’s wild, restless, unpredictable, flamboyant, stubborn and burn-down-the-house crazy at times on the court. But we watch him with our jaws dropped because of those traits. I know you expected me to say Kevin Durant, and I have nothing but respect for K.D.’s silky smooth, just-go-about-his-business approach to the game. But when it comes to the Thunder, you can’t help but be drawn to the lightning.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook runs wild on the Nuggets in Oklahoma City’s victory

Love Story: Everybody knew he could rebound coming out of UCLA, but not like this. Everybody knew he could shoot and score and pass when he entered the NBA. But not like this. There are still general managers in the league who foolishly label Kevin Love as “unathletic” every year in their annual poll and you have to wonder how they keep their paycheck or any sense of credibility. The Timberwolves power forward is challenging LeBron in the early MVP race with a game that is deliciously well-rounded.


VIDEO: Kevin Love is leading the league in rebounding

Stephen Curry: Slender as a reed and maybe as frail as a snowflake, Curry is delicate yet dangerous, in some ways the 21st century version of George Gervin because he can shoot with such ease and from unexpected angles and barely ever looks like he’s breaking a sweat. It’s his propensity for injuries that makes you want to take in as much as you can see right now, just in case.

Andre Miller: He’s old and slow … and he’s been that way for what seems like decades now. But at 37 and in his 15th season, if you bounced him out of Denver right now and into Chicago, the Bulls would have just the smart, tough point guard they need to stay in the Eastern Conference race. There’s something about watching an experienced, heady veteran surviving and thriving that is satisfying.

Motor City Jerseys: OK, let’s not get carried away and see Kobe wearing “La-La Land,” Dwight Howard “H-Town” or LeBron “South Beach” across his chest. Detroit and the Motor City nickname has history, tradition, staying power. It really means something to a town that has taken its share of lumps and bruises through the years and a franchise with a long-standing championship pedigree. The Pistons in the Motor City jerseys are just, well, cool.

One Team, One Stat: The Heat Were Historically Clutch


VIDEO: Heat excelled in the clutch last season
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From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Miami Heat, who are looking for a third straight championship.

The basics
MIA Rank
W-L 66-16 1
Pace 93.0 23
OffRtg 110.3 1
DefRtg 100.5 7
NetRtg +9.9 2

The stat

1 - Rank of the Heat in both clutch offense and clutch defense last season.

Clutch = Last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less.

The context

Miami is the first team to pull off that feat since we could start tracking clutch stats in 1996-97. And it helped them go 32-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, after going 22-20 in such games in 2010-11 and 18-11 in 2011-12. Since 1996-97, the only team that’s been better in close games was the 2006-07 Mavs, who were 32-6 when the game was within five points in the last five minutes.

The Heat finished second in point differential (which is why there’s still one more team to look at in this series), but finished six games better than the Oklahoma City Thunder, because they were much better than OKC (21-16) in those close games. Even when they were winning 27 straight, Miami had to do a lot of work late. Fourteen of those 27 games were within five points in the last five minutes.

LeBron James led the league with 50 clutch-time assists, 16 more than any other player, which came with only nine clutch-time turnovers. Chris Bosh, meanwhile, shot an incredible 27-for-35 (77.1 percent) on clutch-time field goals, easily the best mark in the league among players who took more than a few shots. Ray Allen tied for the league lead with 15 clutch threes and Dwyane Wade shot a solid 50 percent in the clutch.

Across the league, effective field goal percentage went from 49.6 percent overall to 45.0 percent in the clutch. But Miami’s mark barely dipped from 55.2 percent overall (the best mark in NBA history) to 54.7 percent, a mark which would have ranked fifth all-time.

They also cut down on their turnovers and were a better offensive rebounding team in the clutch. On the other end of the floor, they went from the seventh worst defensive rebounding team overall to the second best defensive rebounding team in the clutch.

It’s good to be great in key moments, and the Heat obviously needed it in the postseason. They were 5-4 in games within five points in the last five minutes in the playoffs, but that, of course, included the last two games of The Finals.

You could certainly argue that building late-game habits and confidence helped the Heat win their second championship. But you could also argue that there’s no way they’re winning 80 percent of their close games again. As important as it is to have the best player in the world and great shooters around him, there’s some randomness to clutch stats.

