NBA

NBA Finals: LeBron's 10th appearance – the highlights and records awaiting

By Sports Desk September 29, 2020

LeBron James is back in the NBA Finals and a significant achievement is in the offing for the Los Angeles Lakers superstar.

The three-time champion will make his 10th appearance in the showpiece series when the Lakers battle his former team the Miami Heat for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

James has produced some memorable displays in the Finals, but also some he would probably rather forget.

Ahead of Game 1 on Wednesday, we use Stats Perform data to look back at some of his stand-out performances in the championship series and see what milestones await.

 

2007: Things got off to a shaky start for James, who had 5.8 turnovers per game as the Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. That is the most by any player in a Finals in the past 30 years.

2011: As the Heat's dream team were defeated 4-2 by the Dallas Mavericks, James averaged 17.8 points per game. It is the only time he has been held to under 20 in a playoff series.

2012: LeBron's wait for a first ring finally ended and he was pivotal to the Heat's 4-1 success against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He finished Game 5 with 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, making him the first player since James Worthy in 1988 to have a 25-point triple-double in a title-clinching win.

2013: The Heat went back-to-back by defeating the Spurs 4-3 and in the process James became the first player to have two triple-doubles in a single Finals since Magic Johnson in 1991 – the second of those came in Miami's incredible Game 6 overtime win, having been five points down with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

2014: LeBron became the first player to average at least 25 points per game on a minimum of 50 per cent three-point shooting in a Finals since Lakers legend Kobe Bryant in 2002. However, it was not enough to stop the Heat slumping to a 4-1 defeat against the Spurs.

2015: Although the Cavs lost 4-2, James produced a string of stellar displays against the Golden State Warriors to become the first player to average at least 35 points per game in a Finals since Shaquille O'Neal in 2002.

2016: In a rematch against the Warriors a year later, LeBron spearheaded a Cavs side that became the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals and win the NBA championship. His phenomenal block on Andre Iguolada with less than two minutes remaining laid the foundation for Kyrie Irving to seal the win.

2017: The Warriors gained vengeance with a 4-1 success the following season, despite James averaging a 30-point triple-double in the Finals – a feat no other player has achieved since the NBA-ABA merger.

2018: Things could have been very different had it not been for J.R. Smith's brain fade at the end of the fourth quarter in Game 1 of the third straight matchup with the Warriors. James became the first player with a 50-point game in the Finals since Michael Jordan in 1993, but Golden State won in overtime and went on to sweep the Cavs for the championship.

What now?

After missing the playoffs in his first year with the Lakers, LeBron has a chance to join John Salley and Robert Horry as the only NBA players to win a title with three different teams.

Even more impressively, though, he can become the first player of any of the major leagues in the United States – NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL – to win the championship MVP award with three different teams.

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    The Baltimore Ravens came into the 2020 season among the favourites to win the Super Bowl, but they now face a fierce fight with the Pittsburgh Steelers in their own division.

    As expected, John Harbaugh's squad – boasting MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson – has made a strong start to the year and sit at 5-1 through six games.

    Pittsburgh, though, are the last undefeated team in the NFL at 6-0, meaning Sunday's game has become a huge AFC North battle in Baltimore.

    Ahead of the game, we have looked at some of the key areas to watch, with the help of Stats Perform data.

     

    Dominant defenses

    Baltimore go into the game as four-point favourites, boosted by a defense which has allowed just 17.3 points per game, best in the NFL.

    Pittsburgh (19.7, sixth in the league) are not far behind in that category and come out on top when it comes to yards allowed per game (286.3), with the Ravens ninth at 339.8 YPG.

    Both units have seen their regular deployment of the blitz pay dividends. Baltimore have blitzed on 46.1 per cent of dropbacks, while Pittsburgh have on 44.3 – the two highest rates in the league.

    T.J. Watt leads the NFL with 24 pressures for the Steelers, with Bud Dupree (17), Stephon Tuitt (15) and Cameron Heyward (13) all generating pass-rush too as part of a formidable front seven.

    For the Ravens, veteran Calais Campbell (4 sacks) is thriving up front while cornerback Marlon Humphrey is yet to allow a touchdown on 49 targets this season, with opposing passers restricted to a 73.1 rating. No other player in the NFL has been targeted as often in coverage without giving up a TD.

    A close game looks likely. Since 2008, 14 of 24 regular-season meetings between the teams have been decided by three points or fewer – the most of any matchup in that span.

    The quarterbacks

    Pittsburgh (30.5 points per game) and Baltimore (29.8) both have top-eight scoring units, but – so far at least – their QBs have not had to do the heavy lifting in the passing game.

    The Ravens lead the NFL with 164.3 rushing yards per game, meaning they have picked up victories despite having a passing yardage (177.8) that is better only than the woeful New York Jets.

