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LeBron responds to recent chatter about his game, workload

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The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a decided surge, having won four straight games after last night’s 121-113 victory against the San Antonio Spurs. As the Lakers collected their seventh win in their last 10 games, the storyline was the same: LeBron James did the heavy lifting and set the tone in victory.

He finished with a game-high 42 points (on 15-for-24 shooting) to go with five rebounds, six assists and two steals. Over that 10-game stretch, James is averaging 29.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists and shooting 53.7 percent. Still, James has heard some comments over the past week from Lakers legends Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson — and some comments from Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant — on how he should play his game.

 

LeBron James dominates as the Lakers drop the Spurs in Los Angeles.

After last night’s win, though, James was asked if his performance was fueled at all by the talk surrounding him of late.

“No, for what? I’m past the [taking things] personal stage,” James said after the game. “I can do whatever. I can have a huge workload, I can have a not so huge workload. … It doesn’t matter for me. What’s most important is seeing my teammates make huge shots in the fourth quarter. … That’s what’s most important to me. I can care less about the narrative about me. It doesn’t matter. I’m a staple in this game.”

In a story published by Bleacher Report on Wednesday, both Durant and now-Lakers teammate Tyson Chandler both were quoted about why some star players might perhaps be hesitant to play alongside James. Per Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher, Chandler said: 

 

NBA TV discusses Bleacher Report’s recent story about LeBron James.

“If you’ve got LeBron, you’ve got to make it all about LeBron. You’ve got to be able to [coexist] with that and fit with that. Who are you, where are you in your career, and how do you fit in? It’s a sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice for winning.”

Chandler made the comments to Bleacher Report a few days before he was waived by the Phoenix Suns and then signed with the Lakers. 

As for Durant, he said. “It depends on what kind of player you are. If you’re Kyle Korver, then it makes sense. Because Kyle Korver in Atlanta was the bulk of the offense, and he’s not a No. 1 option at all, not even close. So his talents benefit more from a guy who can pass and penetrate and get him open.

“If you’re a younger player like a Kawhi [Leonard], trying to pair him with LeBron James doesn’t really make sense. Kawhi enjoys having the ball in his hands, controlling the offense, dictating the tempo with his post-ups; it’s how he plays the game. A lot of young players are developing that skill. They don’t need another guy.”

Chandler said he spoke to James about his comments to Bleacher Report, which he felt were taken out of context.

“What I said was, when you have a great player like LeBron, I said I’ve only played with one other player like that, and like Dirk, you have to make it about them because of how talented they are and where they can lead you,” Chandler told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “And of course all of that wasn’t put in. It was just, ‘When you have a player like LeBron you got to make it about LeBron,’ or something like that. However it read. But that wasn’t the full statement.

“And I just think I don’t like when negative articles come out like that, even if it’s not about my teammate, but about my teammate, somebody who carries teams the way he does, I just think we’re nitpicking. We’re trying to find something negative about something that’s great instead of just leaving it alone.”

As for Durant’s comments, James said he wanted to instead see what the reigning Finals MVP said in full.

“I would love to see the whole transcript of what was asked of him, the context it was asked of him, why it was asked and the whole thing,” James said. “So I’m not gonna comment on it because I don’t know the whole thing. That would be stupid on my part. I’m a veteran.”

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Davis to remain in Pelicans’ lineup — for now

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METAIRIE, La. (AP)  — When Pelicans finished practice on Thursday, Anthony Davis went into coach Alvin Gentry’s office, followed later by interim general manager Danny Ferry.

As they spoke, privacy shades on windows that otherwise offer a view of practice courts were pulled down.

After the meeting, Gentry said Davis was slated to start at Indiana on Friday night. But beyond that, the Pelicans weren’t ready to shed much light on how they plan to handle having their disaffected six-time All-Star on the roster for the final seven weeks of the regular season.

