In year 17 of his NBA career, LeBron James is still peaking up to his prime
September 28 2020
The NBA’s players have decided to resume the playoffs following Wednesday’s protest for Jacob Blake, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.
Thursday’s three scheduled playoff games will be postponed, Wojnarowski adds.
The league is aiming to resume the postseason this Friday, sources told The Athletic’s Shams Charania. A potential scenario being considered is rescheduling Wednesday’s contests for Friday and having Thursday’s games take place on Saturday, according to The Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds.
During the meeting, players expressed a desire to come up with new and improved ways of making social justice statements, Charania adds. Current measures include wearing Black Lives Matter warmup shirts, speaking up against social injustices during media sessions, and kneeling during the national anthem.
The sacrifices players have already made thus far inside the NBA bubble were also discussed, according to Charania.
A separate meeting between NBA owners and players will be held later Thursday to further discuss how to address social justice issues, sources told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears and Wojnarowski.
“The bubble is about more than just crowning a champion. More so now than ever. It felt like the message was fading,” an anonymous veteran player told Spears regarding the upcoming owners meeting. “Hopeful this can create a new level of activism and commitment from our owners, league, teams towards real change.”
After LeBron James reportedly called for more action from NBA owners before departing Wednesday night’s meeting, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar relayed on Thursday that it’s in players’ best interest to finish the season.
The Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers were the only two teams to reportedly vote against resuming the season during Wednesday’s initial meeting.
All three of Wednesday’s games were postponed after the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play Game 5 of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic. The team-wide decision to sit out the contest was in response to the recent police shooting of Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Blue Jays have somehow made it to the postseason, and as someone who wasn’t around here during the 2015 and 2016 runs, I’m thrilled to be here for this one (as strange as it is).
We have some added info and updates:
Blue Jays liked matchup of switch-hitter Jonathan Villar vs. Blake Snell over lefties Travis Shaw or Joe Panik, per manager Charlie Montoyo.
Montoyo has a six-man bench with a third catcher, so would expect plenty of pinch-hit, pinch-run maneuvering as game progresses.
— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) September 29, 2020
At 21 years, 328 days, Alejandro Kirk is the second youngest starting DH in post-season history, behind only Claudell Washington, who was 21 years 35 days in the 1975 ALCS. #BlueJays
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) September 29, 2020
Atkins said Jordan Romano was able to throw hard, throw his slider but team felt it would be unfair to throw him into playoff environment in late inning role, having not faced batters outside of live BPs
— Kaitlyn McGrath (@kaitlyncmcgrath) September 29, 2020
Nate Pearson could be used in Game 1 and 3. Or Game 2. But Atkins didn’t rule out a back-to-back scenario for Pearson if he only faced one batter or threw a low-pitch, efficient inning, for example
— Kaitlyn McGrath (@kaitlyncmcgrath) September 29, 2020
Here are today’s lineups. Kirk will DH, Villar gets the start at 2nd Tesocar bats 6th.
105 votes total
95 votes total
94 votes total
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Decades of NBA lore are built on rivalries — epic, titanic, ego-driven clashes that lend context, subtext and the weight of history to what are otherwise just games.
People pay for that stuff, and the league and its players have cashed in, with money spilling in so quickly that it can barely be counted, let alone spent.
It’s good versus evil; pride and prejudice, and pride going before the fall. It’s Celtics-Lakers; Bird-Magic; Michael vs. the Pistons, Shaq vs. Kobe, KD vs. the Warriors and LeBron over everyone.
Some of it is straight out of the Vince McMahon playbook: storylines that keep the plot twisting through never-ending winters until games that matter finally arrive, at which point the hype machine kicks it up another notch.
If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.
But some of it is real. Some of it is based on men of giant accomplishments and massive, never-satiated ambitions coming together and pulling apart like tectonic plates on ephedrine, the league’s foundations quaking along the way.
This time it’s not an on-court rivalry that lends the final series of the NBA’s most unusual season its weight — though on paper the young, upstart Heat testing themselves against LeBron James and his insta-dynasty Lakers has all the ingredients to make it suitably delicious.
But what could make it memorable and a new plot point in the league’s decades-long drama is the way it pits two of sport’s most significant, preening, powerful, proud and successful figures against one another.