And not only is that 32-8 mark likely unsustainable, but so might be that all-time best, effective field goal percentage mark of 55.2 percent. And for those two reasons, it’s fair to assume that Miami will take a step back from last year’s 66 wins.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

LeBron: The Evolution Of His Game

Editor’s note: As the NBA embarks this week on a new season, Miami Heat superstar LeBron James stands as the league’s most iconic figure. In Part Two of a three-part series on James and his place in the league, we take a look at how James’ on-court game has changed since he burst onto the scene straight out of high school in 2003 and how his early failures shaped the player he is today. 

In Part One (Sunday), we looked at the people who have helped shape James into an international marketing force and a difference-maker for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. In Part Three (Tuesday), we’ll weigh in on where James stands in the greatest-of-all-time argument.


VIDEO: The LeBron Series — Growing Up

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – May 31, 2007 was the day LeBron James seemingly put it all together. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in Detroit, James scored 29 of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ final 30 points in a double-OT victory that helped the franchise and its star reach The Finals for the first time.

As usual, James was nearly impossible to stop when he got into the paint. And no Piston defender was able to stay in front of him without help. But the difference on that night was that his jumper was falling. There was a ridiculous, pull-up 23-footer from the right wing to tie the scorein the final minute of regulation. There was an even crazier three in front of the Pistons’ bench to tie it with 1:15 to go in the second overtime.

The Pistons — one of the best defensive teams in the league — were helpless.

“It was very Jordanesque,” Detroit’s Chauncey Billups said afterward. “That kid was on fire, it was crazy. He put on an unbelievable display out there. It’s probably the best I have seen against us ever in the playoffs.”

James was 22 at the time. That performance was six years ago. And in the six years since, that basketball prodigy has evolved into a much different and much better player.

The evolution has not been a straight path. While his game has expanded and improved year by year, there have been hiccups along the way. And everything has come under the intense scrutiny that comes with being dubbed as “The Chosen One” in high school.

From star to MVP

With his combination of size, skill and athleticism, James was ready to be a star from the time he was drafted at the age of 18. He lived up to the hype right away, becoming the third rookie in NBA history — Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan were the first two — to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. And he did it with little variety in his game.

That night in Detroit, at the end of his fourth season in the league, all of James’ offense in the final 16 minutes originated from the top of the key. There was a single give-and-go through Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the high post, but everything else was James dribbling on the perimeter and either getting to the basket or pulling up for a jumper. Only one of his 18 baskets in that game came off an assist.

James’ shooting and efficiency
Season EFG% TS%
2003-04 43.8% 48.8%
2004-05 50.4% 55.4%
2005-06 51.5% 56.8%
2006-07 50.7% 55.2%
2007-08 51.8% 56.8%
2008-09 53.0% 59.1%
2009-10 54.5% 60.4%
2010-11 54.1% 59.4%
2011-12 55.4% 60.5%
2012-13 60.3% 64.0%
Career 52.4% 57.5%
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM))/FGA
TS% = PTS/(2*(FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

That was the kind of player he was. He attacked from the outside in.

“We tried to post him up at times,” says then Cavs assistant Michael Malone, “and sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn’t.”

For opponents, the No. 1 priority was preventing James from getting into transition. If they could do that, the next step was keeping him out of the paint and making him a jump shooter. From his second year on, he was one of the best finishers in the league, shooting about 70 percent in the restricted area.

That accounts to 1.4 points a shot. Comparatively, his jumpers, even when accounting for the extra point he got when he made a three, were worth just 0.8 points. So defenders sagged off of him, went under the screen, and played the odds. Complicating things for defenders, though, was that he’s been a willing and competent passer since the day he entered the league.

“I tried to make him think,” says Shane Battier of his days guarding a younger James. “If he was instinctual, there’s not much I can do.”

The hiring of Mike Brown as coach in James’ third season helped him become a better defensive player. But though he was unstoppable at times and the most complete player among the league’s top stars, his numbers didn’t change much from his second season through his fifth. It was in his last two years with the Cavs when James really established himself as the best player in the world, becoming a better shooter and more efficient scorer.

He got into the paint more, got to the line more, and his jumper started to improve. And with a better supporting cast for their star, the Cavs jumped from 19th in offensive efficiency (in both 2006-07 and ’07-08) to fourth (in both ’08-09 and ’09-10). They held the league’s best record each year and James earned his first two MVP awards.