“He’s playing tomorrow,” Gentry said repeatedly in response to varying questions about Davis’ status with the club. “He’s playing the game tomorrow. Let’s get to that one and then we can worry about everything else.”

On Saturday night, the Pelicans are scheduled to host LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Davis, who is represented by the same agent as James, has requested a trade. The Lakers tried to acquire Davis before this season’s Feb. 7 trade deadline, but the Pelicans declined to move him, opting instead to wait until the offseason, when more will be known about draft slots and more teams can make concrete offers.

NBA rules forbid clubs from resting healthy players in ways deemed detrimental to the league, particularly for nationally televised games and road games. So the Pelicans are trying to determine the best way to comply with those rules during their final 23 games while also planning for a future without Davis.

Gentry characterized the ongoing saga the strangest thing he has been a part of “in my life.”

The game at Indiana will be the Pelicans’ first since they fired general manager Dell Demps on Friday and appointed Ferry as his interim replacement. Gentry, who was hired by Demps to coach a team built around Davis, said he’d like to continue coaching New Orleans under the next general manager, whatever his vision for the roster may be.

“I love New Orleans. I like being here,” Gentry said. “I love my job and I’d like to be here a long time.”

Gentry also said he retains “a ton of respect” for Demps.

“I wouldn’t be here without Dell,” Gentry said. “We worked well together and I appreciate what he did for me.”

Based on the philosophy expressed in the past by Pelicans upper management, the next general manager will have the freedom to pick a new coach.

Gentry sounded resigned to the possibility that his tenure here might not last beyond this season. The Pelicans are emerging from the All-Star break with a 26-33 record, six games out of the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. This is Gentry’s fourth season, and New Orleans’ only playoff berth since he was hired came last season.

“What I’m going to concentrate on is 23 more games and to have them try to play at a real high level and compete at a real high level, find out a little bit about our younger guys,” Gentry said. “As a coach, you’ve got to try to get your guys to see if they can focus on the task at hand, and that’s playing basketball games – and you know it’s not easy to do with some of the things that’s going on right now. That’s asking a lot out of anybody with the way things have been. But that’s what we’re here to do.”

Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor, who was the only player to speak with reporters after practice, insisted that he and his teammates were not bothered by Davis’ continued presence in the lineup.

“It’s normal for us. That’s a credit to AD. He’s such a great person – he’s such a great teammate – that we love having him around,” Okafor said. “I think everybody here selfishly would like him to stay. But at the end of the day, we want him to be happy and we want what’s best for him. But it isn’t awkward for us at all.”

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Push for playoffs more than just talk for LeBron, Lakers

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“Stranger things have happened, but it would be weird to have the playoffs and not have him in the playoffs,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “Like, weird.”

The LA Clippers, currently the No. 8 seed, have dwindling motivation and ability to make the playoffs. They traded their best player (Tobias Harris) earlier this month to create cap room for a summer free-agent run. If they make the playoffs, their No. 1 pick goes to the Celtics. If they fall into the lottery, they keep it.

More realistically, this is about the Lakers competing down the stretch against the energized and hungry Sacramento Kings. They haven’t made the playoffs in 13 seasons and don’t have a No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. The Lakers are also fighting the proud San Antonio Spurs, who haven’t missed the playoffs since coach Gregg Popovich’s first season.

 

In the stretch run, several key storylines will stand out.

Following their Christmas Day win in Oakland, the Lakers were No. 4 in the West. But the season was thrown for a loop with LeBron’s groin injury-induced absence and other Lakers injuries and suspensions. The Lakers still aren’t at full strength until Lonzo Ball recovers from his ankle sprain. That should come soon, although he has yet to practice.

LeBron has made a habit of carrying lesser teams to the playoffs and beyond, although he did that in the East without missing many games. This is another, different hill to climb.

“I’m looking forward to the second half of the season, looking forward to seeing what we can do to get back into this playoff race,” James said after the All-Star Game. “That’s my mindset. That’s the only thing that’s going to happen in my mental space for these next two months, pretty much how I can get this team playing the type of level of basketball we were playing before my injury.”