Heat president Pat Riley is 75 and his Goodfellas-inspired, slicked-back hair has long gone gray. But even in the bubble and wearing a mask, behind a glass partition, he has a presence. When current Heat star Jimmy Butler is looking for approval, he looks up into the stands, devoid of fans, for a post-game thumbs up from Riley. The Heat figurehead is the former Lakers role player turned coach turned executive turned living legend, the one who rode shotgun for Jerry West on the floor; earned Magic Johnson’s trust from the bench before pushing him too far and losing that war of wills after five championships.
Cast out from L.A., Riley perfected bully ball with the New York Knicks in the 90s, very nearly toppling Jordan in the process, before bolting for Miami, where he has somehow fused L.A. cool with New York edge, South Florida weather and no state income tax to create an NBA destination out of almost nothing.
It was Riley’s presence that attracted James after the kid from Akron was all grown up and looking to leave home. Riley plunked down a bag with the nine championships he’d won as a player, coach and executive and promised James he’d win a bunch more if they joined forces in Miami. James, without a title to show for seven years as a good soldier in Cleveland, followed the sun.
It was a perfect union – the world’s greatest player with the NBA’s most recognized superstar whisperer; the coolest, most gangster executive in the game with one more legend to pour his wisdom into. But after four Finals appearances and two championships, James was ready to graduate.
Pat Riley is Pat Riley because he’s his own man. He followed his basketball vision and in Miami created something in his image. “Heat Culture” is Riley: toughness, accountability, loyalty and no compromises.
In year 17 of his NBA career, LeBron James is still peaking up to his prime
September 28 2020
But James took his lessons and wanted to improvise, play his own tune and win on his terms. When James left Miami to go back to Cleveland, he was following his own muse, looking to close his own circle and bring a championship back to the most un-Miami place in the league — taking what he learned and bringing it home.
Riley wasn’t having it. He wasn’t used to people saying “No” to him, let alone South Beach. For a moment he lost his cool. He lashed out.
“This stuff is hard. And you go to stay together, if you’ve got the guts,” he said after the Heatles had come up short against the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, triggering the break-up, and plenty of hard feelings. “And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.”
It was a ridiculous thing to say. All James was doing was taking his career into his own hands, launching himself on a trajectory few athletes in any sport have ever aspired to, let alone pulled off. James went back to Cleveland and completed one of the greatest stories in all of sports – bringing a title to his (adjacent) hometown after 52 years of being kicked around or forgotten by the coastal elites. He engineered a comeback from 3-1 against the Golden State Warriors, one of the greatest teams in NBA history. Along the way, James found his voice as a philanthropist and an activist — and proved that he didn’t need Pat Riley to be the primary figure in the NBA.
Riley couldn’t help but be chastened.
“I had two to three days of tremendous anger (after James left),” Riley told Ian Thomsen in 2018’s “The Soul of Basketball,” acknowledging that he hadn’t spoken with James since.
“I was absolutely livid, which I expressed to myself and my closest friends. My beautiful plan all of a sudden came crashing down. That team in 10 years could have won five or six championships.
“But I get it. I get the whole chronicle of (LeBron’s) life.
“While there may have been some carnage always left behind when he made these kinds of moves, in Cleveland and also in Miami, he did the right thing,” Riley told Thompson. “I just finally came to accept the realization that he and his family said, ‘You’ll never, ever be accepted back in your hometown if you don’t go back to try to win a title. Otherwise someday you’ll go back there and have the scarlet letter on your back. You’ll be the greatest player in the history of mankind, but back there, nobody’s really going to accept you.’”
In the moments before Game 7 in 2016, Riley reached out to James, via text: “Win this and be free.”
James never responded. He didn’t need Riley’s affirmation, but from the winner’s circle, he let on the vindication his third title provided.
“When I decided to leave Miami — I’m not going to name any names, I can’t do that — but there were some people that I trusted and built relationships with in those four years (who) told me I was making the biggest mistake of my career,” James told ESPN at the time.
“And that s— hurt me. And I know it was an emotional time that they told me that because I was leaving. They just told me it was the biggest mistake I was making in my career. And that right there was my motivation.”
