Jared Dudley is backing Anthony Davis to be NBA MVP in the 2020-21 season after securing a new contract with champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

Davis followed superstar team-mate LeBron James this week by agreeing to fresh terms in Los Angeles, the seven-time All Star having signed a five-year deal reportedly worth $190million.

The Lakers won their first championship since 2010 last year in the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort, defeating the Miami Heat 4-2 in the Finals.

Davis averaged 27.7 points in the postseason, placing him seventh in the overall standings and above James and MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Overall, he became the highest-scoring team-mate of James' career, averaging 26.1 points per game in his first year in LA following his trade from the New Orleans Pelicans.

The 27-year-old finished sixth in the voting last season and has never placed higher than third, but team-mate Dudley expects him to be primed to chase personal accolades.

"I'm expecting AD to go for the MVP," the Lakers forward said. "I'm expecting him to set the tone.

"We know [LeBron James], his years playing this league, the accolades he has, but AD doesn't have some of the accolades. He has the talent, he has the determination. He's the future and he's the now."

With Davis, James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tied down to new deals and smart recruitment in the form of Dennis Schroder and former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, the Lakers have enjoyed one of the strongest offseasons.

Markieff Morris summed up the importance of the Lakers' business, saying: "We're led by the best player in the world, and then the second-best player in the world. Or 1A and 1B, however you want to do it."

Kyle Kuzma, whose own future remains uncertain, admits the success of last season has left him eager for more.

"It's a very good time for those guys," said Kuzma, the Lakers' top-scoring player off the bench last season with 11.4 per game. "Both very deserving.

"Obviously, bringing home championship number 17, those guys deserve it. They're helluva players obviously, don't need to keep repeating that. I'm very happy for those guys.

"I think [winning the championship] just puts more confidence under your belt. At the end of the day, you're a winner and that's something that no one can ever take from you. Especially being a part of it, being a key piece, it kind of just motivates you in a different type of light, you know.

"Especially going from you know, let's say you don't make the playoffs and your season ends early and you're motivated because you want to get into the playoffs. It's kind of the same thing winning the championship. You want to win more, you want to win and you just want to be successful and that's what it's brought."

He added on discussions over his own contract: "We've talked. It's obviously just talk between my agent and the organisation, they are working through things. We'll see."

Philadelphia 76ers recruit Dwight Howard believes Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can click like the Los Angeles Lakers' NBA championship-winning duo LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Howard will play in Philadelphia in 2020-21 after teaming up with superstar pair James and Davis to help the Lakers to NBA glory last season.

Veteran big man Howard will now try to guide the 76ers to their first championship since 1983, combining with another All-Star duo – Embiid and Simmons.

Much has been said about franchise pillars Embiid and Simmons, and their compatibility as the 76ers prepare for life under new head coach Doc Rivers, who replaced Brett Brown following a first-round sweep at the hands of Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics in 2019-20.

Eight-time All-Star Howard has advice for Embiid and Simmons, telling reporters on Thursday: "I've been in that situation multiple times, going to a team that has another star — Charlotte, Atlanta, Houston, L.A., D.C. — playing alongside other stars.

"Sometimes it can be difficult because you want to be that guy, and watching AD and LeBron, everything they did was together.

"They worked out together, they ate together, they rode bikes together. We called them the brothers. They were always playing together — playing video games, doing something. … Ben and Joel, they have to be that way.

"They have to know each other so much on and off the court that when they're playing, it's just natural. 'OK, I know Jo needs a touch right now, let me get him an easy bucket'. 'Ah, Ben is frustrated, let me set a screen for him, get him a couple dunks, couple shots at the rim just to get him going'.

"Once you're willing to give yourself up, great things tend to happen for you. … I can see that in Ben and Jo. Those two guys together, putting aside any ego, pride or anything, and saying, 'Hey, we're both for one mission, and that's to win a championship, and it starts and finishes with us two'.

"And I saw that with LeBron and AD. They put everything on their shoulders. They knew they had guys around them but it was, 'OK, LeBron. OK, AD. We've gotta do this, it starts with us. We've gotta be on the same page at all times'. And they did a really good job of it."

