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Calm and confident, LeBron James says Los Angeles Lakers can ‘absolutely’ repeat in 2021

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LeBron James is confident that the Los Angeles Lakers‘ offseason moves will put them in position to defend their NBA championship.

“We can [repeat]. I mean, it’s that simple,” James said on an episode of “Road Trippin’,” hosted by Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Allie Clifton, that aired Tuesday on Spectrum SportsNet. “We absolutely can. … First of all, it all starts with health. You have to have some luck. You have to have health. If we can stay healthy.”

James, participating in his first extended interview since the Lakers left the bubble in Orlando, Florida, with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow, then rattled off a few of L.A.’s offseason acquisitions — namely Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol — as a source of confidence when considering a title defense.

“We did get younger,” said James, appearing relaxed in a tie-dyed shirt and sipping on a glass of tequila during the episode. “We have a 27-year-old point guard [in Schroder]. We got the 27-year-old Sixth Man of the Year award [winner] in Trezz. We got younger. We got Marc, who is a Defensive Player of the Year and his IQ, not only playing against him in the NBA, but also playing against him versus Spain with the national team.”

James had well-wishes for his former teammates who are no longer with the Lakers, too: Danny Green and Dwight Howard in Philadelphia; Rajon Rondo in Atlanta; JaVale McGee in Cleveland; and free-agent guard Quinn Cook. “Being a part of a championship ballclub, no matter if you play zero minutes or you’re at 30-40 minutes, that s— all ties into one, because we all challenge each other every day,” he said.

Sometimes scrutinized for having a heavy hand when it comes to personnel decisions on the teams he has played for throughout his career, James hinted at some future roster possibilities for the Lakers, who will begin training camp on Thursday.

“Quinn, he’s a pro, he’s definitely going to get a look,” James said. “Hopefully back with us. … Hopefully we may bring him back.”

He also did not close the door on Marc Gasol’s older brother, Pau Gasol, potentially making a return to the franchise where he teamed with Kobe Bryant to win two championships.

“We’ll see,” James said when asked if he thought the 40-year-old Gasol could return to L.A. “We’ll see, I mean, maybe. We’ll see. We’ll see.”

It sounds like there won’t be much to see from James, who is embarking on his 18th season, during L.A.’s four-game preseason slate starting Dec. 11 with two games against the LA Clippers, followed by two against the Phoenix Suns.

“Preseason, I’m not quite worried about,” he said. “I am rounding 36. … Don’t worry about me in the preseason.”

The exhibition schedule will be the first time the league hosts games in NBA arenas after putting the 2019-20 season on hiatus in March because of the pandemic. James and the Lakers emerged victorious from the 22-team bubble, which required daily COVID-19 testing, but there is skepticism about the NBA’s plan for the 2020-21 season.

“I’m very intrigued on seeing what the protocols are going to be,” James said. “There’s been discussions, there’s been talks. They wanted to make sure that we can get the season going. Obviously for a lot of different reasons.”

Jefferson interrupted James’ thoughts to suggest “money” being a primary motivator for the NBA, which James agreed with.

“The biggest reason,” James said.

League owners believed the NBA could lose anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion by not starting this season by Christmas, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “But the safety of our players and the safety of our owners and the safety of our GMs and the safety of our coaches and training staff and things, that’s more important than anything,” James said. “I’m very intrigued in seeing how they deal with this because we all know COVID is still very active. And they actually told us that in the winter, it’s going to be more active than anytime and that’s what we’re in right now — either if you’re seeing snow or not, this is the wintertime and it’s picking up steam. So, I just want to see how we tackle this.”

While James recently shared photos of an on-court workout with his 16-year-old son, Bronny, he revealed on the podcast he has only “touched a basketball twice,” during the truncated offseason. Of course, the last time he had the rock in his hands, things went quite well for James. He won his fourth NBA title while being named Finals MVP for a fourth time after beating the Miami Heat 4-2 in the championship round.

But not before enduring the challenge of relocating to Florida for more than three months.

“It’s almost the same feeling as the first time you go to a haunted house,” James said. “You get excited with your friends. Your friends are telling you how great it is. And you get juiced up, juiced up and juiced up and juiced up — you really don’t realize how scary that s— is until you get inside of that haunted house. And that’s what I compare to the bubble.

“We were all excited to get back. We were excited to be playing basketball again. I mean, we stopped play in March, so we were all excited, but you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into until you get inside of the bubble and they tell you, ‘That right there, you cannot go outside that gate.'”

James also reflected on the moment when the Milwaukee Bucks led a wildcat strike during the first round of the playoffs in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. James said the Bucks’ unilateral decision caused uncertainty for the rest of the league.