VIDEO: James claims MVP in 2009-10

Expanding his game in Miami


VIDEO: LeBron makes his famous ‘Decision’

James’ move to South Florida not only gave him two All-Star teammates but a coach who would finally get him to step out of his comfort zone. In that first season in Miami, coach Erik Spoelstra used pie charts to show James and Dwyane Wade that they needed to add more variety to their offense.

James in the post, last 5 seasons
Season Reg. season Playoffs
2008-09 5.3% 6.8%
2009-10 6.4% 6.3%
2010-11 8.0% 8.3%
2011-12 13.9% 15.3%
2012-13 11.9% 16.0%
% of total possessions, according to
Synergy Sports Technology

Though Wade clearly had to make bigger sacrifices, James saw his usage rate go down. He learned to play off the ball a little and even dabbled with a post game. His standard field goal percentage hit a career high of 51 percent in 2010-11, though his effective field goal percentage and efficiency took a dip because he shot fewer free throws and 3-pointers.

It was Season 2 in Miami that brought the biggest change in James’ game and, ultimately, his first championship.

“When we lost to Dallas,” Spoelstra says, “he put in a lot of time that summer, really to help us establish a back-to-the-basket post-up game.”

James began to work out of the post a lot more than he ever had and reduced his 3-point attempts. In The Finals against Oklahoma City, he shot just 7-for-38 from outside the paint, but he destroyed the Thunder inside.

And it was in that playoff run that Spoelstra and the Heat turned to the idea of positionless basketball. Thanks in part to an injury to Chris Bosh, they used more one-big lineups, with James essentially playing both power forward and point guard at the same time.

Last season, with Ray Allen adding more shooting to the rotation, the Heat assumed a full-time identity.

“Their situation has evolved where he has become the lead guy,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle says of James. “[In 2011], they didn’t have all that stuff sorted out and so we took advantage of that, and they’ve adjusted brilliantly since.”

James is the primary attacker, of course, but he has also become a pretty good shooter. After making fewer than 33 percent of his 3-pointers in his first eight seasons, he shot 36.2 percent from beyond the arc in 2011-12 and then 40.6 percent last season.

“The scouting report used to be he would lose faith in his jumper,” Battier says. “That’s no longer the case. That’s the biggest difference, but that’s a huge difference. It changes the way you have to guard him.”

“That doesn’t happen by accident,” adds Spoelstra. “That doesn’t happen by you getting your reps in games. That was a lot of repetitions before and after practice, and in sessions on his own.”

With his own shooting improvements and all the space he was creating for his teammates, the Heat became the best shooting team in NBA history last season, registering an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent.

The priorities when defending James are basically the same as they always have been. Defenders still don’t want to see him in the open court, and they still need to keep him out of the paint. According to SportVU data, the Heat scored 1.67 points per James drive* last season. The league averaged just 1.03 points per possession. (*Drive = Any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the basket and is dribbled within 10 feet of the basket.)

James can now attack opponents from the inside out, using his refined post game to bully himself to the rim or draw extra defenders and create open looks for his teammates. And when he does have the ball on the perimeter, he’s better able to punish defenses for sagging off.

“Those became pivotal shots in the San Antonio series,” Spoelstra says. “It was the only thing they would give us.”

The Spurs’ strategy of making James shoot from mid-range worked for much of the 2013 Finals. But the new James eventually came through, appropriately sealing Game 7 with a 19-foot jumper.

“I looked at all my regular season stats, all my playoff stats, and I was one of the best mid-range shooters in the game,” he said afterward. “I just told myself, ‘Don’t abandon what you’ve done all year. Don’t abandon now because they’re going under.’

” ‘Everything you’ve worked on, the repetition, the practices, the off-season training, no matter how big the stakes are, no matter what’s on the line, just go with it.’ And I was able to do that.”


VIDEO: LeBron , Heat hot early in Game 6 of 2013 Finals

Closing the deal

Improved post game? Championship No. 1.

Improved jumper? Championship No. 2.

Of course, James’ journey to the top of the mountain was not quite that simple, because he really was good enough to win championships in 2010 and 2011.

