LeBron James, about to turn 32, doesn’t want Michael Jordan comparisons

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Ever since LeBron James donned the No. 23 at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and became a nationally known hoops phenomenon, the comparisons to Michael Jordan followed.

On the eve of his 32nd birthday, James was asked whether he has pondered Jordan at age 32, as MJ turned in perhaps his finest season as a pro at that age back in 1995-96, leading the Chicago Bulls to a then-all-time best 72-10 record, which the Golden State Warriors beat last season.

“No, I haven’t [compared myself to him at this age], because our games are so different,” James said Thursday after the Cleveland Cavaliers held shootaround in preparation for their game against the Boston Celtics. “As much as he was, he was much more of a scorer, and that point did a lot of, a lot of post work at that time.

“But our games are just different. His body is different. My body is different than his. So, just, you recognize the dominance that someone had at that age, at that age you recognize his dominance, but there’s no similarities in our game at all.”

James wouldn’t even allow for the similarities between his fadeaway jumper and Jordan’s, even though mashup videos have started to surface online comparing the virtually indefensible shot that both players possess.

“Nah, it’s different,” James said. “He has much more lift in his fadeaway than mine. That was definitely a go-to move of his. Our games are completely different.”

Jordan averaged 30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals at age 32, while shooting 49.5 percent from the field and a career-best 42.7 percent from 3. James is averaging 25.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 1.4 steals this season while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from 3.

The Cavs, while not on a 72-10 pace, have won the last nine games in which James has played.

“He’s a mixture between a few players,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said before Thursday night’s game against the Boston Celtics. “He’s got the explosiveness and power of Dominique Wilkins, the scoring ability of Jordan at times. The court vision and the way he pushes the pace like Magic Johnson and having the height, so he’s a mixture between three guys, and as far as a comparison between him and Jordan, the comparisons I have is when you’re on top, the best player in the league for so long and having to carry that each and every year and never get knocked down off that pedestal, that’s a big accomplishment because guys are coming for you and you’re a target, and to always stay on top no matter what, always being that best player in the league, that’s how I compare him and Jordan.”

If James doesn’t want to compare himself to Jordan, at least he can compare himself to himself, and the numbers show he is enjoying a better season this year than he was last year when he turned 31 years old. In 2015-16 he averaged 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 30.9 percent from 3.

“It must be the wine drinking,” joked James, who has increasingly shared his love for vino on his Instagram account. “Get better with age, I guess. I just feel great. I’ve told you guys, I feel great. I’ve conditioned myself and I’m having one of the best statistical [outputs across all] categories seasons of my career so far and I just want to try to continue to keep it going.”

If there is anything to be gleaned by the arc of Jordan’s career compare to James’, it’s that perhaps the best is still yet to come for the King. Jordan won titles Nos. 4-6 at ages 32-34. If you look at James’ career versus Jordan’s career just up until the season in which they turned 32, James outpaces Jordan in MVP awards (4-3), Finals appearances (7-3) and is tied in championships (3-3).

Turning the page on age 31 also means saying goodbye to 2016 for James, a year in which he helped bring an end to a 52-year championship drought in Cleveland and was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the year, the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year as well as an ESPY winner for Best Male Athlete, Best NBA Player and Best Championship Performance.

“It was a great year,” James said. “Not only for me in my professional career but for me as a father, a husband and things of that nature, my family is happy and my foundation, it’s been a great year. But I’m not a start-over guy on the first of the year. I just try to continue it, keep it going. I’m not New Year’s resolution guy, I don’t say, ‘Let’s get to a new start.’ Let’s just keep it going. My calendar doesn’t stop. My hours continue to go and we want to continue to be as great as we can be even going into January 1st.”

Steve Kerr not concerned with Steph Curry’s slump, but he ‘can make better decisions’

CLEVELAND — Stephen Curry didn’t play up to MVP standards on Christmas Day against cross-country rival Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Golden State Warriors’ point guard registered 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting to go with three turnovers. His first field goal didn’t come until there was 4 minutes, 14 seconds left in the first half.

