Team USA edges Spain by a single point, but claims their most significant victory yet

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usa_durant_rose_iguodala.jpgBoth Team USA and the Spanish national team were reluctant to reveal
their full arsenals, but today’s friendly between the two FIBA
powerhouses was easily the Americans’ most entertaining exhibition yet.
Neither squad was flawless in their execution, but Team USA’s quality
performance against their top opponent in the World Championships (even
if Spain wasn’t giving it a proper go) leaves a far sweeter aftertaste
than yesterday’s bitter win over Lithuania.

Spain isn’t going to shoot 22.7% from three-point range very often.
They’re also not going to fumble so many passes out of bounds. Yet Team
USA’s defensive success overall was no fluke, as the Americans’ length and
athleticism caused all kind of problems for Spain both inside and out.

Marc Gasol, as expected, got his. He finished with 17 points for the day. But Gasol only shot 41.6% from the field. His turnaround jumper
will be there against Lamar Odom and Gasol can really work the high
post against Tyson Chandler. Still, Team USA can live with that. As
long as Gasol’s production remains reasonable, he doesn’t offer an
unmatchable advantage. The Americans can utilize their size on the
wings and their quickness in the backcourt just as Spain can utilize
Gasol, and the give and take of those positional match-ups is just part
of what makes a USA-Spain collision course so intriguing.

The
slim point differential (Team USA won by a single point, 86-85) shouldn’t be too concerning. Spain is just that
talented of a team, and they’re understandably both the Americans’ most
feared and most respected opponent. It showed. Team USA looked truly
prepared to play against Spain. Not against an international opponent
using FIBA rules, but against Spain. They played the screen-and-roll game well, knew where to cut off passing lanes, took
away a pet play or two, and showed the impact or proper preparation.

I’m honestly not sure what the game plan was against Lithuania, but the
Americans took a double-digit lead against what could be the top team
in the tournament, all while letting Rajon Rondo and Danny Granger
cheer from the bench.

Rondo is clearly a central part of Team
USA’s plans at this point. That leads me to believe that Mike
Krzyzewski was holding him back rather than “benching” him, and the
same could possibly be true of Granger. While Spain’s coaching staff
chose to play the entire game man-to-man rather than turning to their
vaunted zone defense, Coach K opted to sit one of his top perimeter
defenders and playmakers in Rondo, and a skilled shooter in Granger.
Having both of those guys available for full-time duty changes the
overall feel of the team (which I imagine is why Krzyzewski chose to
sit them against an opponent he’s sure to see again later), even if allocating some of Rudy Gay’s minutes to Granger doesn’t seem like a tectonic
shift.

For the first time in Team USA’s pre-tournament exhibitions, Kevin
Durant looked like the star that he is. KD has had a rough stretch,
shooting-wise, against China, France, and Lithuania, but he dropped 25
points on 56.3% shooting from the field this afternoon. Like it or not,
this is about how dominant Durant will need to be for Team USA to put
away their more competitive opponents.

Not that he didn’t have help. The burden of being his team’s primary
scorer was lifted from Durant’s shoulders, as Derrick Rose took over on a
pair of high pick-and-roll sets. Rose’s speed was lethal off the
screen, and he was able to drop a bucket and draw a foul to score just
enough for a USA victory.

The Americans’ clutch play on the other end, however, came down to two of
their leaders: Kevin Durant and Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K called for a
zone look — the only zone Team USA played in the entire game — on
Spain’s final offensive possession out of a timeout, which completely
shook Spain’s prescribed set. Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez were left to take heavily contested jumpers off of failed penetration, the second of which Durant swatted
out of bounds as time expired. Leaning too heavily on the zone would
undoubtedly come back to bite Team USA, but credit Krzyzewski with
knowing exactly when to unveil it in this game.

The exhibition W may
technically mean nothing, but Coach K has shown he’s willing to shake up
defensive coverage to get the jump on other teams, and that’s valuable.

Closing thoughts:

  • Traveling violations continue to be a thorn in Team USA’s side. Some of
    those travels are legitimate (Durant seems to have a problem with
    taking a step before dribbling off the pump fake/hestitation), and
    others just a typical byproduct of FIBA officiating. The refs are bad. Really bad.
  • Ricky Rubio is 19 years old, and he’s fantastic. You take the bad with
    the good when it comes to Rubio; was it necessary to make a no-look
    pass on Spain’s final possession? Hardly. Did he really need to attempt
    the around-the-back-pass-turned-turnover that led to a key Team USA
    layup? Definitely not. Yet for each of those moves he had a beautiful
    find or a terrific on-ball steal, and then some. He’s so talented
    already, and we can only hope he makes his NBA debut sooner rather than
    later.
  • Lamar Odom got the start at center over Tyson Chandler, and played
    rather well. Odom was probably the Americans’ top screener, and Team
    USA’s squadron of point guards did a great job of finding Odom around
    the rim. He finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in 29 minutes. 
  • Juan. Carlos. Navarro. He should still be in the NBA, but the
    basketball gods so rudely stole him away from us to hide him overseas,
    his floaters and jumpers never to be seen again by most NBA fans.
    Navarro was Spain’s top scorer with 20, and it’s clear that when these
    two teams meet again in the elimination rounds, Navarro will be a point
    of emphasis for Team USA’s defense. Iguodala did a good job of
    defending him, but I’d love to see Rajon Rondo have a crack at him as well.

