What we learned today: Team USA is better than China

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UPDATE Thumbnail image for USA_Logo.jpg8:30 pm: Looks like when Team USA hops on a plane for exhibition “friendlies” in Europe next week, they will bring more than the 12 they can suit up in Turkey.  That’s what Coach K told ESPN:

“The chances of us having more than 12 on the plane Monday are good, but
it may be one more than 12, or two more than 12,” coach Mike Krzyzewski
said. “What we’re trying to do is see how Lamar (Odom) and even (Kevin)
Love do there at the center spot. The 3 spot and the 4 spot with
(Kevin) Durant, (Rudy) Gay, (Danny) Granger and (Andre) Iguodala is
pretty solid, and the 5 with those two guys (Chandler and Odom) is good.

Smart money is JaVale McGee makes the trip only as Tyson Chandler injury insurance. As for what to do at the guard spot, that’s a tough one.

5:37 pm: If this part of the Team USA summer is about building confidence before going to Turkey, mission accomplished on Saturday.

Team USA held a scrimmage against China at Madison Square Garden. While the scrimmage was set up so that the score reset at the end if each quarter, but if you had not done that the final would have been USA 98, China 51. I don’t care if China didn’t have Yao Ming, that’s good work.

I am not in New York for the fun, nor did I get to watch this game live (Sunday’s game against France is televised), but we got good reports thanks to John Schuhmann of NBA.com, Michael Lee of the Washington Post, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress and Chris Tomasson of FanHouse. Here are a few notes.

* It was supposed to be Danny Granger and Jeff Green fighting it out for one forward spot on the roster. Well, it’s Granger’s. He led all scorers on Team USA with 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting. He was lighting it up inside and out. Green didn’t even get in the game. Granger is the kind of underappreciated player who could break out on the international stage this summer.

* The other guy who did not get in? JaVale McGee. Meanwhile the USA ran some lineups with Lamar Odom at center. All a sign that McGee may also be among the three cuts. Hard to give up the only other real center on the roster but the team may go that way.

* The third cut was long assumed to be Eric Gordon, as he and sharpshooter Stephen Curry are basically fighting for the same roster spot. But Gordon just keeps playing well. Team USA just started Rajon Rondo today and likely will not trim Russell Westbrook. If Gordon goes it’s a pure numbers game, not because of his play.

* The USA started in the first quarter Chauncey Billups, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Tyson Chandler.

* The USA’s ball pressure was far too much for China, who coughed it up all game. They had nine turnovers in the second quarter alone.

* The USA was running every chance they got. They must. Defense and transition is how this USA team will win.

* Great note from Schuhmann:

Midway through the quarter, China was in a zone and their coach Bob
Donewald Jr. shouted out “Back off 41! Not a shooter!” No. 41 is Derrick
Rose, and he promptly nailed a wide-open three from the right wing.

* China’s best player was former Laker Sun Yue.

* Sunday the USA takes on France in a more traditional scrimmage, starting at 1 pm Eastern.

Pizza and soccer on agenda for Celtics on trip to Italy

Perry Jones III, Malcolm Miller, James Young, Jordan Mickey
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MILAN (AP) — After a couple of days in Milan, Isaiah Thomas‘ Italian experience is still lacking a certain something.

“I’m waiting on some pizza,” said a laughing Thomas, who used to do commercials for a regional pizza franchise when he played for the Sacramento Kings. “The place we went to last night didn’t have no pizza so hopefully tonight we go somewhere I can order some pizza for real.”

This trip isn’t just about culinary experiences, though. The Celtics are in Milan to play an exhibition game against Olimpia Milano on Tuesday before traveling to Spain to play Real Madrid as part of the NBA Global Games.

Ahead of the team’s practice session on Sunday, Thomas was also looking forward to his first soccer match, as the Celtics headed to San Siro later for AC Milan’s home match against Napoli in the Italian league – after an afternoon trip to nearby Lake Como.

“That’s going to be fun,” Thomas told The Associated Press at the Celtics’ first practice in Italy. “I’m excited about that. I’ve never been to a soccer match, to have my first soccer match be in Italy is going to be nice.”

Teammate Marcus Smart said the trip was also an important bonding experience for a young roster with plenty of new pieces. They went for a players-only meal in Milan on Saturday night.

“We had a good time with each other,” Smart said. “No phones, so everyone was talking to one other. It was good overall fun.

“We understand the severity of this trip, it is a business trip but at the same time not many people get this chance to travel like we do so we understand its business but we’re here to have fun at the same time.”

Coach Brad Stevens has overseen plenty of rebuilding since taking over the Celtics in 2013 but still led the team to the playoffs last season after trading point guard Rajon Rondo – the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team. After being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team is aiming higher this season. For Stevens, it all starts here in Italy.

“These sessions are really important to get something accomplished in practice and to make sure that we’re continuing to progress,” Stevens said. “It’s still very much a part of our training camp, and so you’ve got all of the great things about being a tourist – getting a chance to see new things and experience new things – and at the same time we’re 24 or 25 days away from our season opener.”

And after spending so many hours in the gym during the offseason, Thomas is ready to start playing actual games again – even if its just preseason.

“We’re ready to beat up on somebody else, we’re tired of beating up on each other,” Smith said.

Kings’ Karl admits mistakes in DeMarcus Cousins trade controversey

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In the NBA, elite players have the leverage. It is just simple supply and demand.

DeMarcus Cousins is an elite player — and a favorite of owner Vivek Ranadive. He is not going anywhere.

Which made this summer’s “George Karl wants trade Cousins” a battle the coach couldn’t ultimately win — the owner wasn’t going to sign off on it, and the fans are going to side with Boogie. Remember Karl said he never had a player that was untradable, and that spiraled into reports Karl probed trade options with other teams, much to the frustration of management and Cousins himself.

Karl owned up to some of his mistakes in an interview on Comcast Bay Area, as reported by James Ham at CSNBayArea.com.

“To be honest with you, I apologized to DeMarcus for making the trade comment that I’ve never coached a player that’s untradeable,” Karl told Christensen. “That was wrong for me to say, because you all (the media) took it and blew it up into crazy.”

“But it’s my responsibility to be smart enough to not say things like that,” Karl continued. “So I did apologize because I thought that was the only thing, maybe some other things, but really the only thing that got us separated was that comment that then everybody wrote the we’re going to trade [Cousins].”

The relationship between Cousins and Karl — not to mention Rajon Rondo and other veterans — is the biggest key to the Kings’ season. Karl and Cousins say their relationship is solid now, but what happens when that is put under stress at some point during the season?

In talking to people around the team, the Kings players seemed to have formed a tight bond — even if part of the glue of that bond is a distrust of Karl that can work for them. This is a team that has the talent to compete for the bottom couple playoff seeds in the Western Conference, but everybody needs to be pulling on the rope in the same direction. We will see pretty quickly if the Kings can do that.