But his head coach Steve Kerr said he wasn’t focused on Curry’s shooting woes. His issues were with his floor general’s carelessness with the ball.

“I think he can be a little smarter, I think he can make better decisions, and that’ll help against anybody,” Kerr said after his team had blown a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead to lose 109-108. “But I’m not worried about him missing shots; I’m more worried about just decision-making and making sure that we’re where we need to be as a group.”

As a team, the Warriors coughed the ball up 20 times, resulting in 21 points for the Cavaliers. Curry is known for risk-taking with his off-hand, one-handed passes and he will routinely pull off the behind-the-back jaw-dropping assists.

Sometimes he converts, and other times he doesn’t. He didn’t Sunday night.

“A lot of [the turnovers] early was not even due to the pressure,” Kerr said in general of his team. “It was more just decision-making. Around-the-back passes in the paint, silly plays. We just have to make simple plays, and we talk about that all the time, but we’ve got to make it more of a habit.”

It was clear who Kerr was addressing in that quote. This has been an ongoing issue.

In Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, with his team struggling to make a shot, Curry passed the ball from around his back toward Klay Thompson along the sideline, and it just sailed out of bounds.

That was a crucial turnover.

Golden State plays an up-tempo brand of basketball that automatically garners some risk-taking, but Kerr wants more emphasis placed on being fast and under control.

Carelessness is what led to their seven-game winning streak being snapped in Cleveland.

“We had a chance to put them away, for sure,” Kerr said. “Too many turnovers. But we had control of the game and we did not execute at all in the fourth quarter. It was a great tape to look at. It will be quite valuable for us to look at that tape, because we know we let it slip away.”

Warriors’ Draymond Green out Thursday after birth of son

OAKLAND, Calif. — Draymond Green returned to the Bay Area on Thursday to welcome his new baby boy.

Son Draymond Jamal Green Jr. was born at 3:55 a.m. Thursday, the Warriors said, and his father missed Golden State’s game Thursday at Brooklyn. His status for Friday’s matchup at Detroit and Sunday at Cleveland was still to be determined.

In an Instagram post, Green said: “I’ve never experienced such a feeling like I did when I watched his entry.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the team was thrilled for Draymond and Jalissa and “disappointed in myself that I didn’t insist that Draymond stay home yesterday from the plane.

“I tried to get him to do it, I didn’t fight hard enough and I’m bummed that he didn’t make it back for the actual birth but he’s home now and we’re all so happy for him and his family,” Kerr said. “It’s awesome news.”

“We had a good discussion after the Utah game about whether he should come or not and he was convinced that the baby was not going to arrive for about a week. Typical father, the women are right, the men are wrong in these things. But he was convinced that it wasn’t going to happen for a week and so we kind of relented and said all right, you know, come with us, and then of course we practice last night, then I woke up this morning with a text from him saying he had taken off back to Oakland.”

Green leads Golden State in rebounds (8.8), assists (7.2) and steals (2.3) while averaging 10.6 points.

Kevon Looney started in Green’s place.

Kevin Love has stiffness and swelling in knee, won’t play Tuesday

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love will not play in Tuesday’s road game against the Milwaukee Bucks because of stiffness and swelling in his left knee.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue also announced Monday that Love would be questionable Wednesday for the second half of Cleveland’s home-and-home matchup with Milwaukee.

Love banged knees with Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. in Cleveland’s 119-108 win Saturday.

Love played through the collision, finishing with 27 points and a season-high 17 rebounds, but his knee kept him out of Monday’s practice.

“He took a blow to the knee, knee-to-knee, and it swelled up on him, and it’s kind of stiff,” Lue said.

Love is averaging 22.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and a career-high 1.1 steals per game this season. Additionally, both his field goal percentage (46.8) and 3-point percentage (41.2) are the best he’s shot the ball since the 2010-11 season.

Love has played in 24 of the Cavs’ 25 games this season, sitting out a game last week in which Lue also kept out LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in a 93-85 loss to Memphis.