    The Steelers have been able to lean on their defense and running game too, with their 129.7 YPG on the ground good for 11th in the NFL, compared to their 229 passing yards ranking 23rd.

    Ravens QB Jackson is yet to hit the heights of 2019 and has been held under 200 passing yards in four consecutive starts, though his team won three of those four.

    He has completed less than 60.0 percent of his attempts in three of his last four contests, dropping his season completion percentage to 63.0 – 26th among 32 qualifiers. But the third-year pro does lead the team with 346 rushing yards.

    As a team, the Ravens have rushed for 140 yards or more in five straight games and 100 yards or better in 29 consecutive matchups.

    The latter streak is one shy of matching the longest by any team in the last 40 seasons; the Panthers had a 30-game run from 2014 through 2016.

    Not since the Steelers won against them in Week 9 of the 2018 season have the Ravens been held under 100 yards rushing.

    Returning from injury this year, Ben Roethlisberger has an impressive supporting cast to throw to including JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Eric Ebron and rookie sensation Chase Claypool.

    He is on track for a career-best year in terms of completion percentage (68.2) but is producing a lower yards per attempt rate (6.8) than ever before (aside from 2019 when he played just two games).

    That highlights what has, so far, largely been an efficient but more conservative approach from Big Ben than we have been used to seeing.

    However, after throwing one interception in the first five games of 2020, he was picked off three times in the dramatic victory over the Tennessee Titans last time out and now faces a formidable Ravens unit.

    Including postseason games, Roethlisberger is 15-10 in his career against the Ravens. Though he is only 4-6 on the road, he did earn victories in his last two visits to Baltimore (2017, 2018), but the Ravens won the two 2019 games while he was out.

    Big picture

    With additional wildcard spots available this year, these two teams already look like locks to make the playoffs.

    But this is a pivotal matchup in the battle for the division between teams who have combined to win 14 of 18 AFC North titles, as well as crucial for playoff seedings down the line.

    The Steelers are 6-0 for the second time in team history and a win on Sunday would match the best start in franchise annals (the 1978 team started 7-0).

    But the Ravens would love nothing more than to end that unbeaten start and are eager for a statement win after suffering their sole loss at the hands of Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs.

  • Stats Perform's NFL Friday Facts: Franchise history awaits unbeaten Steelers Stats Perform's NFL Friday Facts: Franchise history awaits unbeaten Steelers

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are the last remaining unbeaten team in the NFL, but the Baltimore Ravens will hope to stop them earning a slice of history.

    For just the second time, the Steelers are 6-0 and victory at M&T Bank Stadium would see them match the franchise-best seven-game undefeated start set in 1978.

    Games between these NFC North rivals are typically tight affairs, though. Since 2008, 14 of their 24 regular-season meetings have been decided by three points or fewer – the most of any matchup in that time frame – and the Ravens have won eight of those 14 nail-biters.

    The Minnesota Vikings have the unenviable task of trying to stop an in-form Aaron Rodgers when they return from their bye week, while a significant milestone is in the offing for Travis Kelce.

    We use Stats Perform data to preview the standout matchups on the Week 8 slate.
     

    FEATURED GAME

    Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens – Sunday 1pm (all times Eastern)

    - Lamar Jackson has been held under 200 passing yards in four consecutive starts, though the Ravens won three of those games. Jackson has completed less than 60 per cent of his attempts in three of his last four contests, dropping his season completion percentage to 63 – 26th among 32 qualifiers.

    - Since 2000, the Steelers (226) and Ravens (210) rank second and fifth respectively in total victories (regular season and playoffs). The teams have combined to win 14 of 18 AFC North titles all-time, and, in 19 of the past 20 seasons, at least one of the two teams reached the postseason.

    - After throwing one interception in the first five games of 2020, Ben Roethlisberger was picked off three times in last Sunday's victory at the Tennessee Titans. Including the postseason, Roethlisberger is 15-10 in his career against the Ravens – but only 4-6 on the road. However, he was triumphant on his past two visits to Baltimore (2017, 2018).

    OTHER KEY GAMES

    Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns – Sunday, 1pm

    - The Browns' last-minute 37-34 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last week moved them to 5-2, giving them their best seven-game start to a season since re-joining the NFL in 1999. It is the fourth time since the merger that Cleveland has five or more wins through seven games (1977, 1993, 1994).

    Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers – Sunday, 1pm

    - Rodgers had four touchdown passes and no interceptions in a 35-20 win against the Houston Texans last time out. His 17 TD passes this year matches a career high through six games of a season, along with his 2011 MVP campaign

    New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs – Sunday, 1pm

    - Kelce has 6,966 receiving yards in 103 career games. If he gets to 7,000 on Sunday, he would be the second-fastest tight end in NFL history to reach that mark, behind only Rob Gronkowski (100).