When Embiid and Simmons play, the 76ers boast a 119-65 win-loss record, per Stats Perform. But without one or both, they greatly suffer (67-94), Embiid's physicality in the paint and Simmons' superior defensive skills vital in Philadelphia.

The 76ers average 111.7 points, 107.5 opposition points, 47.4 rebounds and 26.4 assists per game with Embiid and Simmons involved, a clear improvement compared to when one or both miss a game – 106.7 points, 109.4 opposition points, 44.5 rebounds and 25.0 assists.

Philadelphia also have a superior field goal percentage (46.9) when Embiid and Simmons both play, with the 76ers shooting just 45.3 per cent without one or both. Opposition numbers also go up in their absence – field goal percentage (44.3 to 46.2) and three-point percentage (34.1 to 35.5).

"Playing alongside Jo and Ben, I think for me it's just giving them a sense that they can do anything," he said. "For Joel, it's just pushing him every single day to know that he's the best, and every time he steps on the floor he has to be the best player on the floor — whether that be practice, in the weight room, in the training room, during all the games. It's 'I'm the best player on the floor. I'm going to show it through my actions on offense and defense'.

"For me, it's really just cleaning up their mistakes, pushing them to be the best and just providing them with knowledge through my experiences. I see so much potential in Ben and Jo that I just want to see them succeed.

"I see so much potential out of those two — what they can bring to a team, the championships that they can have — just all the blessings they can get from playing this great game of basketball. I really just want to be that person to help push them toward their greatness."

Anthony Davis said there was no doubt he was returning to the Los Angeles Lakers after re-signing with the NBA champions.

Davis followed superstar team-mate LeBron James in extending his contract in Los Angeles, where the All-Star has reportedly signed a five-year deal worth $190million.

The seven-time All-Star – who helped the Lakers win the NBA title in his first season since arriving from the New Orleans Pelicans – had opted out of the final year of his previous contract, making him a free agent.

"I just wanted to take the process one day at a time," Davis told Spectrum SportsNet on Thursday. "Obviously winning the championship with L.A. was very great.

"The team Rob [Pelinka] put together and Jeanie [Buss] put together, and Linda [Rambis] and all the people in the front office was amazing, and we did something special. Especially with everything going on in 2020.

"I don't think there was a doubt that I was gonna come back, it was just trying to figure out the logistics and what was best for me and my family, and I was able to get a deal done today.

"So I'm excited about that and excited for what Dudz calls 'the Big Three', with him myself and 'Bron, so it's gonna be a great time.

"We've got another great task ahead of us, the team is looking great, guys have been working out, so I'm excited."

Led by Davis and James, the Lakers claimed their first championship since 2010 after topping the Miami Heat inside the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in October amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Davis and James became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each have 500-plus points and 200-plus rebounds in the same postseason.

The first overall pick in 2012 by New Orleans, Davis averaged 26.1 points in the Lakers' title-winning campaign - the most by any team-mate of James' when appearing in at least 70 per cent of games.

Davis' numbers rose in the playoffs too, the 27-year-old averaging 27.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists as the Lakers lifted the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

He became the fifth player in league history to shoot 50-40-90 in the NBA Finals (.571 field goal percentage, .421 three-point percentage and .938 free-throw percentage), joining Kevin Durant, Chauncey Billups, Penny Hardaway and Magic Johnson.

"In the Orlando bubble, Anthony Davis proved he is one of the game's most complete and dominant two-way players," Lakers vice-president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said.

"Now, Lakers fans get to watch AD continue to grow and lead our franchise for years to come. This is truly a blessed moment for Lakers Nation."

NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers confirmed the re-signing of superstar LeBron James on Thursday.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but James has reportedly agreed a two-year, $85million contract extension after leading the Lakers to their first championship since 2010.

James celebrated a fourth league title as the Lakers topped the Miami Heat inside the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in October amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He also earned his fourth Finals MVP, becoming the first player in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history to win the Finals MVP with three different teams, having also received the honour with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Heat, per Stats Perform.

"LeBron James is a transcendent basketball player, and human being," said Lakers vice-president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka.

"LeBron put his trust in the Lakers in 2018, and now this contract extension paves the way for LeBron to further solidify his legacy as an all-time Lakers great.

"We could not be more honoured by this commitment."

