NBA

LeBron James records historic triple-double to upstage Giannis Antetokounmpo in Cleveland Cavaliers win

Jay Asser 20/03/2018
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LeBron James is 10 years older than Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Giannis Antetokounmpo may one day take the mantle as the best player in the game, but as LeBron James showed in their most recent head-to-head matchup, that day isn’t here yet.

James outdueled Antetokounmpo with a historic triple-double to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 124-117 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.

The Bucks’ young phenom finished with 37 points, 11 rebounds and five assists on a night that would have normally grabbed headlines on its own.

But James was even better with 40 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to record his 16th triple-double of the season, making him the third-oldest player in NBA history to tally a triple-double while scoring at least 40 points. Only Larry Bird (35) and Elgin Baylor (34) have achieved the feat at an older age than James (33).

“I was talking to myself when I was taking a shower. And I was like, ‘OK, what did I do wrong today guarding LeBron?'” Antetokounmpo said. “Because he’s the first player ever to score 40 on me that easy.

“It’s hard; [LeBron’s] a guy that can drive the ball, shoot the ball, especially late in his career now he’s been shooting the ball amazing. He’s getting his teammates in the right spot.

“He’s the best player in the world. That simple.”

James is nearly averaging a triple-double since the start of February, notching 29.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.9 assists per game, with hyper-efficient shooting splits of 54.5 per cent from the field and 41.3 per cent on 3-pointers.

Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, has taken his play to another level this season by averaging 27.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists to be in the MVP discussion.

The 23-year-old may have lost the battle against James on Monday, but Cavaliers coach Larry Drew, who was Antetokounmpo’s coach in his rookie season, believes the Bucks forward is on his way to becoming a transcendent player.

“When you watch both Giannis and you watch Bron on the floor, I tell you, you can’t [look away] – you have to be focused at all times because Bron is a special, special player. I mean, as special as probably you’ll ever see,” Drew said. “And Giannis is blooming into that.”

Though Monday’s contest was the final regular season meeting between Cleveland and Milwaukee, there is a chance the two superstars will clash in the playoffs, depending on seeding.

Cleveland are currently third in the Eastern Conference, while Milwaukee sit eighth, but there’s only four games in the loss column separating them, with four teams in-between.

Antetokounmpo said of a potential playoff series with James: “It would be a great experience. I think LeBron brings the best out of me. It should be a fun playoff series to watch.”

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NBA

Kevin Love returns from injury to give Cleveland Cavaliers much-needed boost

Jay Asser 20/03/2018
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Kevin Love is the only other recent All-Star on the Cavaliers after LeBron James.

It’s been difficult to judge the Cleveland Cavaliers without their second All-Star in the lineup and Kevin Love reminded of what was missing in his first game back from injury.

The forward had 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in the Cavaliers’ 124-117 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday after returning from a broken left hand that kept him out 20 games.

Love was limited to 25 minutes but still finished as Cleveland’s second-highest scorer behind LeBron James, shooting 5-of-13 from the field and 4-of-9 from long range.

“I felt pretty good,” Love said. “Initially, that first wind is always tough, but even after that I felt like my legs were underneath me and that I could’ve played a little bit more.”

Before suffering the hand injury on January 30, Love was averaging 17.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and shooting 40.4 per cent on 3-pointers.

In his absence, the Cavaliers managed an 11-9 record and blew up the roster with multiple deals at the trade deadline to reshape their team.

Not only has Love’s talent and versatility been missed, but so has his presence as a veteran for a side that has gotten much younger since the start of the season.

“First of all just having another body is great for our team,” James said. “Then just his basketball IQ, his familiarity with our system, he fits right back in. And his ability to stretch the floor allows opposing bigs not to just sit and clog up the paint. It’s great to have him back.”

Love, who revealed earlier this month that he suffers from anxiety, let loose at one point against the Bucks when he missed a corner 3-pointer. After falling on his back in front of Milwaukee’s bench, Love appeared to slither backwards up the court.

The move caught the attention of social media and Love couldn’t come up with much of an explanation after the game.

“I don’t know what the hell that was,” he said, via Cleveland.com. “I was just having fun.”

With Love back in the lineup for the stretch run, the Cavaliers as a whole may start having more fun.

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NBA

Brooklyn Nets and their Barclays Center arena are without a true identity

Jay Asser 18/03/2018
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Barclays Center, the home of the Brooklyn Nets, was completed in 2012.

On and off the court, the Brooklyn Nets are a franchise with aesthetic appeal, but no real identity.

Though their status as one of the worst teams in the NBA doesn’t help their cause, there’s more plaguing the Nets than just their record.

While the neighbouring New York Knicks are no powerhouses themselves at the moment, the experience of watching them play at Madison Square Garden is a draw in itself.

A Brooklyn game at Barcalys Center is entertaining in its own way, but after the initial polish rubs off, you’re left with a feeling like something is missing.

That was my reaction anyways after attending the Nets-Dallas Mavericks game – a treat, I know.

It all starts with the exterior, with the arena immediately recognisable from a distance and standing out in what is otherwise a fairly low key area.

Barclays Center has a unique look and modern finish – which it should considering it was only completed in 2012 – yet its surroundings don’t add much to the atmosphere.

Right across the venue is a giant shopping centre, which is so… blah. Madison Square Garden is an unfair comparison for any arena, let alone one lacking in history and tradition like Barclays Center, but the difference between heading to a game in the same vicinity as Times Square and the Empire State Building, and going to one next to a shopping centre can’t be overstated.

The same ‘style over substance’ theme carries over to the interior of Barclays Center.

Let me just say this to make it clear. The franchise has done an amazing job making everything look great, which is no surprise considering Jay-Z was a a minority owner at the start of their relocation and makeover.

From the herringbone-patterned court to an opening from the arena’s entrance to the stands – which allows fans, at certain angles, to see traffic on the roads outside while watching the game – Barclays Center hits a home run.

And the piece de resistance of the whole place is the unique theatre lighting. No other NBA arena has such a dramatic contrast between the lighting on the court and the lighting in the stands, with the Barclays Center putting a spotlight on the floor and having everything surrounding it in the dark. It’s a cool way to take in a game and makes you wish it was more common.

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There’s also a lot of black. Like, a lot. Of course there would be because it’s one of the team’s primary colours, but while black is almost always stylish, too much of it can be exactly that – too much.

The sleekness of Barclays Center comes at the cost of charm and character, which isn’t something Brooklyn is lacking as a borough. The arena and franchise, however, just have this expansion team feel, as if you created them out of thin air in NBA 2K.

It’s all relatively new, so you can understand their shortcomings in that aspect. But they don’t do themselves any favour by trying too hard in some areas, such as their excessive use of music in the middle of the game.

The product on the court somewhat mirrors everything off it. The Nets actually play a fun and entertaining brand of basketball with good ball movement and plenty of outside shooting, ranking third in the league in passes per game with 326.6, seventh in assist percentage at 60.8, second in both 3-pointers made (12.3) and attempted (35.0), and seventh in pace with 100.9 possessions.

What has all that translated to? A 22-48 record, the eighth-worst offensive rating at 103.9 points scored per 100 possessions and the seventh-worst average plus-minus at minus-4.2.

If the on-court product is fixed and more talent is drafted and developed, it could just as easily solve the Nets’ identity issues off the court.

Something will be needed soon though because the fresh and new feeling won’t last forever.

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