Team USA struggles a bit before leaving Slovenia in the dust

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Well, they’re not blowing teams out by 40. But for a team that many had significant doubts about heading into the FIBA World Championships, Team USA is doing pretty well for itself. Team USA ran out to a 14-4 lead and never looked back in a 99-77 win over Slovenia Sunday in Istanbul (not Constantinople). 

Kevin Durant was particularly dominant, getting it done at both ends of the floor. His perimeter defense on hard shows stopped the ball, forcing sloppy passes leading to breakaway dunks for the US off of steals. His range was in effect, as he nailed the long-ball repeatedly. Kevin Love continued to show why he may be the best “big” on the team, gobbling up offensive rebounds and aggressively attacking the rim. And yes, the outlet pass was in effect as well. Russell Westbrook came in and did a great job of attacking the zone for Slovenia. 
There were downslides, though.The US seemed frustrated early with the zone, and were significantly foul prone, putting Slovenia in the bonus for much of the second quarter. Slovenia started to put a run together by attacking the basket off of cuts, usually exploiting Lamar Odom. Odom has not played well in the first two games, seemingly lost on both sides of the ball and struggling in the low-position role he’s found himself in. Odom was brought because of his experience and versatility, but many younger players are showing more heads-up play and focus than Odom at this point. Odom did do a good job on the boards, collecting 9 as the primary big on the floor (Tyson Chandler played only 9 minutes and had no points and 2 rebounds). Derrick Rose struggled with the physical play of Slovenia and was largely ineffectual for USA. 
Former NBA player Bostjan Nachbar led the way for Slovenia with 13, using his range to keep defenders off guard, while Gasper Vidmar had his moments with 10 points. Goran Dragic was limited the entire game with fouls, finishing with only 7 points to go along with 4 assists. 
Durant had 22 for the States, and would have had more if not for foul trouble. Love finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Rudy Gay finished strong, using his size and versatility to hit a barrage of inside hooks, mid-range jumpers, and threes. 
The US plays Brazil Monday in their stiffest challenge yet, with Anderson Varejao, Leandro Barbosa, and new Spur Tiago Splitter waiting.
But so far, Team USA has overcome every challenge, and done so with relative ease. With Spain losing to France Saturday, Team USA has to be considered the clear cut favorite to win the Championship.

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

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Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.

LeBron James all good with Reggie Jackson’s free throw gamesmanship, “I’ve done it before”

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Let’s set the stage: Sunday night, the fast-rising Pistons led the fast-rising Timberwolves by three with  6.2 seconds left when Jimmy Butler drew a foul on a 3-pointer. Butler drained the first two free throws. Before the third, Reggie Jackson interrupted to talk to Stanley Johnson, who was in rebounding position. Butler missed the free throw, and Detroit held on to win 100-97. Here’s the play in question.

It was a bit of gamesmanship by Jackson.

LeBron James was asked about the move at Cavaliers shootaround and endorsed it with a smile on his face.

“I’ve done it before. I won a playoff series before doing that actually. So, I’m all for it.”

That series was in 2007, overtime of game 6 of a first-round playoff series against Washington, and the victim was the Hibachi, Gilbert Arenas. The Cavaliers were down 1, Arenas had two free throws, missed the first, then LeBron stepped in. Arenas missed the second, and the Cavs went on to get the win.

Is interrupting free throws about to become an NBA thing? If it works, players will do it.

Warriors pose for photos with Jahlil Okafor’s dad’s ‘FREE JAH’ shirt

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Jahlil Okafor‘s father has not been shy about speaking out on his son’s behalf. NBA players are advocating for the 76ers to grant Okafor, who’s out of the rotation and on an expiring contract, his desired trade or buyout.

When both join forces…

Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry appear to really enjoy Chukwudi Okafor’s shirt. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily calling on Philadelphia to do anything. But they hadn’t to know how it’d be perceived.

It’s easy to predict free agents will avoid the 76ers as a result of the Okafor situation, but few anticipate getting stuck similarly. Players overwhelmingly value money, winning, role and location. If Golden State’s stars are applying any external pressure, it shouldn’t really move Philadelphia more than anything that has already been said and done.

A couple of Lonzo Ball’s triple-double assists look dubious (video)

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Lonzo Ball draws outsized attention because his father, LaVar Ball, lures onlookers and because the rookie plays for the high-profile Los Angeles Lakers.

So, when Lonzo gets a triple-double – like his 11-points, 16-rebound, 11-assists game against the Nuggets yesterday – it draws scrutiny.

Mo Dakhil of The Jump Ball:

The NBA defines an assist as a “pass that directly leads to a basket. … An assist can be awarded for a basket scored after the ball has been dribbled if the player’s pass led to the field goal being made.”

I wouldn’t describe either of those passing as leading directly to a basket. Ball’s teammates each hold the ball for a moment after receiving the pass then take two dribbles against set defenses.

But assists are subjective, and the Lakers aren’t alone in offering a home-court scorekeeping advantage.

Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice

So, criticize/laugh at the Lakers. But your favorite team probably manipulates assists in its favor, too.