In his final year in Cleveland, the Cavs held a 2-1 series lead over the Celtics in the conference finals. But they blew it, with James shooting 18-for-53 (34 percent) over the last three games. In Game 5, his final home game in Cleveland, he shot 3-for-14 and acted like he’d much rather be somewhere else in the second half. Even if many doubted his championship mettle, that game was stunning.

In his first year in Miami, the killer instinct was there through the first three rounds, as James made several huge plays late in games against both the Celtics and Bulls. But then something changed in The Finals against Dallas.

He didn’t play terribly, but he played passively, more like a ball-distributing point guard than a 6-foot-8 freak of nature with the ability to take over games. In a six-game series, he got to the free-throw line a total of 20 times. Many wondered if he would forever be known as a superstar who couldn’t close the deal.

“I definitely didn’t play up to the potential I knew I was capable of playing at,” James said of the Dallas series in a recent interview with ESPN the Magazine’s Chris Broussard. “So you could make any assessment — I froze, I didn’t show up, I was late for my own funeral. You can make your own assessment. I can’t argue with nothing.”

Less than a year later, James was faced with another moment of truth, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals in Boston with the Celtics leading the series 3-2. That night, five years after that memorable game in Detroit, he had another breakthrough.

There were no signs of passivity as James racked up 45 points (on 19-for-26 shooting), 15 rebounds and five assists, sending the series back to Miami.

That was the night things changed, perhaps forever. Six games later, LeBron James had his first championship.

What was the difference between that game in Boston and some of the others that came before it? Only James really knows.

“The best thing that happened to me last year was us losing The Finals and me playing the way I played,” he said the night he won his first title, “It humbled me. I knew what it was going to have to take, and I was going to have to change as a basketball player, and I was going to have to change as a person to get what I wanted.”

The development of his  game, the development of the Heat’s system and the shedding of whatever mental roadblock was holding him back in 2010 and 2011 all contributed to James going from the best player in the world to NBA champion.

Staying at the mountaintop won’t be much different from getting there. Every season is a new journey, and James almost took a step backward this past June. If Kawhi Leonard didn’t miss a free throw in a critical and series-changing Game 6 of The Finals, if Bosh didn’t get a key rebound, or if Allen didn’t hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history, the scrutiny would have been right back on James for the two ugly turnovers he committed in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

That’s sports. And that scrutiny is what comes with having the kind of talent that no one has ever seen before.

Now, we see what comes next.

“I want to be the greatest of all-time,” James said as he began his quest for championship No. 3. “I’m far away from it. But I see the light.”


VIDEO: James fuels Heat’s back-to-back title run

Bad Blood Boiling Up Between Nets, Heat

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Just because their addresses have changed doesn’t mean the ill will Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (and vice versa) has subsided.

The wicked rivalry between four of the most intense competitors in the NBA started when James was in Cleveland and Garnett and Pierce were in Boston. It was stoked even more when James joined Wade in Miami and continues to this day, with Garnett and Pierce now in Brooklyn.

When LeBron jumped to the defense of his Heat teammate (and former KG-and-Pierce running mate) Ray Allen the other day, saying KG and Pierce owed Allen an apology for leaving Boston for Miami the way he did via free agency in the summer of 2012, you knew Garnett would have a retort.

“Tell LeBron to worry about Miami. It has nothing to do with Celtic business,” Garnett told ESPNNewYork.com’s Mike Mazzeo when asked about any apology being owed to Allen.

James called the ex-Celtics hypocrites for ripping Allen a year before the Big 3 core was torn apart anyway. Garnett and Pierce were traded to Brooklyn after Doc Rivers departed as coach for a front office/coaching gig with the Los Angeles Clippers.

“I think the first thing I thought was, ‘Wow, Ray got killed for leaving Boston, and now these guys are leaving Boston,’” James told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. “I think it’s OK; I didn’t mind it. But there were a couple guys who basically [expletive] on Ray for leaving, and now they’re leaving.

“That’s the nature of our business, man. I don’t know what Boston was going through at the end of the day. I know Ray had to make the best decision for him and his family and his career. Doc [Rivers, former Celtics coach], KG and Paul did that as well. You can’t criticize someone who does something that’s best for their family.”

The circumstances in each case were obviously different. Garnett and Pierce were traded away in a franchise-altering summer for the Celtics, who had clearly decided that the Big 3 era was over and that they had to move on. But I can see where LeBron is coming from in regards to the way Allen was treated. Garnett was particularly brutal, turning his back on Allen instantly.