Having paid his debt to Cleveland, James eventually set out to make one more bold move in a career defined by them, leaving to join the Lakers in the summer of 2018, all while making a masterful long play to recruit the greatest teammate of his career, Anthony Davis.
After a season in limbo, it has worked out perfectly. The Lakers have been the best team in the West all year and have looked stronger as the playoffs have gone on.
But while Riley may have begun to show his age in the decade since he brought James to Miami as the centrepiece of what he thought would be a dynasty that would challenge the Lakers’ historical hegemony, he hasn’t lost any of his edge.
Since James left, Riley has been rebuilding on the fly: adding, positioning, developing and drafting. This past off-season he pounced and found a new soulmate in Jimmy Butler to lead his hand-picked crew of young talent.
The Heat have grown before everyone’s eyes, including Riley’s, as he looks down approvingly from behind his mask.
Now one more test: will Riley’s new team, built in James’ wake, be able to hand James one more bitter Finals disappointment, a seventh loss — this time to his former mentor — obscuring his three championships?
Or will James have the last laugh, winning his fourth title with his third team and proving that Riley needed him more than the other way around?
There are legacies at stake, and history, and two of the NBA’s proudest, vainest and most successful characters are awaiting one more chapter to be written.
But only one of them is one the floor. Advantage, LeBron.
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Sixty-five days after entering the bubble, 201 days after the NHL shut down, nearly a full year after the season started and almost a year and a half after suffering one of the most humiliating defeats in playoff history, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally finished the job. With last night’s 2-0 win over Dallas in Game 6 of the final, they became the Stanley Cup champions of the most bizarre NHL season ever.
Tampa had one of the best regular seasons of all time in 2018-19, winning a record-tying 62 games. But it won zero in the playoffs, getting swept by Columbus in one of the most shocking playoff defeats ever. The Lightning took it easier this season but still cruised to the league’s second-best record before the pandemic hit and the NHL closed shop for five months. Tampa kept its edge and exacted revenge on Columbus by beating them in five games in the first round. Then came an impressive five-game takedown of heavyweight Boston before six-game victories over the plucky Islanders and Stars. And they did it without injured captain Steven Stamkos, who played a grand total of less than three minutes in the playoffs — but did score a goal in Game 3 of the final and got to be the first to hoist the Cup last night.
It’s a great redemption story. And similar to Washington’s from 2018. Like Tampa, the Capitals had by far the NHL’s best regular-season record and were everyone’s pick to win the Cup before flaming out early in the playoffs, then bounced back the following year to become champions. Boston comes closest to fitting that bill for next year. The Bruins ran away with the NHL’s best regular-season record before becoming the fifth consecutive Presidents’ Trophy winner to lose in the second round of the playoffs or earlier.
A few other takeaways from Tampa being crowned champion of this very weird season:
The Lightning had so many good Conn Smythe choices. Victor Hedman won the playoff MVP award after scoring 10 goals — the third-most ever by a defenceman in the playoffs. But it just as easily could have gone to Brayden Point, who scored the opening goal last night for his league-leading 14th of the playoffs. Or Nikita Kucherov, who won the playoff scoring race and had more assists than anyone except Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux have ever recorded in a single post-season. You could even have built a case for Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made some big saves again last night and finished with a sparkling 1.90 goals-against average for the playoffs. He was the only goalie Tampa used after the restart, setting a new record for minutes played in a post-season.
The NHL pulled it off. Be honest: back in the spring, did you believe the Cup would be awarded this year? And even if you did, could you imagine it would go this smoothly? Zero players or other team personnel tested positive for COVID-19 in what the NHL said were more than 33,000 tests conducted since teams arrived in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles on July 26. The quality of play was top-notch too. That’s not to say there weren’t some tough moments. Even the joyous Lightning were palpably relieved to be getting out of Dodge last night. And two days’ worth of games were postponed back in late August as part of the sports-wide walkouts in protest of racial injustice and police brutality started by the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. The NHL’s delayed reaction to that extraordinary moment drew criticism. But, from a playing-in-a-pandemic standpoint, this was a remarkable achievement by the NHL and its players.