Cavaliers fan makes good on bet, eats shirt after Warriors win West

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Don’t make a bet you’re not willing to follow through on. I mean, we all do it — “If Trump wins I’m moving to Canada” — but never really mean it. We don’t follow through.

Except sometimes people do.

Reddit NBA user ‘PARTYxDIRTYDAN’ made a bet that he would eat his shirt if the Warriors repeated as Western Conference champions. Call it a bad beat if you want — he came about as close to winning that bet as he could without actually winning it — but the man was good to his word. He had a little BBQ sauce on it, but he ate his shirt.

He probably shouldn’t make a similar bet in the Finals, no matter how big a Cavs fan he is.

(Hat tip Deadspin)

NBC/PBT Podcast: Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals preview with Dan Feldman

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 18: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers react during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on January 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James got what he probably wanted deep down — a second chance at Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals (starting Thursday night). It’s a chance for revenge from last season and to knock Curry off his pedestal.

Except this is a difficult matchup for the Cavaliers and their current style of play, something Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports get into in this breakdown of what’s to come on the NBA’s biggest stage.

They both foresee a long couple of weeks coming for Kevin Love, and difficulty for the Cavaliers getting enough stops. While the Cavaliers now want to play faster and shoot threes, they may have to change tactics against the Warriors.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes, download it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Early NBA Finals betting money flowing to Cleveland

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shakes hands with Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors after the Warriors defeated the Cavs 105 to 97 to win Game Six of the 2015 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Golden State is the clear favorites to beat the Cavaliers and repeat as NBA Champions.

But for gamblers, there’s not much money to be made in taking the safe route, where you have to risk a lot to win a little. The money is on the underdog.

Which is why the early cash has gone to Cleveland, something reported by online gambling site Bovada.lv. Here are their current odds to win the series:

Cleveland Cavaliers +175 (7/4)
Golden State Warriors -210 (10/21)

(That means for every $100 bet on Cleveland the gambler would get $175 if they win; where with Golden State it would take a $210 bet to win $100.)

“We opened the NBA Finals at Cleveland +200 (2/1) and Golden State -240 (5/12) and the public pounced on Cleveland, forcing the adjustment of the lines to +175 and -210,” said Kevin Bradley, Bovada.lv Sportsbook Manager. “While the wagering has evened out a bit more on each side, 60% of the public is currently on the Cavaliers.”

This just makes sense as a gambler — why would I risk so much to win with Golden State? I get the much better payoff with a smaller amount bet with Cleveland, even if the outcome is less likely to go my way.

Remember, for a book the goal is often even betting on both sides, so that they rake in their percentage and win regardless of the outcome. That said, the books may be Warriors fans for the next couple of weeks.

Bismack Biyombo says he wants to stay with Raptors, would take hometown discount

TORONTO, ON - MAY 15:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates late in the second half of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Bismack Biyombo made $3 million this season playing for the Raptors.

Next season he is going to make five times that or more playing somewhere. Biyombo is a free agent and the going rate could be $17 million a year.

After a breakout playoffs, Biyombo wants to stay in Toronto with the Raptors and would even consider a hometown discount to make that happen. That’s what he said on Sportsnet 590 The FAN’s Andrew Walker Show. Does Biyombo expect to wear a Raptors jersey next season?

“Honestly, I do. We still have some unfinished business. It was so much fun to see the team go from last year to this year making the Eastern Conference finals. Be it would be fun to go even further next season.”

The Raptors want to bring him back, but the salary cap makes it difficult. The Raptors do not have Biyombo’s Bird rights, so they need to use their salary cap space to re-sign him. The Raptors top priority is bringing back DeMar DeRozan (who will be a max or near max player), and remember they gave Jonas Valanciunas a four-year, $64 million contract extension last summer.

Would Biyombo be open to a discount to stay in Toronto?

“Yeah. Things can always be worked out. I’ve said that to my people, I’ve said that to Masai. When the right time comes I’d be open to figuring something out. At the end of the day it’s for fun, not money. It’s not always about money. Money is great, but at the same time I ask ‘how much fun am I going to have? The city is great, the team is great, and we’re winning.”

The question may be how big a discount are we talking about? Let’s say Team X does offer $17 million a year for four years, would Biyombo start at $15 million to stay? $13 million? Where is that number?

Next season Biyombo is going to make more money than he had in his entire NBA career up to this point. This is set your family up for generations money, and while the sentiment that the game should be for fun is what we as fans of the game want to hear, how much money would you leave on the table in his shoes?

With the Raptors talking about giving Valanciunas a bigger role in the offense next season, how much can they afford to pay his backup? Biyombo could be on the move.