James joined the Lakers from the Cavaliers in 2018-19, but he struggled for form and fitness during his maiden season in Los Angeles.

The 35-year-old – who set the record for most postseason appearances with 260 – had a point to prove in 2019-20 and he capped it with championship and MVP honours.

In his 17th season, James moved clear of Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan with a fourth Finals MVP – now only trailing Michael Jordan (six).

James is the fourth player all-time to score 30,000-plus points and win four or more championships. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tops the list with 38,387 points and six titles, ahead of Michael Jordan (32,292 points and six titles) and Kobe Bryant (33,643 points and five titles).

Last season, James appeared in 67 games and averaged 25.3 points, a career-best and league-leading 10.2 assists and 7.8 rebounds per games, while he averaged 27.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the playoffs.

One of six players in NBA history to average 25 points and 10 assists in a single season, James earned a league-record 13th All-NBA First Team selection, while being selected as an All-Star for the 16th time in his career.

James also moved to third on the league's all-time points list and eighth on the all-time assists list, while becoming the first player to record a triple-double against all 30 current NBA franchises.

The Lakers will open their 2020-21 campaign against city rivals the Los Angeles Clippers on December 22.

Anthony Davis is set to sign a new five-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers worth $190million, according to an ESPN report. 

Davis helped the franchise win the NBA title in his first season since arriving as the centrepiece in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, as the 2019-20 season concluded in Orlando due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The seven-time All-Star opted out of the final year of his previous contract, making him a free agent. 

However, Davis was always expected to remain with the Lakers, who have also agreed terms on an extension with LeBron James. 

Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to reveal the news about Davis accepting a maximum offer that includes an opt-out clause for the fifth and final year, which would be the 2024-25 season. 

News broke of James agreeing a two-year, $85m extension on Wednesday, ahead of the four-time NBA MVP playing in a 17th season.

The first overall pick in 2012 by New Orleans, Davis averaged 26.1 points in the Lakers' title-winning campaign - the most by any team-mate of LeBron's when appearing in at least 70 per cent of games.

His numbers rose in the playoffs too, the 27-year-old averaging 27.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists as the Lakers lifted the Larry O'Brien Trophy, a triumph sealed with a 4-2 series win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Davis' long-term deal comes towards the end of a busy offseason for the reigning champions.

As well as retaining their two superstars, Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol have all arrived to help bolster the roster.

The Lakers begin the defence of their crown on December 22, as they go up against Los Angeles rivals the Clippers on the opening day of the new season.

LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers will face city rivals the Los Angeles Clippers on the opening night of the 2020-21 NBA season.

The NBA announced its national TV schedule for the first three days of the season, with the Lakers-Clippers showdown part of a December 22 doubleheader.

The Lakers ended their 10-year wait for a title after topping the Miami Heat at Walt Disney World Resort amid the coronavirus pandemic, though this season is set to be played in a non-bubble environment.

James – who has agreed a two-year, $85million contract extension with the Lakers – became the first player in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history to win the Finals MVP award for three different teams, having also been crowned Most Valuable Player with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Heat, as he celebrated a fourth championship.

Kevin Durant is set to make his long-awaited debut for the Brooklyn Nets in a mouth-watering opening-night reunion with the Golden State Warriors, where he won two championships and as many Finals MVP awards.

Durant left the Warriors via free agency ahead of the 2019-20 season but he missed last term as he recovered from an Achilles injury, while Steph Curry and Golden State will be without Klay Thompson due to a ruptured Achilles, having suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the 2019 Finals.

December 23 will see reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks face the Boston Celtics, while the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns go head-to-head.

Christmas Day will feature five games as NBA Finals participants the Miami Heat play the New Orleans Pelicans, the Lakers meet Luka Doncic's Mavericks, the Bucks do battle with the Warriors, first-year head coach Steve Nash and the Nets go up against the Celtics, while the Clippers will seek some sort of revenge against the Denver Nuggets.

The Clippers squandered a commanding lead in the Western Conference semi-finals as the Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason.

But a lot has changed for the Clippers, who parted ways with Doc Rivers and turned to championship-winning coach Tyronn Lue to deliver a maiden title to the franchise.

LeBron James has agreed a two-year, $85million contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers, the CEO of the NBA star's representatives Klutch Sports has told The Athletic.