Anthony Lynn, Bills’ black offensive coordinator, against Rooney Rule

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who interviewed last offseason for the Miami Dolphins’ and San Francisco 49ers’ head-coaching vacancies, says he is opposed to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate.

“I think it’s good to get in front of the decision-makers and let them hear what you have to say,” he said Thursday. “But at the same time, I think some people take advantage of it. I’m not for it. Hire the best man for the job. That’s all I want.”

Lynn, who is black and has expressed interest in becoming a head coach, purposely avoided head-coaching interviews last offseason that he believed were simply arranged by teams to fulfill the Rooney Rule.

Named for Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the NFL established the rule in 2003 with the intention of giving minority coaches greater opportunity in the hiring process. The NFL expanded the rule in 2009 to include “lead personnel executives” such as general managers.

“I think sometimes people do that to check the box,” Lynn said Thursday. “I don’t agree with it.”

The Bills promoted Lynn to offensive coordinator in September after firing Greg Roman. Lynn, a former running back for the 49ers and Denver Broncos in the 1990s, had served since 2003 as a running backs coach for various NFL teams. The New York Jets interviewed Lynn for their head-coaching vacancy that opened when Rex Ryan was fired after the 2014 season, but the Jets hired Todd Bowles.

“[The rule] has its pros and cons,” Lynn said. “If I didn’t do the interview in New York, maybe my name wouldn’t be circulating right now, I don’t know. But I think it’s good to get in front of the decision-makers and let them hear what you have to say.”

Bowles, according to an ESPN study published in July, is the only first-time minority head coach hired over the past five hiring cycles (2012-16).

“The good thing about the Rooney Rule was not that you had to interview a minority candidate but that it slowed the process down and made you do some research,” former NFL coach Tony Dungy told ESPN. “But now it seems like in the last few years, people haven’t really done what the rule was designed for. It has become, ‘Just let me talk to a couple minority coaches very quickly so I can go about the business of hiring the person I really want to hire anyway.’”

Russell Westbrook falls 4 assists shy of 8th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY — It lasted 16 days and spanned seven games, but Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak finally came to an end in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 99-96 win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

Westbrook fell short by four assists, finishing with 37 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

“Honestly, I’m just happy we won tonight, man, that’s the most important thing,” Westbrook said when reflecting on the streak. “Me as a player, I always try to look forward. Maybe at the end of the season I can talk about it, but as of right now my job is to move forward and get ready for Portland and try to win that game.”

Westbrook was at the front of another Thunder comeback, this one from 13 down, and completed it with the go-ahead bucket with 30.6 seconds left on a driving lefty layup. On the following possession, Westbrook forced a tie-up with Avery Bradley and then won the ensuing jump ball to help seal the win for OKC.

“I’ll say this about the triple-doubles, because I always find this interesting, on a night like tonight with all the things he did, is it any less special than if he would have had a couple more assists?” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “To me, sometimes we get wrapped up if he had 37 points, 20 rebounds and eight assists, is it disappointing? I get all the stuff of people wanting to talk about it, but at the same point, part of the reason he didn’t get a triple-double was we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well.

“I think Russell understands and sees that certainly getting those seven straight games is remarkable,” Donovan said, “but I don’t think tonight is any less remarkable of what he did.”

The Thunder struggled shooting, hitting only 3 of 21 shots from 3-point range. Westbrook didn’t record an assist on a made basket farther than 8 feet.

Westbrook’s run of triple-doubles tied him with Michael Jordan for the longest since 1989 and put him within two of Wilt Chamberlain (1968) for the longest ever. Westbrook’s previous career long was four, set during the 2014-15 season.

During the streak, the Thunder went 6-1, the lone loss coming Friday against the Houston Rockets, 102-99. He has 12 triple-doubles on the season; the Thunder are 9-3 in those games.