So what’s next? After rushing to complete the playoffs, the NHL is cramming its big off-season events in before the Thanksgiving/Columbus Day weekend. The draft is next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the free-agent signing period opens Friday, Oct. 9 at noon ET. The NHL and the players’ union will meet soon to discuss scenarios for the 2020-21 season. The players have no desire to bubble up for the whole thing, but the NHL could follow the lead of baseball and the NFL and have teams play out of their home arenas with enhanced health protocols. That’ll be trickier for the NHL, though, because it has seven Canadian-based teams. The earliest possible start date for the new season is Dec. 1, but it’s more likely to be later than that, which could mean a shortened regular season. Read more about the possibilities for next season here.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo recaps the Lightning’s Stanley Cup win:
The NFL has its first outbreak out of the season. Eight members of the Tennessee Titans have tested positive for COVID-19 — including three players. The Titans played the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Both teams cancelled their in-person activities for today, though no one from the Vikings tested positive. Tennessee and Minnesota both play next on Sunday afternoon — the Titans host Pittsburgh while the Vikings visit Houston. As of now, those games are still a go. Read more about the Titans’ positive tests and the potential fallout here.
The Blue Jays open their playoff series vs. Tampa Bay today. First pitch is at 5 p.m. ET. Toronto is sending so-so starter Matt Shoemaker to the mound, even though ace Hyun-Jin Ryu has had the regular four days of rest. Ryu felt “a little sore” after his last regular-season start, according to manager Charlie Montoyo, so the team wanted to buy him more time. It’s a best-of-three series with games on back-to-back-to-back days, so Ryu would only be able to make one start anyway. But saving him for Game 2 probably removes the possibility of using him in relief in a potential Game 3. Shoemaker’s start is likely to be a short one, so the Jays may have to lean on their questionable bullpen early and often. An x-factor there is top pitching prospect Nate Pearson, who just returned from an arm injury and will work out of the pen. Read more about the Jays’ key players and their outlook for the playoffs in this piece by CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter. If you missed yesterday’s newsletter, brush up on how baseball`s new playoff format works here.
Canadian women have flipped the script at the French Open. Heading into the final Grand Slam of the year, Canada looked a lot stronger on the men’s side, where it had four players (two of them seeded) compared to just two in the women’s event (neither ranked higher than 100th in the world). But Canada is already down to its final men’s player after 19th-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime and qualifier Steven Diez lost their first-round matches yesterday, and unseeded Vasek Pospisil got smoked in straight sets today by No. 7 Matteo Berrettini. That leaves only ninth-seeded Denis Shapovalov, who advanced to the second round today by beating Frenchman Gilles Simon in four sets. But both Canadian women are still alive. Yesterday, 100th-ranked Leylah Annie Fernandez upset the No. 31 seed in her first-ever appearance in the main draw of the French Open. She and 168th-ranked Genie Bouchard both play their second-round matches tomorrow.
Doc Rivers took the fall for the Clippers’ collapse. He’s one of the most respected coaches in basketball, and he guided L.A. to the fourth-best record in the NBA this season. But the Clippers brought in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (and mortgaged their future to do so) to win championships, and the supposed title contenders got upset in the second round by Denver. Worse, they choked away the final three games of the series and seemed to just straight-up quit in the second half of Game 7. Tough to blame Doc for that. But this is pro sports, so nine times out of 10 the axe falls on the coach. The team said Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer arrived at the decision jointly. Believe that if you choose. Read more about what went wrong for Doc and the Clippers here.
Patrick Mahomes is still the king. By his lofty standards, the Super Bowl MVP had a so-so start to the season, averaging only 256 yards passing in wins over the mediocre Texans and Chargers (and barely escaping an upset in the latter). But Mahomes and Kansas City showed last night that they’re still the ones to beat. They steamrolled the NFL’s consensus other-best team, the Baltimore Ravens, 34-20 on Monday Night Football. Mahomes threw for four TDs, ran in another and executed coach Andy Reid’s brilliant play designs to perfection. Mahomes also outplayed reigning regular-season MVP Lamar Jackson, who threw for only 97 yards. Jackson ran for 83 but was also sacked four times. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s vaunted defence failed to sack Mahomes at all despite blitzing him all night (might want to rethink that strategy). Read more about K.C.’s convincing win in the marquee matchup here.
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