The NBA's preseason will start on December 11 ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, the league announced.

There will be a total of 49 games during the preseason, which will conclude on December 19.

Each NBA team will play a minimum of two and a maximum of four games – at least one at home and one away – with the 72-game regular season set to tip off on December 22.

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are eyeing back-to-back titles heading into the new season.

The Lakers ended their 10-year wait for a championship after topping the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals inside the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lakers' success tied the longest postseason drought in NBA history that a team ended by winning the title, matching the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers.

James also became the first player in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history to win the Finals MVP award for three different teams, having also been crowned Most Valuable Player with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Heat, as he celebrated a fourth championship.

Anthony Davis and James became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each have 500-plus points and 200-plus rebounds in the same postseason.

Dwight Howard believes Ben Simmons can become one of the greatest to ever play in the NBA as he compared the Philadelphia 76ers All-Star to LeBron James.

Howard will team up with Simmons and Joel Embiid in Philadelphia after leaving NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers for the 76ers via free agency.

An eight-time All-Star, Howard won a title alongside Lakers superstar James in Los Angeles and he is relishing the opportunity to play with former number one draft pick Simmons in Philadelphia.

Simmons – an elite defender and creator with unrivalled pace – averaged 16.4 points, 8.0 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game last season before injury cut short his campaign as the 76ers were swept by the Boston Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs.

"Ben Simmons is a young LeBron ... I love the way he plays. I love how unselfish he is, and how mean he can be to other teams, and that's important," Howard told reporters on Wednesday.

"When you have your point guard coming down, dunking on people, flexing, getting big rebounds, talking trash, doing all those things, it drives you to want to be better.

"He has an opportunity to be one of the greatest to ever play the game, and I'm glad I have the opportunity to actually give him some things that can help him along the way."

Howard arrives in the city of Brotherly Love with one thing on his mind – delivering the 76ers their first championship since 1983.

Much has been said about franchise pillars Embiid and Simmons, and their compatibility as the 76ers prepare for life under new head coach Doc Rivers, who replaced Brett Brown.

When Embiid and Simmons play, the 76ers boast a 119-65 win-loss record, per Stats Perform. But without one or both, they greatly suffer (67-94), Embiid's physicality in the paint and Simmons' superior defensive skills vital in Philadelphia.

The 76ers average 111.7 points, 107.5 opposition points, 47.4 rebounds and 26.4 assists per game with Embiid and Simmons involved, a clear improvement compared to when one or both miss a game – 106.7 points, 109.4 opposition points, 44.5 rebounds and 25.0 assists.

Philadelphia also have a superior field goal percentage (46.9) when Embiid and Simmons both play, with the 76ers shooting just 45.3 per cent without one or both. Opposition numbers also go up in their absence – field goal percentage (44.3 to 46.2) and three-point percentage (34.1 to 35.5).

"There's a lot of things," Howard replied when asked why he thinks the Sixers – who also recruited Seth Curry and Danny Green – can win a title. "You have two great young stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, I'm going to start there. Those guys, to me I watched when Joel lost [to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semi-finals in 2019] and how bad it hurt, he just cried, and I know what that feels like. I've been in that moment before where it's like, 'Man, I gave everything I had. I put it all on the line and I came up short.'

"It doesn't sit well with you, it stays with you for a really long time. So with him I know he has a fire inside of him, and we've all seen glimpses of it all year, and I think this is the year where it's about being focused. I see focus in him, I see focus in Ben, and that's where it starts with our two best players.

"Then you look at the rest of the guys on our team, they've all been hungry, they just never knew how to win. And I think by adding a guy like Danny Green and myself, we just fresh off of winning a championship, and I think we all know what it takes to really get to the next level.

"And I think this is a really great opportunity. You have a coach always talking about winning, how important it is to win, and you have some players who just want it. I think this year with the focus this team will have and the drive that we have to be successful, this will be our year."

Los Angeles Lakers vice-president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said the NBA champions are ready to be "aggressive" in free agency.

Spearheaded by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers claimed their first title since 2010 after topping the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals last month.

The drought-ending success at Walt Disney World Resort sparked celebrations but attention has already turned to 2020-21, with the season due to get underway before Christmas next month.