Before the season went sideways, the Lakers were indeed intriguing. LeBron defied age once again and put up Kia MVP-like numbers, including a reliable touch on 3-pointers. JaVale McGee was a pleasantly surprising source of offense, Rajon Rondo was efficiently steady and the young core of Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma had their moments.

At the All-Star break, LeBron and Rondo had just returned, Ball was hurt, McGee was the No. 2 center (behind the now-departed Ivica Zubac), Ingram was an enigma and Kuzma was rising as a solid No. 2 scorer. And of course, the Davis drama weighed on the locker room.

“All I know,” Kuzma said, “is when we were healthy, we won. We were fine. The goal is to get back to that. Let’s get a healthy team and then we’ll see. I’m confident in what we can do.”

 

Which West teams could cause Golden State trouble in the playoffs?

This was always designated as an exploratory season for the Lakers with LeBron. Entering the season, they had young players without playoff experience. They had veterans on one-year contracts serving as bridge-gap players so the Lakers can keep their salary cap flexible for 2019. In a sense, there was never any false hopes by management of making the Warriors sweat.

But making the playoffs? That was expected.

> The West:  Who can contend with Warriors?

“It was our goal at the beginning of the season and still our goal,” LeBron said.

If they do, the Lakers might make it interesting in the first round if they see, for example, the inexperienced Denver Nuggets (or any other non-Warriors team).

If they don’t, then it’s an embarrassment for the Lakers and setback for LeBron. It will fuel the perception that he needs tons of help to win anything of significance in the more competitive West (although plenty of player movement this summer could shift the landscape drastically).

With the trade deadline passed and Davis still in New Orleans, LeBron must make do with what he has. And to hear him, he has plenty.

“I’m all about being uncomfortable,” James said. “I like being uncomfortable, I enjoy being counted out. Look, we gotta win games. … Go out there and do your job. Control what you can control and what you can’t control don’t worry about.”

* * *

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. 



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Legends profile: Chet Walker | NBA.com

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Chet Walker always seemed to find himself in a behind-the-scenes role. As the “other guy” on an NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers team that starred Wilt Chamberlain and Hal Greer, Walker rarely, if ever, received top billing. But whether he was battling an opposing forward one-on-one or going head-to-head with show-business types, Walker more often than not came out on top

During his 13-year NBA career with the Sixers and the Chicago Bulls in the 1960s and ’70s, Walker amassed 18,831 points and earned seven All-Star Team selections. Only twice did his scoring average dip below 15 — a noteworthy achievement given that offensive opportunities in Philadelphia were rationed among future Hall of Famers Chamberlain, Greer and Billy Cunningham. And in Chicago, they were shared with the formidable Bob Love.

Chet “The Jet” was among the best open-court forwards of his day. He particularly enjoyed drawing fouls. Walker played tenacious defense and proved remarkably durable. He never missed more than six games in any season, and became one of the few players to appear in more than 1,000 games (1,032) for his career.

Walker’s teams made the playoffs every year, and he had identical career scoring averages of 18.2 points in both the regular season and the postseason. His impact was most evident in Chicago, where the Bulls reached the playoffs in each of Walker’s six seasons but not in the year before he arrived or the year after he left.

When he turned in his duffel bag for a briefcase in 1975, Walker discovered that he could have an impact in the entertainment business as well, even without the benefit of training. He went on to produce a number of television and feature films, and he even picked up an Emmy Award for his role in co-producing “A Mother’s Courage: The Mary Thomas Story,” a made-for-TV movie portraying the life and travails of Isiah Thomas’ mother.

Like Isiah Thomas, Walker grew up in poverty. Born in 1940, he and his family lived in a housing project in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Also like Thomas, Walker battled adversity and won a basketball scholarship. He went on to become an All-America forward at Bradley University in neighboring Illinois. In three varsity seasons, he averaged 24.4 points and 12.8 rebounds and shot .552 from the floor.

