NBA

Nets coach Nash praises depth in Harden and Durant absence

By Sports Desk April 20, 2021

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash has praised Kyrie Irving and his side's team effort after their win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday as doubts grow around James Harden's return.

The Nets edged past the Pelicans 134-129 on Tuesday without key pair Kevin Durant and Harden, with the latter now unlikely to return prior to the play-offs with a hamstring setback.

Brooklyn have only managed to field the 'big three' - Durant, Harden and Kyrie Irving – at the same on only seven occasions due to injuries.

But the Nets improved to 39-19, keeping the pressure on the Philadelphia 76ers at the top in the Eastern Conference.

Irving scored 32 points and had eight assists, while forward Joe Harris hit 24 points with Jeff Green contributing 15 along with nine rebounds and six assists.

Guard Landry Shamet was one of three players to have six or more assists, with eight along with 18 points.

Blake Griffin added 16 points and eight rebounds off the bench, along with Bruce Brown Jr with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

"When Ky was out of the game I thought we played very well," Nash said.

"When we're going into a game with nine men, you're a couple superstars down, you've got guys playing with more responsibility and minutes and if they don’t play well, you can find yourself in a big hole.

"They played really well. Really proud of the way the guys played. I think we started slow because it was nice, new line-up, new combination."

Nash did reserve special praise for Irving who was clutch down the final stretch with some key buckets along with a late steal off Zion Williamson in a tight game.

"He made some really difficult shots," Nash said. "There wasn’t a ton of movement on the last three possessions.

"Tip your hat to your star player who makes the shots but our guys were terrific all night."

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    Whenever people talk about the NBA, one name is rarely far away from any conversation.

    LeBron James is once again the talk of basketball after reports emerged on Wednesday he had agreed a two-year extension with the Los Angeles Lakers worth an eye-watering $97.1million.

    The 37-year-old had been entering the final year of a contract worth $44.5m. His new deal includes a player option for the 2024-25 season according to ESPN, citing Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul.

    James' deal takes him to $532m in guaranteed career earnings, which would mean he is the highest-paid player in the history of the league, ahead of Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets.

    Apart from having four NBA championships, four Finals MVPs, four NBA MVPs, 17 All-Star selections and three All-Star MVPs, what has James done to earn such a lucrative deal?

    Stats Perform has taken a trip down memory lane to remind ourselves just why he is still the hottest property in the NBA.

    Breakout in Cleveland

    As the first pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, it was hardly surprising that James impressed from the start with the Cavaliers, averaging 20.9 points per game (PPG) in his debut season from 79 games.

    It was the 2005-06 season where he really exploded, though, averaging 31.4 PPG in the regular season, which remains his highest ever for a campaign, before recording 30.8 PPG in the playoffs, where the Cavs were eliminated in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals by the Detroit Pistons.

    James took Cleveland to the postseason for five straight seasons, agonisingly losing the 2007 Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, before taking the mantel again in 2009 as he put up 35.3 PPG in 14 playoff outings before Conference final heartbreak against the Orlando Magic.

    He had become a superstar in his home state of Ohio, though it seemed like championship glory was always going to elude him in Cleveland and so in 2010, it was time for a decision.

    LeBron brings the Heat

    The television event titled 'The Decision' did not go down universally well, it is fair to say, as James dramatically revealed he was leaving the Cavs for the Miami Heat.

    However, it turned out to be the catalyst for him to reach the next step as he was undoubtedly surrounded by more talent in Miami, and before long, much-deserved silverware.

    Linking up superbly night after night with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James reached the Finals every year in Florida, winning his first championship in 2012, before following it up in 2013 with another.

    His numbers were ever so slightly lower at the Heat than they had been in Cleveland, though that clearly owed to having more help from the likes of Wade and Bosh.

    James' first title win 2012 saw him average 30.3 PPG during the postseason, and led the way as he got some revenge on the Spurs in 2013, excelling in Game 7 to win his second championship.

    The Cavalier returns home

    In 2014, James came back to Cleveland with the desire to take his team to the promised land with him this time, and he did just that.

    Just as he had in Miami, James went to the Finals every year of his second spell with the Cavaliers, and every year they played against the dominant Golden State Warriors.

    After losing 4-2 in 2015, they returned to get revenge in 2016 as James starred on their way to an almost Hollywood-ending win against the Warriors, securing their first NBA championship.

    They were unable to repeat the trick as the Warriors beat them in both the 2017 and 2018 Finals, but reaching four Finals in a row was still more than Cavs fans could have realistically expected.

    Unfortunately for them, James was getting itchy feet again.

    L.A. dreams not always what they are cracked up to be

    James himself had a solid enough start to life in Los Angeles, posting 27.4 PPG for the Lakers in 2018-19, though injury issues sustained by him and several of his new team-mates led to a wobbly season, and therefore, no postseason for the first time for James since 2005.