Dennis Schroder has already been acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Danny Green, and Pelinka insisted the Lakers are not prepared to rest on their laurels in pursuit of sustained success.

"Our approach will be to be aggressive," Pelinka, whose Lakers tied the longest postseason drought in NBA history that a tea mended by winning the title – matching the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers, said on Thursday. "I think there's a handful of teams that probably hope to contend or be in a position to contend.

"We're not going to just sit back and not expect others who are in position to try to better their roster or better their teams. So we have to stay aggressive.

"I think the danger of winning is complacency, and I won't -- we won't allow that to creep in here. We're going to try to improve our team and put head coach [Frank] Vogel and his staff in the best possible position to defend."

It remains to be seen whether JaVale McGee and Avery Bradley will exercise their player options to stay next season, while the future of star Davis is dominating headlines.

Davis – a blockbuster acquisition from the New Orleans Pelicans at the start of 2019-20 – reportedly opted out of the final year of his contract, though the championship winner is tipped to re-sign with the Lakers.

The seven-time All-Star, who has been linked with hometown team the Chicago Bulls, averaged 26.1 points, 9.3 points and 3.2 assists per game last season.

James, meanwhile, is under contract, along with the likes of Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker and Kyle Kuzma – who is eligible for an extension.

"When the time is right, we'll sit down and speak with them," said Pelinka. "But we're proud of drafting Kuz. We're incredibly proud of his growth as a player. I think he showed in the bubble his ability to play at the wing and the four -- so some three and some four.

"When you lose a defender and a wing player like Danny Green, I think Kyle, we're going to count on him to step in and play some of that wing role as well. But he has the versatility to do it. So he's been a great, great player for us and I would expect that he will continue to grow next season."

The new season is fast approaching and Pelinka added: "That'll just be a balancing act throughout the season. Recognising that there was an extremely short layoff between championship and the start of the season.

"Kind of figuring out what's best for LeBron, what's best for his health, the team's health, what's best for the league and kind of walking that carefully and thoughtfully throughout the year."

James appeared in 67 of the Lakers' 71 regular-season games before adding a fourth NBA ring to his collection and a fourth Finals MVP.

The 35-year-old averaged 25.3 points, 10.2 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game in 2019-20.

Anthony Edwards did not take long to get people talking, naming Kevin Durant the best player in the NBA – rather than LeBron James.

Edwards was taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the number one overall pick in Wednesday's NBA Draft, pipping James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball to top spot.

The Georgia guard was swiftly asked which opponent he was most looking forward to playing and had an interesting answer.

"That's easy," Edwards said. "The player I'm most excited to play against is Kevin Durant.

"He's the best player in the league, he's seven feet, unguardable. He can do everything a little guard can do.

"That's easy. That's who I'm ready to play."

Durant missed the entirety of last season after suffering an Achilles injury in the 2019 NBA Finals before leaving the Golden State Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets.

In the meantime, James led the Los Angeles Lakers to the championship and was named Finals MVP, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was league MVP for a second straight year.

Durant was a two-time Finals MVP with the Warriors and also the 2014 NBA MVP while at the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Nets could now bring James Harden to Brooklyn to link up with Durant and Kyrie Irving as they aim to become contenders under new coach Steve Nash.

Edwards expects to get the opportunity to test himself against such elite offensive players, believing the T-Wolves need his help most on the defensive end.

"I don't feel too much pressure," Edwards said. "I've got two superstars [Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell] alongside me, so I don't feel too much pressure.

"But I'm going to do what I always do, bring what I bring to the table and impact the games other ways.

"They can already score the ball, so defensively I'm going to impact the game, being the best guard rebounder on the team that I can possibly be.

"I'll be locked in, doing whatever the coach needs me to do, to be honest."

Tuesday marks 24 years to the day since the late Kobe Bryant made his NBA debut with the Los Angeles Lakers.

While that first appearance against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the age of 18 was nothing to write home about, Bryant went on to enjoy a legendary career.

He won five NBA championships with the Lakers in the space of a decade and was selected to the All-Star Game 18 times, placing him behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19).

Bryant tragically died aged 41 in a helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in January but his legacy will live on for generations.

Here we look back at where it all began for one of sport's most iconic figures and pick out some other statistics from his incredible career with the help of Stats Perform data.