The NBA’s Syracuse Nationals, in desperate need of frontcourt scoring and rebounding support, made Walker the 12th overall pick in the 1962 NBA Draft. Walker averaged 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in 1962-63 and earned a berth on the NBA All-Rookie Team.

Prior to the 1963-64 season, the franchise moved to Philadelphia and became the 76ers. Walker began to emerge that year, averaging 17.3 points and a career-high 10.3 rebounds and making his first appearance in the NBA All-Star Game. The Sixers, however, struggled to a 34-46 record and an early exit from the playoffs.

The team’s fortunes began to change in 1964-65 with the midseason acquisition of Chamberlain from the San Francisco Warriors. Chamberlain was no stranger to the City of Brotherly Love — he had been born there and had started his NBA career with the Warriors when they were based in Philadelphia.

After the arrival of Billy Cunningham in 1965, the 76ers boasted one of the greatest frontcourts ever assembled. In 1966-67, their second year of playing together, the trio of Chamberlain, Cunningham and Walker powered Philadelphia to a 68-13 record and the NBA title. Walker, although often yielding to his frontcourt ‘mates and Greer in the backcourt, posted his finest season with the organization, tallying 19.3 points and 8.1 rebounds. He also averaged 21.7 points in the playoffs. The team was considered by many to be the greatest in NBA history.

Walker put in two more solid seasons with the Sixers after that championship year, but Philadelphia didn’t return to the Finals. Prior to the 1969-70 campaign, Walker was traded to a sputtering Chicago Bulls club along with backup forward Shaler Halimon for Jim Washington and a player to be named later. The move was a jolt to the 29-year-old Walker, who had made a home for himself in Philadelphia. He even considered retirement. Luckily for the Bulls, he didn’t follow through on the notion.

Over the next six seasons with Chicago, Walker scored at least 19 points every year and played in four more All-Star Games. He helped carry a team that also included Bob Love, Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan to four straight 50-win campaigns. In a 1971-72 tilt against the Cincinnati Royals, Walker tallied a career-high 56 points. He finished that year with a career-best scoring average of 22.0 points.

Walker’s six-year honeymoon in Chicago ended in ’75 when management rejected his $200,000 salary demand. They also refused to trade or release him. So Walker went to court, suing the Bulls and the NBA for violation of federal antitrust laws. Walker lost the case. At age 35, coming off a season in which he averaged 19.2 points despite tendinitis-wracked knees, an embittered Walker was through. As for the Bulls, their win total plummeted by half in 1975-76, to 24 games.

Over the years, Walker had kept in touch with his buddy Zev Braun, a Beverly Hills movie producer. After losing his court case, Walker moved to Tinseltown, hooked up with Braun, and embarked on a new career. The transition was not easy, as he told HOOP Magazine in 1985: “The adjustment was very difficult. I’ve been out eight years and I’m just now beginning to relax in life. You have to learn there’s more to life than basketball.”

Working with Braun and other producers, Walker ushered through a number of projects. Among them were “Freedom Road,” a 1980 NBC miniseries starring Kris Kristofferson and Muhammad Ali; the 1983 film The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu, the late Peter Sellers’s final picture; “Holy Angels,” an NBC movie of the week and the 1995 film The Glass Shield.

It was “The Mary Thomas Story” in 1989, however, that gave Walker the most personal satisfaction. “I saw Isiah’s struggle growing up on the west side of Chicago. I found it very frustrating,” he told HOOP. “The story of Isiah’s mother is so similar to my own life.”

The film, shot on location in the Thomas family’s neighborhood, portrayed Mary Thomas’ struggles to raise her nine children without her husband, who had left home when Isiah was 3 years old. On one occasion, she warded off a gang of hoods with a shotgun. “There’s only one gang here, and I lead it,” she warned the youths, who had come looking for Isiah. “Get off my porch or I’ll blow you off it!”

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