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On Game 3, the ongoing conflict between players and Donald Trump, the G.O.A.T. and more

What to expect from Game 3 of the NBA Finals as the Cavaliers fight to extend their season in Cleveland:

Will LeBron James seize command? We are going to see his best game. He will grab the rebounds. He will dribble and occasionally pass the ball up the court. He will wave his teammates from one side of the floor to the other as if dragging icons across a computer screen. He will set up his fellow Cavaliers for open 3-pointers, and he will look for his own shots from the arc – which will remind defenders to play him tight, thereby enabling him to drive to the basket whenever Cleveland desperately needs a basket.

If James is having his way, then you’ll see the Warriors growing frustrated by their inability to push the pace for dunks and open 3-pointers in transition. If LeBron is running the offense efficiently, then Cleveland’s defense will be competent.

In all such cases you are advised to watch Game 3 closely, because this summer in free agency LeBron is going to have the opportunity to surround himself with more talent than he has now, so that he never again will he be asked to do everything. In the meantime, be aware that you may never see a player with such total command of the game fulfilling so many roles at the highest level of the NBA Finals. This is a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

Will Kevin Durant take over? When the Warriors are flowing in the open court like a flash-flooding river surging its banks, that is when you see Stephen Curry at his best. But when the game slows down, as Game 3 should, then Durant becomes the key player. No Warrior is better at creating his own shot when the offense stagnates.

Durant has struggled in these isolation settings over the last couple of rounds. But in last year’s Finals he was terrific as Golden State won Game 3 at Cleveland on its way to ending the series in five games. The Warriors will need a similar performance on Wednesday.

Will the other Cavaliers make 3-pointers? Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Jeff Green, Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Korver went 9 for 41 from the arc in the two games at Oakland. They exist to space the floor around LeBron in faith that he will deliver open shots for them. Their job is to make those shots – and in Cleveland they tend to shoot them with more confidence.

Will J.R. Smith know the score? The Cavaliers have the only scoreboard in the NBA that calculates the difference in score. There have been complaints that THE DIFF amounts to a new low in American education – “for people who can’t do math, I guess,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr complained last season – but isn’t it possible that THE DIFF exists for Smith? When he plays at home, there can never be any excuse for not knowing the score. THE DIFF takes care of the hard work for him.

In other news:

James and Curry say their teams won’t visit the White House. The leaders of the Cavaliers and Warriors both understood that the winner of the NBA Finals isn’t likely to be invited anyway. Last September, President Donald Trump rescinded the invitation to the Warriors to celebrate their 2017 NBA championship at the White House, and this week he did the same to the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles after realizing that fewer than 10 members of the team were willing to meet with him.

“What else did you expect Trump to do?” said Durant. “If somebody doesn’t want to come to the White House, he disinvites them so the photo op won’t look bad.”

NBA and NFL players have been speaking and acting on a variety of issues in recent years. Trump, in reply, has redefined their protests in terms of a single polarizing issue: When NFL players have refused to stand for the national anthem, he has accused them of dishonoring the U.S. military and its soldiers who have been killed in battle. (Trump linked his refusal to invite the Eagles to disrespect of the anthem – even though none of the Eagles knelt during the national anthem last season.)

The NFL players, for their part, have insisted that they mean no disrespect to the military. Instead they have been protesting the mistreatment of African-Americans by police throughout the United States.

It comes down to a question of ownership. In this particular case, who owns the rights to the national anthem?

Trump and millions of Americans who support him on this issue believe the playing of the anthem before games is meant to honor the U.S. military.

Millions of other Americans believe the playing of the anthem is meant to honor America’s values – an expression of freedoms – and in that case shouldn’t everyone be free to react to the anthem in any way they please?

Trump, whether by intention or not, is doing a public service by forcing Americans on all sides to argue the larger questions that define the American Way. The president is encouraging these arguments in his apparent belief that conflict is good for him because it galvanizes his base. But nothing stays the same, and eventually another leader will come along to transform all of this conflict into reconciliation.

In the meantime, the NBA and NFL players will continue to express their freedoms of speech. By elevating the national conversation, this is turning into their finest hour.

LeBron as the G.O.A.T.? The upcoming 20th anniversary cover of the NBA2K19 video game features the face of James. It doesn’t reveal which uniform he’ll be wearing, because who can know where he’ll be next year?

Among the many statements and mottos surrounding him on the cover is one that refers to G.O.A.T., which stands for Greatest Of All Time:

There is some talk that James is using this statement to proclaim himself superior to his idol Michael Jordan. A more reasonable view is that the term is aspirational. He is continuing to work in hope of becoming the greatest of them all. This postseason is surely furthering that goal.

The 2018 NBA Draft heats up. Teams continue to work out prospects in preparation for the June 21 Draft. Hawks GM Travis Schlenk, who holds the number 3 pick, has said he believes he knows whom the Suns will take at number 1 – a strong sign that they’ll settle on big man Deandre Ayton, who offers a superior blend of athleticism, skills and size. But good luck trying to guess what the Kings will do at number 2.

Bryan Colangelo remains under investigation. The 76ers’ owners appeared to be close to making a decision on the future of team president Colangelo and his involvement in a number of Twitter “burner” accounts that have been used to expose team secrets and criticize members of the organization, including franchise star Joel Embiid.

In the meantime, former Cavaliers GM David Griffin has pointed out that the 76ers will have “a leg up” on the recruitment of LeBron this summer because their star Ben Simmons shares the same agent as James. Would Griffin’s relationship with James – as GM he made a series of bold moves to arm LeBron with the talent to win the 2016 championship – also provide Griffin with a leg up if the Sixers should need to replace Colangelo?


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