STEADY IMPACT IN ROOKIE SEASON

The Charlotte Hornets drafted Bryant 13th overall in 1996 and traded him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.

It was a move that would have a lasting impact on the sport, although it took Bryant a few seasons to really start to make his mark.

He played six minutes off the bench against the Timberwolves on his debut, failing to register a point during his short cameo; he did get a rebound, a block and a steal, though.

That appearance made him the youngest player to feature in NBA, aged 18 years and 72 days old, but he was supplanted by Jermaine O'Neal (18 years, 53 days) the following month Andrew Bynum (18 years, six days) took the record in 2005.

 

"Rest In Peace to the late, great Kobe Bryant." pic.twitter.com/jmqQMVC2UO

— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020 BEHIND ONLY LEBRON

Bryant steadily became more involved and made the All-Rookie second team at the end of his debut campaign.

The Philadelphia-born star scored a combined 613 points in the regular season and playoffs before turning 19, which only LeBron James (625) can better.

One record James could not take from Bryant, though, is for the youngest player in NBA history with at least 20 points in a postseason game.

Aged 18 years and 250 days, Bryant registered 22 points in Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference first-round series.

Bryant averaged 7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 15.5 minutes on the floor during his rookie season.

To put that in some context, James averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, albeit with far more minutes (39.5).

That is still some way below the levels of Michael Jordan in his breakthrough season, with the Bulls great averaging 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists in his first year in the league.


THE SCARCELY BELIEVABLE STATS

Bryant still went on to carve out a place as one of the greatest players of all time, receiving All-NBA honours in 15 seasons, being named in the first team on 11 occasions. Only LeBron James, with 13 appearances in the first team, beats Bryant's total.

He was also named nine times to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, matching the all-time high; Kevin Garnett, Gary Payton and Jordan achieved the same total.

In the 2005-06 season, Bryant recorded his highest points-per-game average for a single campaign, with 35.4. He led the NBA in scoring in that season and in 2006-07.

In January 2006, he scored 81 points in a 122-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors - the second highest individual score in an NBA game, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks in 1962.

Bryant received his lone NBA MVP award in 2008, having become the youngest player to reach 20,000 career points aged 29 years and 122 days.

In his final game, on April 13, 2016, Bryant scored 60 points for the Lakers in a 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz. A fitting farewell after a phenomenal career.

LeBron James dubbed DK Metcalf "Baby Bron" as the Seattle Seahawks star produced another dominant performance against the San Francisco 49ers.

Metcalf enjoyed the best game of his career, the wide receiver finishing with 12 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns in Seattle's 37-27 win over the 49ers at CenturyLink Field on Sunday.

It gave Metcalf – who showed incredible speed to chase down Budda Baker on his 90-yard interception return in Week 7 – new career bests in both receptions and yards as NFC West leaders the Seahawks (6-1) bounced back from their overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar and four-time NBA champion James posted an Instagram story, which read: "WE BUILT DIFFERENT!! @DKM14 AKA BABY BRON."

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said: "What a fantastic game he played. Just so tough and so physical.

"Just a dominant player out there today, with a couple of touchdowns, and just big plays, one right after another."

"He's just so freakin' tough," Carroll said. "Whether he's blocking guys, or whether he's catching the ball, or they smack him when the ball arrives, and he stands over those guys when they fall off of him.

"When he caught the ball on the crossing route, I started screaming that they weren't going to get him, right when he was way over there, because he's just too fast. He just circled the whole defense and put it in the end zone, and I don't even think they touched him. It was a great play.

"We're so lucky to have him, and to have him growing and emerging into such a dominant football player. He's really something."

After Seattle's Tyler Lockett had 15 catches, 200 receiving yards and three touchdowns last week, the Seahawks became the first team ever to have different players with 12/150/2 or better in back-to-back games, per Stats Perform.

"Tyler actually told me on the field, 'Man, we have the best duo in the league,'" Metcalf said. "We feed off of each other very well … We don't care who gets the credit or who gets the shine one week, because he has my back no matter what and I have his no matter what.

"And like I said, shout out to D-Mo [David Moore] and Freddie [Swain]. They come up clutch every time they come into the game. It just speaks highly of our receiver room and the standard that we hold each other to."

