USA defense looks very good. So far.

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USA-defense.jpgThe USA came out and overwhelmed Slovenia  at the start, shutting them down and converting the misses into easy buckets the other way. It was 12-2 USA before Slovenia had laced up their shoes.

Pretty much the same thing during the USA’s 50-15 run against Croatia during the second and third quarters in their first game of the FIBA World Championships.

The USA is using its superior athleticism in a pressure defense that so far nobody has come close to handling.

But they also have yet to really be tested. And when they are, it will be during the one-and-done phase of this tournament.

What the USA is doing well is defending the arc — the three-pointer is a bread-and-butter shot for most international teams and the USA is taking that away.

Slovenia tried to hit from deep but were 2 of 15 to start. Slovenia has the Suns Goran Dragic, but the USA forced him to shoot on the move — often going to his much weaker right — and the results were not pretty.

Even when Slovenia bigs stepped out to stretch the floor from deep, the USA contested well.

For the game, Slovenia shot 21 percent from three. They shot just 48 percent inside the arc as Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love liked the physical play inside and forced misses. It was pretty much the same against Croatia the day before.

And all those misses become the turnovers the USA fast breaks that the team thrives on. When the USA runs they can’t be beat.

But there were flashes of potential problems down the line. Slovenia got some dunks on pick-and-roll plays, on backdoor cuts where US defenders got lost. Lamar Odom had a number of those moments.

Slovenia didn’t have the players to take advantage of that, neither did Croatia. Neither will Brazil (the USA’s Monday game) or anyone else in Team USA’s group play. This is little more than exhibitions for them.

But at some point they will run into Argentina or Greece or Spain — teams with the players to exploit those weaknesses. Teams that move off the ball, that pass well, that run beautiful pick-and-roll. Greece can have fantastic ball movement and scored on the pick and roll in that game (they sandbagged that exhibition against the USA, don’t read into it).

Mike Krzyzewski and crew need to get Team USA focused on those other plays, the motion offense defense and the pick-and-roll defense during these group games. Because the USA will get tested in the tournament stage of this event, and if they fail then they will be coming home early and disappointed.

Joel Embiid calls out Karl Anthony-Towns’ defense during Instagram trash talk

AP Foto/Hannah Foslien
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Joel Embiid often gloats on Instagram after 76ers wins.

Of course he did after Philadelphia beat Minnesota on Tuesday, specifically calling attention to this move on Karl-Anthony Towns (and this 76ers fan custom):

Embiid:

Euro stepping our way through Minnesota and we ended up raising the cat last night #TheProcess

A post shared by Joel "The Process" Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Towns commented:

That caption was as trash as your picture quality

Embiid replied:

Better quality than your defense

Embiid insisted it’s all in good fun.

Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

https://twitter.com/JCameratoNBCS/status/941395953113804800

I’m not sure Towns is having as much fun as Towns. But I know this:

Embiid had a valid point.

Salah Mejri kicks at Patty Mills as Mavericks and Spurs leave court for halftime (video)

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Mavericks center Salah Mejri has a history of agitating, including against the Spurs.

Two years ago, Mejri dunked while Dallas got blown out by San Antonio and yapped at the Spurs bench – drawing laughter from Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. Last season, Mejri had Trevor Ariza and other Rockets trying to confront him after reportedly saying something about Ariza’s family.

In the Mavericks’ win over the Spurs on Tuesday, Mejri got into it with Patty Mills.

Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

Mejri and Rudy Gay received double technical fouls, and Mejri went to the bench. Everything could have cooled down at halftime, but Mejri escalated tension

Watch the full sequence above, but the key moment:

giphy (2)

That’ll probably draw a fine.

NBA introducing 2-for-1 All-Star voting days

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
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The NBA changed its All-Star format this season from East vs. West to captain-picked teams (though still naming players equally from each conference).

That apparently wasn’t a big enough overhaul.

After including media and player votes last year, the league is making All-Star starter selection even more complex.

NBA release:

NBA All-Star Voting 2018 presented by Verizon will tip off with an early voting period exclusively on the NBA App and NBA.com beginning Thursday, Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. ET.

Voting via all other channels, including Amazon Alexa for the first time, will launch on Monday, Dec. 25 at 11 a.m.

Additionally, new for this season, five “2-for-1 Days” will allow fans to have their votes count twice on Dec. 31, Jan. 4, Jan. 11, Jan. 12 and Jan. 15 when voting through the NBA App and NBA.com, along with Sina Weibo and Tencent in China.  All “2-for-1 Days” will be designated 12 a.m. – 11:59 p.m. ET.

TNT will reveal the All-Star Game starters, including the two captains, on Thursday, Jan. 18 during TNT NBA Tip-Off

The network will announce the reserves, as selected by NBA head coaches, on Tuesday, Jan. 23 during TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. ET. 

The team rosters for NBA All-Star Game 2018 in Los Angeles will be revealed on Thursday, Jan. 25 during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. ET.

I suppose this is to drum up interest on otherwise quiet voting days. After all, this is really just about the NBA selling itself.

But the All-Star voting process has always left something to be desired. I don’t see how this changes that.

Report: Lakers ‘longshot’ to sign LeBron James

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Preeminent NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski called it “likelyLeBron James would sign with the Lakers or Clippers next summer. The Clippers have since been somewhat debunked as a LeBron destination. There’s circumstantial evidence linking LeBron to Los Angeles.

Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

So imagining James’ last act coming in purple and gold isn’t without basis. But as of now, it’s also a longshot, according to league sources.

Shelburne and Windhorst are highly credible. I doubt they’d report this without connected sources.

LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, and manager, Maverick Carter, have recently publicly downplayed the importance of Los Angeles to LeBron. That felt like a coordinated attack on the LeBron-Lakers rumors, and this fits as a continuation.

But why wage that campaign? To keep the Cavaliers focused while LeBron still plays for them, even if he might leave after the season? To lower expectations among the Lakers’ massive fan base, so as not alienate those people (potential customers of the many LeBron-connected brands) when LeBron inevitably signs elsewhere? Both could be true, but there’s obviously a difference between each driving LeBron’s camp.