“They had made a decision to boycott the game because of what happened in their backyard back in Milwaukee, with another innocent Black man being gunned down,” James recalled. “So I got on the phone with Chris Paul, because their game was next, and I called him and Russ [Westbrook] and I told them straight up, ‘There’s no way that we can go out on the floor as the Lakers and play our game with what just transpired. What are you guys going to do?’ And they felt the same way. … We would look stupid if we went out and played and Milwaukee decided to sit down and we’ve been preaching this solidarity thing as a brotherhood. Because we are a brotherhood. Even when you get blindsided from your brother.”

James used a military analogy to try to get his point across.

“When we’re all together as an army, if we’re an army and we’re going out for battle and we say we’re here in solidarity and someone in the front decides to go before we say, ‘Charge!’ Now we’re all caught off guard,” he said. “So that’s what happened. And to be honest, I was ready to walk away. I was ready to walk away. I had called my wife and called my mom and told them that I was probably headed home.”

He also explained his reasoning for walking out of an all-hands-on-deck meeting in the aftermath of the Bucks’ boycott, when several members of the Lakers and Clippers joined him, leaving many in the room thinking those teams would abandon the season.

“When I walked out, we sat there and talked for two, three, four hours and there was still no plan. So I walked out. Because my time is very valuable. And I knew what could help the change,” James said. “But when you’re dealing with a group with a lot of emotional [people], a lot of ego, a lot of guys that are passionate about themselves and what they believe in, then it’s hard to figure out a plan at that very moment. So it was best for me to step out.”

It ended up being a critical juncture in NBA history and one of the many stories from the bubble that will surely be rehashed for years to come.

“Ninety-six days, 95 nights,” James said of his time in the bubble. “I will never forget it.”

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Who’s the best 3-point shooter on the Lakers? LeBron James, Anthony Davis weigh in

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The Los Angeles Lakers went into Friday with the third-best 3-point percentage in the league and were hot from the outside once again in their 112-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, hitting 15 3s at Staples Center.

LeBron James was responsible for two of them, going 2-for-6 from deep, which caused his season percentage to dip ever so slightly to 38.2% — which would be the second-best 3-point shooting season of his 18-year career should he keep it up.

Earlier in the week, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said James was “probably the best shooter on our team,” which begs the question: Does James agree with his coach?

“I mean, we got a lot of great shooters on the team, man,” James said. “KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope], a great shooter. Wes Matthews, great shooter. Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] can shoot the heck out of the ball. Dennis the Menace [Dennis Schroder] can shoot the ball. AD [Anthony Davis] can shoot the ball. So we got a lot of great knock-down shooters.

“Obviously, if someone says, ‘Bet,’ then obviously you guys know, I’m going to take myself. That’s just the competitive nature in me and the work ethic that I put into my shot. But I feel real good with my shot right now, both from the free throw line and also from the 3-point line, and I want to continue that.”

Davis, who lifted his 3-point marksmanship from 33% in his first season in L.A. to 39.4% going into the Pelicans game, slotted James a bit lower.

“I would have to say Kenny is always our guy who we always look to for shots,” Davis said, referring to Caldwell-Pope. “Wes is still struggling to find his consistent 3. He’s been getting open looks, but I still put Wes up there. I put Bron third, just because of this year he’s been able to shoot the ball extremely well. Marc [Gasol] can shoot it. Marc is up there. And then I put myself. Dudz [Jared Dudley]. AC [Alex Caruso].”

For those scoring at home, that is nine different 3-point shooters rattled off by the Lakers’ co-captains — and doesn’t even include guys such as Quinn Cook and Markieff Morris, who live beyond the arc when they’re on the court.

Caldwell-Pope, who shot 4-for-6 from 3 on Friday and moved past Metta World Peace for ninth place on the Lakers’ all-time franchise list for 3-pointers made, was not ready to crown James as the team’s 3-point shooting king so long as he is involved.

“Numbers don’t lie,” he said, alluding to the career-best 55.3% he’s shooting from 3 so far this season. “But I’m really enjoying LeBron shooting the ball. He’s shooting it at a tremendous clip. He’s knocking them down and it’s fun seeing him have [success] shooting the ball as well. But we all know, I’m the real shooter, for sure.”

He might have a legitimate claim there, but, as Davis pointed out, everyone also knows that James gets certain privileges that Caldwell-Pope will never see.

“You know LeBron’s always going to be up there because he shoots a ton of them, especially when he gets hot, and starts shooting halfcourt and things like that,” Davis said. “I don’t think Coach will allow Kenny to do that.”