“I always take the same mindset every night. It doesn’t change anything I do,” Westbrook said. “I always come out and compete at a high level every night, streak or no streak. A winning streak is more important to me, and tonight we got a win.”

Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double 24 games into the season, the furthest anyone has taken those averages since Oscar Robertson in 1963-64.

Brandon Marshall receives threatening letter; Broncos investigating

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall says it was “extremely concerning” to receive a letter filled with racial slurs and threatening language.

“Just so many racist, derogatory terms that were in it … just a bunch of crazy things that was in it,” Marshall said Friday. “That’s what stood out to me, that somebody would have that much hate or malice toward me or put that much energy into writing something like that and send it to me. It takes so much energy to hate. I just don’t understand it.”

Marshall posted photos of the handwritten letter — which includes multiple threats and racial epithets — on his Instagram account Friday. The writer told Marshall “your time is coming, watch out,” and “we are ‘channeling’ a devastating hard hit for you. Something to make you an invalid in a wheel chair.”

The letter was sent with a return address of Mrs. Jackson’s sixth-grade class at Martin Luther King Middle School, and “We love you, Mr. Marshall” was written on the envelope. Marshall called that a cover to make sure he received the letter.

“My first reaction was, I was taken aback, actually,” Marshall said. “I had to read it over again. Did somebody really say this to me?’

“It said, ‘You’re a great player,’ so I had a smile on my face, and then ‘not.’ And I’m like, whoa. I actually let Shane [Ray] read it after I read it. … Disgusting, disheartening, deplorable — you can use a bunch of words for it.”

The Broncos’ security staff is investigating the letter.

“I’m not afraid. I turned it over to team security, and we’ll see what happens,” Marshall said. “It’s not going to spook me. It’s not going to make me move any different than I’ve moved. It’s definitely eye-opening.”

Coach Gary Kubiak said after practice Friday that the “organization is on top of it.”

Marshall responded to the letter in his Instagram post, saying, “The hatred by some against people of color is one of the reasons we are where we’re at in the world today, and they wonder why we feel the way we do and take the stances that we take. I received this letter at work.”

He said he has received an outpouring of support on Instagram since making his post.

“I just wanted to show that … to expose that racism still does exist,” Marshall said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it’s over; it’s not out there,’ but it really is.

“I wanted to expose that and that there are people like that and we still have a long way to go as people. I wanted to expose that people still hate each other … whether it’s because of your belief system or the color of your skin or just because I’m not like you, you’re not like me.”

Marshall took a knee during the national anthem before the Broncos’ first eight games this season as a response to social injustice, including several shootings of black people by police nationwide. He met with Denver’s police chief and has donated money for every tackle he has made this season to organizations that work with youth.

He said in November that he intended to stand for the anthem for the remainder of the season but would keep working for positive change.

The letter is the second known instance of an NFL player being targeted with racial abuse this week. On Tuesday, New York Giants fullback Nikita Whitlock reported a break-in during which burglars drew a swastika and “KKK,” as well as the word “Trump,” on walls inside his home.

Broncos claim Justin Forsett, place Kapri Bibbs on IR

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The minute the Denver Broncos put a walking boot on running back Kapri Bibbs’ left foot/ankle, the position became a question mark.

Which is why the Broncos moved quickly Monday to grab a player who already knows the playbook, or at least the bulk of the playbook. The Broncos claimed Justin Forsett off waivers from the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to be ready to play at least some by Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.

Forsett played for Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, as well as current Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, in Houston in 2012 and in Baltimore in 2014. Forsett had the best season of his career in ’14 with the Ravens when Kubiak was the team’s offensive coordinator — Forsett finished with 1,266 yards rushing, 44 receptions and eight touchdowns to earn the only Pro Bowl selection of his career.

To make room for Forsett, the Broncos moved Bibbs to injured reserve with a high ankle sprain, an injury that can take weeks to recover from, especially for a running back.

A little over an hour before Bibbs was moved to injured reserve, he had expressed at least some optimism he would recover quickly enough to get back on the field. The Broncos have four games remaining in the regular season before any potential playoff games.

