LeBron James not only plays the game at a different level -- he had 31 points, nine assists and seven rebounds Monday night as Miami finished up a dominant playoff sweep of Charlotte -- but he sees it on a higher plane as well. His postgame press conferences are always enlightening because of that. Here are 4 things I thought were interesting that LeBron said late Monday night:
1) Without looking down at a stat sheet, LeBron recited some of what he called the key numbers Monday in Miami's 109-98 win -- Miami's 25 assists on 39 made field goals, as well as Norris Cole's number of assists (four). I mean, c'mon. He remembers the backup point guard's assist total?
2) He again ripped L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racist comments he allegedly made. James said, among other things: "I can't imagine what the Clippers are going through... There's no room in this game for an owner like that." James and the Heat showed their support for the Clippers' silent boycott Monday by dressing similarly to the way the Clippers did for warmups, with their shooting shirts on inside out.
3) James got a deep thigh bruise Monday but played through it. He said of his own game: "I feelt pretty good" and said he particularly keeps up with his own turnovers and free-throw percentage. He had two turnovers Monday -- Miami only had eight -- and went 10-for-12 from the line.
4) James shared an embrace with Bobcats owner Michael Jordan after the game and said it was due to the "respect factor." James also said he thought the Bobcats were "headed in the right direction," that Kemba Walker was a fine young point guard and that signing Al Jefferson was "big-time."
Because this Bobcats-Heat playoff series contains two of the greatest players in basketball history -- Michael Jordan as Charlotte owner, LeBron James as Miami star -- the comparisons are inevitable.
LBJ or MJ? His Airness or the King? Who's better?
It is a worthy argument. James has forced himself into this discussion with NBA championships in each of the past two years.
But the answer to the question is the same as it was a decade ago. Jordan remains the greatest basketball player ever. LeBron has not scaled that mountain yet.
Because we see LeBron highlights every day, we sometimes forget how good Jordan was. Let's look at their playoff statistics, because I think both men would agree that the postseason is where reputations are made or broken.
MJ outscores LeBron in the playoffs, 33.4 to 28.1. OK, you say, but LeBron is the better passer and rebounder.
That's true. But how much better, really? LeBron in the playoffs has averaged 6.7 assists and 8.6 rebounds. Jordan averaged 5.7 assists and 6.4 rebounds.
So LeBron gets roughly one assist and two more rebounds per game than Jordan in the games that matter most. But Jordan scores five more points per game. And then there's the ultimate argument, perhaps best voiced by actor Jason Segel in the otherwise forgettable movie "Bad Teacher." It went like this:
Teacher: "You are out of your mind. There is no way LeBron will ever be Jordan."
Kid: "LeBron is a better rebounder and passer!"
Teacher: "Call me when LeBron has six championships!"
Kid: "That's your only argument?"
Teacher: "That's the only argument I need, Shawn!!"
Yes, Jordan has six championship rings. LeBron has two -- and I don't think he will get a third this season.
Rings aren't the only barometer, of course. Otherwise, Bill Russell with his 11 championships would be thought of as the game's greatest ever. It's more than that.
How about defense? I'd call it a draw. Yes, LeBron can also guard every position on the floor. He's two inches and 45 pounds heavier than Jordan was, and that means he's more of a physical presence.
But Jordan was a perennial first-team NBA defensive player as well. In Jordan's last game as a Chicago Bull in 1998, he not only scored 45 of Chicago's 87 points and hit the game-winning jumper against Utah, but he stole the ball from Karl Malone to set it up. James is bigger and more physical, but Jordan in his prime was quicker.
Competitiveness? I'd rate MJ a bit higher. LeBron wants very badly to win. Jordan would all but kill himself to win.
Yes, I went to North Carolina and overlapped at Chapel Hill with Jordan for one year there. But I also made a pilgrimage to Ohio to see LeBron play while he was still in high school.
I loved watching Jordan play. I love watching LeBron play.
For me, it ultimately comes down to this when you are thinking about the "Greatest of All Time" title. With your team by one point and three seconds left, who do you want with the ball taking that shot?
I think almost all basketball fans outside of south Florida know the true answer in their hearts.
The Bobcats (42-39) clinched a winning record with a 95-93 road victory over Atlanta, and did it with a six-foot runner from Chris Douglas-Roberts as the clock ticked to zero. 3 notes and the most likely playoff scenario:
1. Very interesting strategy from coach Steve Clifford in the fourth quarter. Unlike the Hawks, who are the No.8 playoff seed and rested three starters, the Bobcats had an obvious stake in this game. But Clifford went almost entirely with his second unit in the fourth quarter -- that group got hot and stayed hot.
The only exception was Clifford put his best offensive player, Al Jefferson, back in for Bismack Biyombo midway through the quarter. But Luke Ridnour (10 fourth-quarter points) ran the point instead of Kemba Walker and Gary Neal, Anthony Tolliver and CDR completed the normal five. Josh McRoberts came in for the final 2.6 seconds, but just to throw the winning inbounds pass. It was unusual -- and effective, as the Bobcats outscored Atlanta 30-13 in the fourth.
2. Kemba Walker played about half the game and looked like he was moving OK despite the sore right groin that kept him out of the past two games. But his shot was way off. Walker was 1-for-9 from the floor. Gerald Henderson didn't have the same injury excuse, but he was also 1-for-9. Walker did have seven assists.