    New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears – Sunday, 4.25pm

    - The Saints beat the Carolina Panthers 27-24 at home last week. Each of their past three games has resulted in a win by six points or fewer, just the third time they have ever had such a streak (three games across the 1990 and 1991 seasons; four games in 1988).

    San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks – Sunday, 4.25pm

    - The Niners are averaging 7.0 yards per carry when rushing to the right (483 yards on 69 attempts), more than any team in any direction this season. They have a combined 479 yards on 122 carries to the left and up the middle

    ELSEWHERE…

    Los Angeles Rams at Miami Dolphins – Sunday, 1pm

    - Tua Tagovailoa will be making his first career start on Sunday. The fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, he is the second highest-picked Alabama quarterback of all time (Harry Gilmer went first overall in 1948), and the second-highest QB ever selected by the Dolphins (Bob Griese went fourth overall in 1967).

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants – Monday, 8.15pm

    - With a 45-20 win over the Raiders last week, Tampa Bay have now had back-to-back wins of at least 25 points for the first time in franchise history (defeated Green Bay by 28 in Week 6). The Bucs had just two such wins over the previous seven seasons combined.

  • Premier League Fantasy Picks: Mane and Calvert-Lewin lead Merseyside charge Premier League Fantasy Picks: Mane and Calvert-Lewin lead Merseyside charge

    Merseyside rivals Everton and Liverpool will be looking to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Sadio Mane respectively to maintain their excellent starts to the Premier League campaign this weekend. 

    The Toffees, who are ahead of Jurgen Klopp's side at the Premier League summit on goal difference, travel to Newcastle United, while their city rivals host West Ham – sides that Calvert-Lewin and Mane have excellent recent records against.

    Chelsea, meanwhile, will be confident of picking up three points at struggling Burnley, given Frank Lampard can call on a couple of the Premier League's most in-form players in Edouard Mendy and Ben Chilwell. 

    Finally, Crystal Palace and Southampton will hope Wilfried Zaha and Che Adams can continue their hot streaks when they face Wolves and Aston Villa respectively.

    EDOUARD MENDY

    Edouard Mendy has impressed for Chelsea since taking over the gloves from the error-prone Kepa Arrizabalaga.

    The former Rennes man travels to Burnley at the weekend looking to become the first Chelsea goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in each of his first three Premier League appearances for the Blues since Petr Cech in August 2004.

    Given Sean Dyche's side have scored just three goals in their opening five games this season, do not bet against him achieving it.

     

    BEN CHILWELL

    Ben Chilwell has played in just three of Chelsea's six Premier League games this season but he has already created more chances (nine) than any other Blues players. 

    The former Leicester City left-back has been directly involved in three goals in those three appearances, with one goal and two assists, and has contributed to two clean sheets.

    Burnley look like they will have their work cut out trying to stop the marauding England international at the weekend.

     

    MICHAEL KEANE

    Everton's forwards have received most of the plaudits for the Toffees' superb start to the season, but there is a man at the back who has certainly contributed to their success. 

    Since the Premier League resumed in June, centre-back Michael Keane is the competition's top-scoring defender with three goals.

    Two of those have come this season and he heads to Newcastle United this weekend looking to add to that tally. 

     

    WILFRIED ZAHA

    Wilfried Zaha has brushed aside any disappointment at not getting a move to a Champions League club, starting the 2020-21 season in electrifying form. 

    The Ivorian – who faces Wolves on Friday – has scored five goals already this season, which is one more than he managed in 38 appearances last term. 

    With five goals and one assist to his name, he is also just one goal or assist away from matching his goal involvement total from last season.

     

    SADIO MANE

    Sadio Mane will be licking his lips at the prospect of facing West Ham this weekend. 

    The Liverpool forward has scored in his last four games against the Hammers and boasts eight goal involvements (five goals, three assists) in eight meetings with them.

    He has also been directly involved in five goals in his last four Premier League fixtures (four goals, one assist), which is more than in his previous 10 outings, when he scored just four goals.

     

    CHE ADAMS

    Southampton visit high-flying Aston Villa and former Birmingham City striker Che Adams will be hoping to get one over on his former arch rivals. 

    After failing to score in his first 24 Premier League games, Adams has now scored six in his last 12, including goals in each of his last two appearances. 

    He has not found the net in three successive games since he did for the Blues in early 2019. Villa have been warned.

     

    DOMINIC CALVERT-LEWIN

    Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been in red-hot form this season and sits second in the Premier League's scoring charts with seven goals from six appearances. 

    Expect him to add to that tally when Everton visit Newcastle, given his recent form against Steve Bruce's side. 

    The England international has scored against the Magpies more than any other opponent in the top flight, with all four of his goals coming in his last three games against them.

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