    Inevitably, he came roaring back the following year and in spite of the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, James and the Lakers returned to win the "bubble championship", the fourth title of his career with a third different team.

    However, the 2020-21 campaign was one to forget as James recorded his lowest PPG for a season (25.0) since his rookie year, before the Lakers were dumped out of the playoffs in the first round by the Phoenix Suns.

    Was it all over for LeBron? Not likely. He responded to that setback by scoring 1,695 points in just 56 games last season at an average of 30.3 PPG, his best regular season return since 2005-06.

    James also reached a notable landmark in March, becoming the first player in NBA history to record 10,000 assists and 10,000 rebounds in a career.

    Unfortunately for him, his team-mates were unable to match those efforts and the Lakers again failed to even make the playoffs, which could be why they were so desperate to find the funds to tie James' immediate future down.

    His PPG has been higher in the playoffs than the regular season at every team he has played barring the Heat, where it was identical (26.9), proving the extent to which he is a clutch player and why it is imperative that the Lakers reach the postseason next year to make the most of the time they have left with him.

    Injuries permitting, it is also practically certain he will overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time leading scorer next season (currently 1,325 points behind).

    Now that his new deal is agreed, you can be sure when that landmark arrives, LeBron will be wearing the same Lakers jersey Kareem did so famously.

  • Lakers podcaster backs extension for 'GOAT' LeBron James Lakers podcaster backs extension for 'GOAT' LeBron James

    The Los Angeles Lakers have tied down the immediate future of the greatest player of all time in LeBron James, according to Lakers podcaster Anthony Irwin.

    James has agreed a two-year contract extension with the Lakers worth a whopping $97.1million, it was reported by ESPN on Wednesday, citing Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul.

    The 37-year-old had been entering the final year of a contract worth $44.5m. His new deal apparently includes a player option for the 2024-25 season.

    Last season, James played 56 games overall, averaging 30.3 points per game, only the second time he has averaged over 30 in a single campaign (31.4 PPG for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2005-06). 

    He averaged 8.2 rebounds per game, 6.2 assists and hit a career-high season average of 2.9 three-pointers and 8.0 attempts per game.

    James also became the first player in NBA history to record more than 10,000 career points, rebounds and assists.

    Speaking to Stats Perform, Irwin said he lists James ahead of Michael Jordan and former Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when it comes to judging the best player of all time.

    "I have him as the greatest ever, in my book," he said. "Now, we're splitting hairs anytime you're talking about him and Michael and Kareem, who for some reason is never like involved in the conversation in ways that I think he should be.

    "The league is more competitive I think now than it was when Michael was playing. I think you have to take that into account.

    "If you have Michael as your GOAT (greatest of all time)? Cool. If you have LeBron as your GOAT? Cool. If you have Kareem is your GOAT? Super cool, because I would love to hear the people who make that case.

    "Anybody who tries to act as if those three guys don't have a case to be made, those are the people that I find myself rolling my eyes at."

    Irwin – who hosts Lakers podcasts on Silver Screen and Roll – was pleased with the reported agreement between the organisation and James, believing it could make things easier for the Lakers as they look to move Russell Westbrook on.

    "It's good that all parties came to the conclusion that they couldn't have this loom over the season or training camp," Irwin added. "I think if LeBron was going to continue his relationship with the Lakers, they had to either announce an exit strategy or announce an extension. Fortunately, they came to the latter decision.

    "The other part of this that I find interesting is obviously everybody knows they've been trying to trade Russell Westbrook.

    "One source of leverage that other teams might have had on the Lakers as they tried to do that was 'You have to trade Russell Westbrook, you have to appease Lebron James. Otherwise, he's not going to sign that extension.' And you have that awkward relationship carrying forward into the season.

    "Now, that's not something that other teams have. So this helps the Lakers, I think, accomplish their goal of not just moving Westbrook but not overpaying to do so. And hopefully bringing some legitimate help back in return."

  • Physically, I feel good - Kawhi Leonard shares update as Clippers step up NBA season preparations Physically, I feel good - Kawhi Leonard shares update as Clippers step up NBA season preparations

    Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard says he feels good as he closes in on his long-awaited return from injury ahead of the 2022-23 NBA season.

    The two-time NBA Finals MVP missed the entire of the last campaign due to an ACL injury sustained in game four of the 2021 Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Utah Jazz. 

    The Clippers certainly felt Leonard's absence as they missed out on the play-offs, losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans in the play-in tournament.

    The small forward averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and a career-high 5.2 assists per game in the 2020-21 regular season, having averaged a personal best of 27.1 points the previous term - his first with the Clippers.

    In a compilation video posted on the franchise's social media channels, which featured several clips of him in the gym, Leonard could be heard saying: "Physically, I feel good."

    The 31-year-old will hope to make his return when the Clippers launch their 2022-23 campaign against the Los Angeles Lakers on October 20.

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