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Allen handled the situation with the class you’d expect from one of the league’s true gentlemen. He didn’t react in kind. And when he helped the Heat win a championship in June, he showed love for his current Heat teammates without rubbing it in the face of his old Boston teammates who had disrespected him with their words and actions last season.

The rhetoric cranked up again earlier this week, though, with both James and Wade weighing in on the new-look Nets prior to Thursday night’s preseason matchup in Brooklyn:

“We all know the world, how it works,” Wade said. “The biggest thing is Ray is happy [in Miami]. If they’re happy in Brooklyn, then let them be happy.

“People say things about people when they do something when they themselves would do the same thing. It’s about putting yourself in the best situation, and at the end of the day, we all do that. You can’t really say anything about someone that does it for themselves.”

All this does is set up what should be the continuation of a fantastic rivalry between some of the league’s best players. This rivalry that could spread not only throughout this regular season, but also into the playoffs — should the Heat and Nets stumble into each other come April or May.

The Nets’ Nov. 1 regular-season home opener is as good a place as any to start.

“They have champions on their team, they have gold medalists on their team, they have guys who have been through a lot,” James said. “It should be fun playing against them throughout the regular season and possibly in the playoffs.”


Healthy Wade Key To Heat’s Three-Peat





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The NBA calendar waits for no man, not even one of the game’s all-time greats.

You are either ready for the grind when the curtain comes up on the 2013-14 NBA season or you are not. The 82-game gauntlet that awaits has no mercy.

That’s why it should be comforting news to Miami Heat fans that Dwyane Wade made his way back to the gym this weekend after a two-month layoff to rest the sore knees that have come to define this stage of his stellar career. Wade hasn’t been on the floor since the Heat’s Game 7 win over the San Antonio Spurs in The Finals.

Wade opted for OssaTron Shock treatments for the tendinitis in both knees rather than undergo major surgery, a move that Wade and the Heat have to believe was the best move for a player nearing his 32nd birthday and with a decade’s worth of wear and tear on his body. As important as LeBron James is to the Heat’s bottom line and as invaluable as Chris Bosh might be to what goes on in Miami, a healthy Wade is the key to the Heat’s three-peat hopes.

They won last season with Wade turning in a career-low 15.9 points per game in the postseason. He came alive when the Heat needed him most during the The Finals. But for long stretches throughout the postseason, starting in the first round against Milwaukee, he just didn’t look like himself. The burst and above-the-rim ability that had become his trademark vanished as he battled bone bruises in both knees.

He missed just one game in the postseason, but he was missing in action during plenty of others. Wade isn’t the first superstar to hit his 30s and find his body playing tricks on him. Kobe Bryant has had to deal with his fair share of knee issues, a problem he handled by opting for a blood-spinning procedure in Germany that saw other stars in the NBA and other sports follow after seeing Bryant’s physical resurgence post-procedure.

Wade made a public promise at his fantasy camp Friday to be ready to go when the Heat start training camp.

“I’ll be coming in prepared and ready, but I won’t be ready for opening night,” Wade told reporters. “I’ll be ready for opening night when opening night gets here. I have a good amount of time.”

Time is of the essence for the Heat. Their championship clock is far from over, but it’s ticking towards what could be a crossroads of sorts in the free-agent summer of 2014. Say Wade doesn’t make it through the 2013-14 campaign healthy and the Heat are unable to complete that Three-Peat, things could change dramatically with James, Bosh, the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony and several other high-profile starts all swimming in those free-agent waters.

But if Wade’s shock treatments work and he has the good fortune of avoiding all of the bumps and bruises that have slowed him down recently, the Heat will no doubt ride through the regular season as the favorites to win it all again. And a third straight title and fourth straight Finals appearance will make it tough for anyone to walk away from.

“The challengers are lining up,” said an Eastern Conference executive from a team outside of that group of contenders. “We all know how hard it is to get back on that horse and ride it to The Finals for  third straight year. Everybody understands what kind of toll that takes on the guys who are the true superstars in those situations. If DWade is right and healthy, it’s hard to see anyone knocking them off the top of that mountain. It’s not impossible by any stretch, because Indiana was right there last season. But it is a tall order and nearly impossible with LeBron and healthy Wade doing what they do.”