“I had an MRI [Monday] — everything was stable, no bones or anything out of place,” Bibbs said.

Bibbs provided the Broncos’ offense with a spark in the 20-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. He had runs of 24 and 13 yards in the Denver offense’s only touchdown drive of the day.

Bibbs did not play in the second half after suffering the injury. His last carry of the game came with 3 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first half when he was tackled, for no gain, by Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.

“One of the defenders rolled up on it,” Bibbs said. “… Obviously I thought it was going to be a good game for me, but it didn’t go the way I wanted it to go.”

Rookie running back Devontae Booker also was briefly out of the lineup after taking a hard hit — the officials actually sent Booker to the sideline to be evaluated — so for a time in the game the Broncos’ only available running back was Juwan Thompson.

The Broncos will evaluate Forsett’s conditioning, but the expectation is the 31-year-old will be ready to contribute. He appeared in three games for the Ravens this season — at 3.2 yards per carry — and played in two games for the Lions before he was waived this past week.

Kubiak called the Broncos’ depth at running back “a concern right now.”

The Broncos are 23rd in the league in rushing at 100.2 yards per game and 28th in the league in yards per carry at 3.6.

I made bigger change than LeBron James did with Heat

CHICAGO — As he gets set for another showdown against his close friend and former teammate LeBron James, Dwyane Wade acknowledged Thursday that he had to change his game far more than James did during the pair’s four years together with the Miami Heat.

“I definitely changed mine more,” Wade said with a laugh after Thursday’s practice. “It’s not even a conversation. There’s no conversation to have. I definitely had to change mine more.”

Wade said that while he and James knew before they decided to join forces in Miami that their respective games would change, it was Wade’s game that was altered the most. He didn’t have to have a conversation with James about it because the answer was obvious to both men.

“We all knew the sacrifice that was going to be [made],” Wade said. “Obviously, you sit down and you talk about playing together. You think you know what’s [going to happen], you try to cover things in that moment, but then once you start playing together you realize it’s harder than what you thought. But we all knew we had to sacrifice. Chris Bosh, too. He’s somebody who they don’t talk about, he had to sacrifice a lot too. But at the end of the day, we sacrificed points, article hits, but what we gained was championships, friendships and brotherhoods that last a lifetime. So I’m sure if we could do it all over again we’d do it exactly the same way.”

Wade, who will be making his first appearance against James in a Chicago Bulls uniform on Friday, doesn’t hide from the fact that playing against his former teammate means more to him than most games.

“I’ve always said it: Kobe [Bryant] and LeBron have always been my favorite guys to play against,” Wade said. “It’s just something about those games for me that’s always been a little special. I won’t be one of those cliché athletes to say it’s just another game. It’s never just another game for me to play against those guys. I just enjoy it more. Simple as that. I enjoy playing against LeBron more than anybody else just because of the things I know he’s going to bring to the game. Great people bring greatness out of you. He’s always done that for me and vice versa. I think I’ve done it for him. So I’ve always enjoyed it.”

Wade, in his 14th season, didn’t rule out the possibility of playing with James again at some point in his career, but he made it very clear how happy he was to be in Chicago.

“I never thought I would play with LeBron,” Wade said. “I didn’t think it was a possibility at all. I enjoyed the All-Star Games, I enjoyed the Olympics, but I never thought that we’d play together. That’s why now I look with younger guys and what they say and stuff like that because you never know what the future’s going to hold for you. Just keep your comments to yourself on the future. So I would keep my comments on myself for whatever. For me, I’m here and I’m happy to be here but I was happy in Miami as well. It just happened. And you never know what happens in this game. So people should never say never on anything.”

Then Wade leaned closer into the microphones and recorders present at the Bulls’ practice facility.

“That’s not saying that I want to play with LeBron [again]. Let me clearly say that. That is not saying that I want to be somewhere that I’m not. That’s not saying that at all, but also I understand how this league works, how this thing goes, and people need to know just don’t say never, that’s all.”