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was 27-of-37 for 261 yards and four touchdowns, without an interception against the 49ers.

Wilson regrouped after throwing three interceptions against the Cardinals, boosting his MVP candidacy.

"The Russ for MVP train is back on the tracks," Seahawks team-mate and wide receiver Metcalf said. "Let's go."

"Russell played terrific today," Carroll said. "He knew how this game was going to go; we had to throw the ball quick, and a lot of short stuff and all that ... He did a great job throughout the day."

After years of waiting and the loss of their favourite son in January, the Los Angeles Lakers finally returned to the summit of NBA basketball.

All eyes were on LeBron James and the Lakers in 2019-20 – the superstar veteran coming off a difficult first season in Los Angeles.

The Lakers also mourned the tragic death of five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant following a helicopter crash at the start of the year.

Add in a lengthy playoff drought, the coronavirus pandemic and Orlando bubble, and the Lakers' championship quest was far from easy.

However, the Western Conference top seeds – led by James and Anthony Davis – defied the ominous challenges to win their first title since 2010, seeing off the Miami Heat in six games at Walt Disney World Resort.

As the Lakers reflect on their memorable 17th championship to equal the Boston Celtics' all-time record, we review the team's 2019-20 campaign using Stats Perform data.

 

Equal longest drought snapped

The Lakers had missed the playoffs for six successive seasons prior to reigning supreme this campaign.

Not since 2013, when the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, had Los Angeles featured in the playoffs.

But the Lakers' success – behind James' 11th Finals triple-double in Game 6 – tied the longest postseason drought in NBA history that a team ended by winning the title, matching the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers.

LeBron and Davis make history

So much was expected of the Lakers duo when Davis finally swapped the New Orleans Pelicans for LA in a blockbuster trade at the start of the season.

James was desperate to team up with a genuine superstar at Staples Center after a forgettable first term in Los Angeles, where the former was hampered by form and fitness issues as Luke Walton departed following another season without a playoff appearance.

Davis' arrival and the appointment of Frank Vogel helped put the Lakers on track for silverware as city rivals the Los Angeles Clippers countered with their own superstar duo – Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

All-Star Davis and James became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each have 500-plus points and 200-plus rebounds in the same postseason.

James also became the first player in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history to win the Finals MVP award for three different teams, having also been crowned Most Valuable Player with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Heat, as he celebrated a fourth championship.

The Lakers also have history with ageing stars leading them to championships. The three oldest players ever to win the Finals MVP all did so while playing for the famed franchise – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38 years and 54 days) in 1985, James (35 years and 286 days) and Wilt Chamberlain (35 years and 260 days) in 1972.

 

Unheralded pair shine

With all the spotlight on James and Davis, Lakers team-mates Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee made significant contributions at centre, especially in the regular season.

Howard and McGee became the first pair of NBA team-mates to each have 75-plus blocks while shooting 60.0-plus per cent from the field in the same regular season since blocks became an official stat in 1973-74.

The return of 2004 number one pick Howard after a disappointing first spell in Los Angeles in 2012-13 proved a shrewd piece of business.

 

Lakers plagued by three-point issues

There was so much good about the Lakers in 2019-20, but their shooting from beyond the arc remains a problem.

The Lakers have shot under 35.0 per cent from three-point range in the regular season in each of the last six seasons, the longest active streak in the NBA.

That is also the longest streak for the Lakers since they shot under 35.0 per cent in seven consecutive seasons from 1979-80 to 1985-86, which was the first seven campaigns the three-point line was in existence.

The Lakers became the first team to with the title despite shooting a lower percentage from three-point range than their opponents in the playoffs since the 2000 LA team.

Thursday marks 17 years to the day since LeBron James made his NBA debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Sacramento Kings.

The number one overall draft pick, who had 25 points in his first game, went on to win the Rookie of the Year award in 2003-04 and has been at the forefront of the league ever since.

James has been MVP on four occasions and earlier this month collected his fourth championship ring, also winning Finals MVP for a fourth time at the age of 35.

Only three other players have been named Finals MVP after their 35th birthday: fellow greats Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, of course, Michael Jordan.

But how did they fare in the final years of their careers after being the main men on title-winning teams as veterans? And how might that colour what we can expect from LeBron beyond year 17?