3. The Bobcats may eventually look back on last Friday with wistfulness. They remain a game back of Washington in the race for the No.6 seed with one game to play. Had they beaten the woeful Boston Celtics (25-56) in Boston, Charlotte would have the lead for the No.6 spot. As it is now, the Bobcats look likely to play Miami in the playoffs -- the Heat are now officially the No.2 seed.
For Charlotte to play someone else, the Bobcats would have to beat Chicago (48-33) at home Wednesday night, and Washington (43-38) would have to lose to Boston. In that scenario, the Bobcats would play Toronto, a team they are 3-0 against this season.
Charlotte's game Wednesday starts at 7 p.m. (that time was originally 8 p.m. but has been switched). Washington's starts at 8. So if the Bobcats win Wednesday -- and they are 0-3 against the Bulls this season -- they still won't know their playoff seed for another hour.
Most likely playoff scenario? Either Washington wins, or Charlotte loses, or both -- and the Bobcats open their second-ever playoff series on the road this weekend at the two-time defending champions, the Miami Heat. And that ain't all bad, either.
The Bobcats edged past Washington for the inside track to the No.6 playoff seed Wednesday night, winning 94-88 in overtime on the road. It was a huge win for Charlotte in several ways, but most notably gave the Bobcats (40-38) the season-ending tiebreaker if it comes to that over Washington (40-38).
Three things that were very impressive to me:
1) The Bobcats' defense, especially in overtime. It was remarkable. The Wizards helped some by going ice-cold, but every shot was contested. Washington scored one -- yes, one -- point in the OT. And Kemba Walker's great "contest" as regulation ended meant John Wall couldn't even get a shot up in 3.2 seconds (and the one he did shoot missed anyway).
2) Gary Neal's offense. On a night when Walker went 6-for-21, Neal provided exactly what the Bobcats had to have, with 16 points. When he was in the game, the Bobcats were plus-13. That's bigtime.
3) Al Jefferson. Washington's Marcin Gortat (27 points, 14 rebounds) gave Jefferson all sorts of fits most of the night. But in overtime, Jefferson was the bigger man, and he ended up with 20 and 18 himself. As usual, Charlotte never would have won this one without "Big Al."
Charlotte's last four regular-season games are at Boston Friday, home vs. Philly Saturday, at Atlanta Monday and home vs. Chicago Wednesday. The last two are the most difficult. But if the Bobcats go 3-1 in those 4, I bet they will avoid Miami or Indiana in the first round and end up with Toronto or Chicago instead. The playoffs start April 19th or 20th, on the road, for Charlotte.
The honors continue to pile up for Al Jefferson. The Bobcats center was named the Eastern Conference's Player of the Week for games played from March 31 to April 6th. It was the second time in four weeks Jefferson has won the award. He also was the conference's player of the month for March.
Jefferson averaged 24.3 points and 13 rebounds last week as the Bobcats went 4-0 and clinched the second playoff berth in franchise history. He ranked second in the Eastern Conference in rebounding for the week and fourth in scoring.
-- Josh McRoberts has a nagging ankle injury but hopes to return for Wednesday night's game at Washington, which will go a long way toward determining whether Charlotte is the No.6 or No.7 playoff seed. McRoberts practiced Monday but had to skip the contact work. "He said he feels good," Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. "So hopefully if he can get through practice [Tuesday], he'll be able to play."
-- It was funny listening to the Bobcats' Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist joust for the cameras after practice Monday. Both played for national champions recently and each had an opinion about Monday night's title game pitting their colleges. Walker predicted Connecticut to win by 20. MKG predicted Kentucky to win by "8 to 10."
-- I have written a column for Tuesday's paper and online on the Bobcats' reserve sharpshooter Anthony Tolliver. This didn't make it into the column, but Tolliver has guarded most of the small and power forwards in the NBA in his travels. I asked him who the toughest player to guard in the NBA was. He said he goes back and forth in his mind between LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but that right now he would have to go with KD.
1. James Michael McAdoo. Really, James Michael? You go pro after your junior season? You are projected as a mid- to late second-round pick, which in the NBA means you won't have a guaranteed contract. Your UNC team will be a national title threat next year. You would have gone higher in the NBA draft after both your freshman and sophomore years. This makes no sense from a monetary standpoint. On the other hand, it is McAdoo's life to live, and I think his early departure will allow the great incoming class of freshmen to develop more quickly.
2. Big Al's Paint store. Nice website concept by the Bobcats, who are trying to get Al Jefferson some all-NBA consideration. The first Bobcat to ever be named the Eastern Conference's player of the month certainly deserves some, but to get one of the three all-NBA slots he would have to replace Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah or Dwight Howard. That's an uphill battle, but the website will at least garner some attention, and it's fun. At the least, you should read the "customer reviews."
3. Tyler Lewis. UNC Charlotte seems like a great fit to me for Lewis, who is from Statesville and whose older brother Colby played for the 49ers and is now a graduate assistant there. Lewis, who is transferring from N.C. State, would have to sit out next season. But I would think he would start immediately after that. He is not a scorer, but he makes other players around him better (T.J. Warren will tell you that) and he never turns the ball over.
4. I really like the hire of Danny Manning at Wake Forest. What a built-in recruiting advantage Manning will have. It won't be long before the Deacons are ACC-relevant again.