Wade acknowledged the clear and present danger teams like the Pacers, Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets present to the Heat’s three-peat plans. It doesn’t take a pair of BluBlockers to see that the rest of the East is working tirelessly to catch up to the Heat. And that doesn’t even bring the Western Conference challengers into the equation, as he pointed out to Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com’s Heat Index:

“The East obviously has gotten stronger,” Wade said. “Brooklyn has done something unprecedented — to put five All-Star players on the floor at one time. Not that many people have pulled it off, especially with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. When you think of them, you think of Boston. To be able to take them from there and bring them to their team and bring something to their team that they were missing, in the sense of winning and that toughness.”

Wade said that on paper this might be the most competition he’s ever faced in the Eastern Conference.

“This is going to be a tough year for us,” Wade said about the Heat’s pursuit of a three-peat. “We’re walking into uncharted waters. Right now, we’re the standard team because we’ve been the champions the last two years, so other teams are putting teams together to stop that.”

Wade is right, it’s going to be an extremely difficult task trying to three-peat, even if they get all of the injury breaks they didn’t get last season.

The Heat’s mix has changed a bit, too. Mike Miller is gone. Greg Oden has joined them. Ray Allen and Chris “Birdman” Andersen came back. Bosh will no doubt come back with something to prove after taking his share of lumps on the court and from those of us who observe and report on these things.

What hasn’t changed is the formula the Heat need to achieve their goals. The dynamic duo of LeBron and Wade, when healthy, remains the most powerful force in basketball.

And nothing, not even the NBA calendar, can change that!



So Stevenson Wants To Play With LeBron?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It would be the ultimate form of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Only not as you think.

Remember, it was the pitbull-defense of DeShawn Stevenson who helped the Dallas Mavericks throw a wet blanket over a fourth-quarter-shrinking LeBron James. Those 2011 Mavs still stand as the first and only team to beat LeBron’s Heat in the playoffs.

It was also the last time Stevenson played an integral role in a team’s success. He hit key 3-pointers throughout the title run, but left Dallas a bumbling mess after the championship and headed to the Nets as a free agent before being traded to Atlanta as part of the Joe Johnson deal.

Stevenson, 32, is a free agent again after the Hawks waived him a few days ago, as Stevenson himself let it be known via Twitter:

Stevenson cleared waivers on Sunday and if the above tweet didn’t make it clear where he wants to play a 14th NBA season, in this tweet he actually makes a plea to the team’s best player to get him there:

Hey everybody wants to play with LeBron, including Greg Oden. Shane Battier did. Ray Allen took half the pay to play. Others have said, heck yes, they’d consider the Heat. But Stevenson’s outreach is intriguing (OK, hilarious) on multiple fronts, the least being the Heat’s relative lack of need for him. What’s amazing about the plea to help him get work with the two-time champs is Stevenson’s past loathing of LeBron.

Perhaps you recall this T-shirt Stevenson wore on the Mavs’ way out of Miami the morning after winning the title on the Heat’s home floor?

Of course, Stevenson’s disdain for LeBron goes way back to his days as an antagonist with the Washington Wizards. Back in the good, old days (2008) when the Wizards still actually made the playoffs and when LeBron still played for his hometown Cavaliers.

The best part of this ridiculous little feud between a career role player who started it by calling James “overrated,” is when it really jumped the shark by LeBron saying that responding to a negative comment made by Stevenson would be akin to Jay-Z acknowledging Soulja Boy.

So, of course, Stevenson invited Soulja Boy to Game 3 of their ’08 playoff series, which Soulja accepted. Jay-Z surprisingly countered by quickly recording a little number with lyrics dissing Stevenson and reportedly playing it a hot Washington D.C. night spot.

It is slightly interesting that Stevenson then went on to sign with the Nets, a franchise that boasted a minority owner named Jay-Z until the rapper recently moved into the sports agent arena. So who’s to say that Stevenson now can’t join his former nemesis LeBron in South Beach?

For LeBron, who posterized former Mavs pest Jason Terry after a monster alley-oop slam in Boston last season, surely he’s received hundreds of “LOL” texts on his Galaxy smartphone.

But hey, this is the NBA where amazing happens, like Stevenson wearing 2011 championship bling and not LeBron. And Stevenson should be happy with that because the odds of him joining LeBron in Miami are slightly less than Chris Riley hiring Soulja Boy to play at her husband’s surprise 69th birthday party come March.