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Billy Donovan – Chicago Bulls want to win but ‘don’t know how to’

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After losing multiple double-digit leads throughout the game to eventually fall 127-125 in overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan put it bluntly: His young team hasn’t figured out how to win yet.

“This is a hard-working group. It’s a good group of guys. They want to win,” Donovan said. “They don’t know how to. They are learning how to.”

With a fourth consecutive loss, the Bulls dropped to 4-8 on the season. Turnovers have become a trend, with 24 against the Thunder. Guard Zach LaVine was sensational in scoring 35 points, hitting 8-of-14 from 3-point range, but he turned it over six times.

“It’s the same thing for us,” Donovan said. “Until we find a way to take care of the basketball, it’s so hard to win at this level when you’re turning the ball over at the rate we turn it over.

“A lot of it is self-induced,” Donovan said. “I thought it was all on us.”

The Bulls led by 22 in the third quarter, by 16 with 4 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the fourth and by 10 with 1:56 remaining in regulation. The Bulls went scoreless in the final two minutes, turning the ball over three times (two offensive fouls) and missing the only two shots they attempted, including a potential game-winning attempt by LaVine with 0.9 seconds left.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, before the Bulls’ loss Friday night, teams were 1-2,930 when trailing by 10 or more points in the final two minutes of regulation over the past five seasons. The only other win was by the Kings on Jan. 27, 2020.

“I think we’re all at a lot for words on how we played and how we ended the game,” a frustrated LaVine said. “We just folded. We straight up folded.”

The Bulls have shown positive signs of progression after a slow start, bouncing back to win four out of five before this losing streak. But in their past four games, they’ve allowed at least 115 points in all of them, losing all by four points or fewer.

“I think we’ve just got to learn how to win,” forward Lauri Markkanen said.

The four-game losing streak comes at the same time LaVine is on an offensive roll, becoming the first Bull to have four consecutive 30-point games while shooting 50% or better from the floor since Michael Jordan did it in five straight games in 1996.

“You gotta learn how to win a basketball game when you’re up by 20,” LaVine said.

It wasn’t enough, though, to hold off the Thunder, who were sparked by a career-high 33 points by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on impressive 13-of-19 shooting, plus 10 assists. Guard Lu Dort added 21, and he was a big part of the Bulls’ turnover issues, forcing six.

“It is really hard to win in this league if you don’t do three things: If you don’t win the free throw battle, the rebounding battle and the turnover battle, it’s really difficult,” Donovan said. “And for us, we’ve gotten destroyed in the turnover battle the whole entire year.”

The Bulls play at the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

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Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo’s plan to fix free throw issue

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo has a plan to end his growing struggles from the foul line.

“It’s simple,” the reigning two-time MVP said Friday night after making just one of his 10 free throws in a 112-109 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. “Just go back. Shoot more. Focus on your technique. Take it step by step. Just shoot more. That’s it. The more you shoot, the more you work on it, the better you get. There’s no secret in that.”

According to Elias Sports Bureau data, Antetokounmpo’s 1-of-10 outing was the worst single-game performance from the foul line in Bucks history for a player with at least 10 attempts.

Elias Sports also noted that the only other players to shoot 10% or worse from the free throw line in a game with at least 10 attempts are Andre Drummond, Al Horford and Shaquille O’Neal. Drummond has done it four times and O’Neal did it twice.

Antetokounmpo has made just 57.5% of his free throws this season after shooting a career-low 61.8% from the line last season. That’s a precipitous fall for someone who has a career average of above 71% and made 76% of his free throws as recently as 2017-18.

He’s continuing to play at an MVP level in every other respect, but the lack of accuracy from the foul line is concerning because he gets there so often. Antetokounmpo is 69-of-120 this season and entered Friday night’s action leading the NBA in free throw attempts.

Bucks forward Khris Middleton noted that many players go through tough stretches from the free throw line. Middleton noted that Antetokounmpo sometimes makes bunches of free throws in a row during practice.

“I don’t say much to him,” Middleton said. “I don’t want to get in his head and have him think about 1,000 different things. I think he knows what he needs to do.”

Antetokounmpo says it’s not a case of thinking too much when he’s at the line.

“I don’t think at the free throw line,” Antetokounmpo said. “I just shoot shots. I’ve done this since I was like 12 years old. There are players that probably think when they shoot or whatever the case might be. I just go to the free throw line and say the stuff I say always to myself, try to have a good technique and just try to shoot the ball high and give it a chance because most of my [missed] shots are short.”

Video footage of Antetokounmpo working on his free throws after the game circulated on social media late Friday night. That work ethic helps explain why the Bucks remain confident he’ll eventually improve from the line.

“He’s just got to keep working through the free throw line, continue to put the time in, grow his confidence and step up and make them,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

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