We use Stats Perform Data to take a look.
 

WILT CHAMBERLAIN - 1972 Finals MVP, aged 35

The Finals MVP award was not introduced until the 1969 series when Chamberlain was already in his 30s – by then an NBA champion with the Philadelphia 76ers and a four-time MVP – but he was belatedly recognised as he guided the Lakers past the New York Knicks three years later, winning their first title since moving to Los Angeles.

But Wilt would not then go on to add to his honours as he played just one more season before retiring.

The veteran still played all 82 regular season games in 1972-73, averaging more minutes (43.2) than in the championship-winning campaign, but he endured the lowest scoring year of his career, with 13.2 points per game. He had peaked at 50.4 points 11 years earlier.

Shooting less regularly, there were still flashes of Chamberlain's old magic as he remarkably had the NBA's highest all-time field-goal percentage across a season (minimum 500 attempts) with 72.7 per cent made. Only DeAndre Jordan in three straight seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers – between 2014 and 2017 – has shot above 70 per cent.

The Lakers will certainly hope James does not go down the same path, having been backed to play into his 40s by LA assistant Jason Kidd and former Miami Heat team-mate Dwyane Wade.
 

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR - 1985 Finals MVP, aged 38

Abdul-Jabbar won his first Finals MVP with the Milwaukee Bucks the year before Chamberlain's but, despite collecting two more rings in the interim, had to wait until 1985 to be hailed again as the postseason's outstanding player. Kareem outperformed Lakers team-mate Magic Johnson – 12 years his junior – as they beat the Boston Celtics and he became the oldest NBA Finals MVP.

And yet his career was not over, with the support of Johnson surely an example the 2020 Lakers would like to follow as Anthony Davis aids LeBron.

Abdul-Jabbar's production actually improved in the season he turned 39 – scoring 23.4 points per game, up from 22.0 – but that would be the last year he averaged at least 20.0, ending a record 17-season streak that has since been matched by Karl Malone and James, who can surpass that mark in 2020-21.

The Lakers kept winning as Kareem's numbers understandably dropped, though, taking the title in 1987 and 1988 – led by Johnson and James Worthy.

A 42-year-old Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989 after seeing his field-goal percentage dip below 50 per cent in a season for the first time at 47.5. His astounding 19-year stretch of making more than half of his attempts stands as a record, later tied by Shaquille O'Neal.


MICHAEL JORDAN - 1998 Finals MVP, aged 35

Jordan might be considered the clear rival to James in the 'GOAT' debate, but LeBron is not likely to follow in MJ's footsteps after his 'Last Dance' with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. Beating the Utah Jazz, he won a third straight title and a third straight Finals MVP for the second time yet was done at the top level thereafter.

The 35-year-old retired from the sport again, only to return once more in 2001 with the Washington Wizards.

Jordan would donate his salary to relief efforts after the September 11 terror attack but struggled to deliver on the floor as he battled injuries.

The statistics when MJ did appear in 2001-02 – he made 53 starts in 60 regular season games – did not make for great reading. The five-time MVP ranked worst in the league for three-point percentage (minimum 50 attempts) at 18.9 per cent, making just 10. He was 41st of the 48 players who attempted at least 1000 field goals that year at 41.6 per cent.

Jordan quit the sport for good in 2003.
 

LEBRON JAMES - 2020 Finals MVP, aged 35

If Abdul-Jabbar provides the best example of how a superstar should treat the final years of his career, LeBron appears well placed to similarly profit.

With the arrival of Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans last year, James' game changed to incorporate a second elite scorer, becoming a passer as he logged a career-high 10.2 assists per game.

LeBron became the oldest player in NBA history to average 25.0 points and 10.0 assists. No rival has ever managed such a performance past the age of 30, let alone 35.

Crucially, the former Cavs man was also more protected. He visited the foul line less often (down from 7.6 free-throw attempts to 5.7) and recorded fewer rebounds (down from 8.5 to 7.8)

And his 34.6 minutes per game – a career-low – represented the fewest in league history while scoring 25.0 points and 10.0 assists.

With a gruelling next season just around the corner, James is likely to play even fewer minutes again but, alongside Davis, still looks primed to make the difference when it matters most.

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