2013-14 Milestone Watch

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

The 2013-14 NBA season is less than three months away and excitement levels are already high. LeBron James has his eyes on a third straight championship, Dwight Howard will try to prove doubters wrong, and the Brooklyn Nets aim to make a deep playoff run with their new squad. But for many of the longtime veterans in the league, this upcoming season is a chance for them to further etch their names into the record books.

Here are seven players who have milestones in their sights:

Kobe Bryant – Points, Assists, Free Throws

Kobe Bryant is close to passing Michael Jordan in points.

Kobe Bryant is close to passing Michael Jordan in points.

Bryant will face his biggest challenge this summer as he attempts to successfully rehab from a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered in mid-April. But when he does return, he’ll have multiple milestones in clear sight. The most important milestone for Bryant is points as he needs only 676 points to pass Michael Jordan for third all time. It will take Bryant nearly 300 more games than Jordan played to pass His Airness, but that doesn’t diminish the milestone’s significance.  Bryant also needs 113 assists to become only the 30th player in NBA history to reach 6,000 and 532-free throw attempts to become only the fifth player to attempt at least 10,000 free throws. The other four who’ve done it: Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, and Karl Malone. That’s okay company.

Kevin Garnett – Field Goals, Minutes, Rebounds, Blocks

Kevin Garnett is close to many major milestones.

Kevin Garnett is close to many major milestones.

It’s easy to understand how one of the most dominant players in the league for the past 18 seasons is on the verge of multiple milestones. He needs 363 field goals to pass Moses Malone, George Gervin, Dan Issel, and John Havlicek for 11th all time. After playing 58 minutes next season, he will pass Wilt Chamberlain for sixth all time to join the elite company of Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Jason Kidd, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Then he’ll also need 399 rebounds to reach ninth all time and 30 blocks to reach 2,000 for his career. All four of these milestones are attainable if he stays healthy and soon he’ll be able to add Hall-of-Fame inductee to his list of milestones.

Steve Nash – Assists, Turnovers

Steve Nash is nearing elite company.

Steve Nash is nearing elite company.

The almost 40-year-old Nash is close to two significant milestones for next season. He is only 86 assists away from passing Mark Jackson for third all time and he needs just 90 turnovers to move into 10th all time. The turnover milestone may seem like a bad thing, but it shows its importance when you look at the nine players who will be in front of him: Hakeem Olajuwon, Isiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, Artis Gilmore, Julius Erving, Jason Kidd, John Stockton, Moses Malone, and Karl Malone. It doesn’t get much more elite than that.

Andre Miller – Assists

Andre Miller has quietly neared 8,000 assists.

Andre Miller is quietly near 8,000 assists.

Miller has been one of the best distributors in the league for most of his 14-year career, but his lack of flashiness has caused him to be consistently underrated. However, if he can collect 44 assists next season he will reach 8,000 for his career and join Gary Payton, Isiah Thomas, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson, Jason Kidd, and John Stockton as the only players to reach the milestone.

Ray Allen – 3-Point

Ray Allen is close to another 3-point milestone.

Ray Allen is close to another 3-point milestone.

Unlike all of the other milestones mentioned, Allen has already reached the top of the statistical category and now he’s just extending his lead. It will take a good season for him to make 143 3-pointers, but if he does he will become the first player in NBA history to reach 3,000 3-pointers and it’ll make his record even more difficult to pass.

Paul Pierce – Points

Paul Pierce is nearing a huge scoring milestone.

Paul Pierce is nearing a huge scoring milestone.

Pierce’s first season outside of Boston could be a historic one if he is able to score 979 points to reach 25,000 for his career. Only 21 players in NBA history have reached this mark and Dirk Nowitzki, Garnett, and Bryant are the only active players to get there. It would an incredible accomplishment for Pierce who has faced and conquered many challenges during his 15-year career.

Jason Terry – 3-Point

Jason Terry is close to a historic 3-point mark.

Jason Terry is close to a historic 3-point mark.

Many people fail to notice how prolific Terry’s 3-point shooting has been throughout his career. But with only 78 3-pointers next season he will pass Jason Kidd to become third all time and join the special company of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen. Consistency has been the key for Terry as his rookie year was the only season during his 14-year career in which he shot below 34 percent from 3-point range.