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.

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.

PBT Extra: What does Kyrie Irving trade mean for LeBron James?

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In the end, the entire Kyrie Irving blockbuster trade was about LeBron James. It started because Kyrie Irving wanted out of LeBron’s enormous shadow. Cleveland went with this trade because Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder help them win now, and whatever LeBron decides to do next summer the Brooklyn pick (and maybe Ante Zizic) helps them build for the future.

But what does this trade mean to LeBron James?

Honestly, it doesn’t change much. That’s what I get into in this latest PBT Extra. LeBron is leaving his options open, but maybe this deal could help Cleveland keep him if it makes them more competitive with the Warriors.

Rumor: Young Bulls ‘can’t stand’ Dwyane Wade

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After a loss last January, Dwyane Wade (in conjunction with since-traded Jimmy Butler) lashed out at his Bulls teammates for not caring enough. Those younger players didn’t receive the message gratefully, questioning why Wade didn’t practice more.

The simple answer: Wade is 35, and he and his team are better served if he saves himself for games. But Wade also should have known his schedule left him ill-suited to criticize harder-working teammates.

The whole saga exposed the inherent tension that occurs when an accomplished veteran with declining skills is thrust into a leadership position on a mediocre team.

Consider that backdrop as Wade and Chicago dance around a buyout.

Nick Friedell on ESPN discussing Wade getting bought out:

This is inevitable. It’s coming. It’s a matter of when, not if.

But right now, guys, it’s just kind of a staring contest. Everybody’s looking at each other saying, “OK, how much money are you willing to give up?”

And Gar Forman, the Bulls’ GM, at summer league, said, “Oh, we’re not having conversations.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think Dwyane’s agents and the Bulls are wanting to get this thing done.

But I’d really be surprised if it happened before the season. I still think it’s more likely that it’ll happen probably somewhere in December or January.

But this is a divorce that’s going to happen. It’s just going to take some time.

The young players on the Bulls really can’t stand Dwyane, and it’s the little secret in Chicago. They have had enough.

Wade’s January criticism was reportedly particularly directed at Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams, neither of whom are on the roster. (Mirotic, a restricted free agent, will likely return.) Even if Wade’s comments cast a wider net, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio are the only young players still on the team from that time. None of those players deserve much influence in how the franchise operates.

Still, no matter what the young players want, it’s clear Wade no longer fits on a rebuilding Chicago. They might get their wish.

Wade is set to earn $23.8 million in the final season of an expiring contract. That salary could prove useful in a bigger trade.

If bought out, Wade would count as dead money against Chicago’s cap at his buyout amount. They Bulls should obviously be amenable if he sacrifices enough, but a small discount doesn’t justify locking into that money rather than having a trade chip available.

If Chicago is deep into the cellar as expected after the trade deadline, a buyout would be completely logical then. Maybe the Bulls even assess the trade market sooner and conclude Wade’s huge expiring contract won’t facilitate a trade.

It’s easy to see a buyout happening eventually. In the meantime, Wade and his younger teammates will just have to get along. I trust Wade’s professionalism to make this situation at least tenable, but Fred Hoiberg might have his hands full building cooperation with all the people involved.