NBA

Lakers' Davis ready to cap 'crazy year' with NBA championship

By Sports Desk September 29, 2020

Anthony Davis wants to finish a crazy year with victory in the NBA Finals as he hailed the resilience of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers and Miami Heat will go head-to-head in the Finals, with Game 1 scheduled for Wednesday at Walt Disney World Resort.

It has been a difficult season for the Lakers, who mourned the death of legendary guard and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant following a helicopter crash in January.

The top-seeded Lakers, like rival teams, have also dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the league to be suspended in March before resuming inside the Orlando bubble in July.

Preparing for his maiden Finals appearance in his first season with the Lakers following a blockbuster trade from the New Orleans Pelicans, All-Star Davis told reporters on Tuesday: "It's special.

"It's been a crazy year. For us to continue to be a step closer to our dreams, to reach our goals, it's special.

"I think our team has been through the most this year, and we just kept on pushing, kept on fighting. With everything that's been going on, I kind of think the hiatus was actually good for us. It kind of just let us regroup because we had such a crazy year. The Lakers had such a crazy year.

"Now we want to make sure that we finish this thing off right. Our team is a team that handled adversity this year.

"We've been resilient. And now we feel like it's our jobs to finish the season off the way we wanted to start it, the same way we wanted to start it. We're four wins away from that, and it seems like it's all just come full circle."

It will be a reunion for LeBron James and the Heat in the Finals after the superstar won two championships in 2012 and 2013 during his time in Miami.

James – who also celebrated glory with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 – has the chance to claim a fourth NBA title and Davis said: "He's a guy who obviously when he played against his former teams, he wants to win very bad, very badly, just like everyone else does.

"But to be back in the Finals against Miami I think means a lot more to him winning this than anyone else. I think this championship is probably second behind Cleveland, being able to get this one for him.

"I think this one is going to be a tough one. People said it's going to be the toughest championship in NBA history from a mental standpoint just because of the circumstances. But it's been fun to watch him. He goes to the Finals every year. Win or lose, he always comes back the next year. And to finally get back after last year and go against his former team, I'm pretty sure he's going to have a competitive series."

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel also hailed James, adding: "He's the best leader I've ever been around, simplest way to put it, in terms of players. We've dealt with a lot, a lot of heavy emotional types of adversity that we've gone through, and he sets a great tone with his example.

"But he is also a great leader from a communicative standpoint, talking to guys, talking to the group about the right mindset to have, to be in certain situations, being the leading voice when things occur where we're all not really sure how to deal with it or what to say. You know, he's been a leading voice in those situations. Just an integral part of our success this year."

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    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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    The 2019-20 season was suspended for over four months during the coronavirus pandemic and was finished in a bio-secure bubble in Florida, though the regular season was reduced from 82 games, with the Los Angeles Lakers winning the NBA Finals on October 11.

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    "Given all that has to be resolved between now and a December 22 date, factoring that there will be financial risks by a later start date, it defies common sense that it can all be done in time," Roberts told The Athletic.

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    She stressed it was wrong to consider Friday "as a drop dead date”.

    Roberts added: "This summer, up through just two short weeks ago, our players accepted the challenges posed by and risks to their personal health and safety in order to save our season.

    "Separated from their communities and their families, these men lived in isolation for months. Each day could have been met with the news that this awful virus had invaded their space and they were exposed to likely infection. They stayed the course, followed the protocol and, as a result, were able to deliver fabulous competition and completed the season able to crown a champion.

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  • Lakers' Green expects LeBron to rest if NBA season starts in December Lakers' Green expects LeBron to rest if NBA season starts in December

    Danny Green expects superstar Los Angeles Lakers team-mate LeBron James to rest if the 2020-21 NBA season gets underway on December 22.

    The NBA is reportedly planning for a 72-game regular-season schedule, which would begin prior to Christmas Day.

    James, 35, helped the Lakers to their first championship in 10 years after topping the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals inside the Orlando bubble amid the coronavirus pandemic earlier this month.

    Lakers guard Green, 33, commented on the league's plans for the upcoming campaign.

    "If we start in December, I think most guys [are like], 'I'm not going to be there,'" Green told The Ringer NBA Show podcast. "If I had to guess, because we have a lot of vets [veterans] on our team, it's not like we have a lot of young guys or rookies ... to have that quick of a restart, I wouldn't expect to see [LeBron] there.

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    James celebrated a fourth league title after posting his 11th Finals triple-double of 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists against the Heat at Walt Disney World Resort, where the Lakers sealed a 4-2 series triumph.

    It was his first championship with the Lakers, having struggled for form and fitness during his maiden season in Los Angeles in 2018-19.

    James set the record for most postseason appearances with 260, while the veteran became 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 Miami Heat, per Stats Perform.

    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).

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