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.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.

Byron Scott says they just have to get Kobe Bryant better looks

Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Byron Scott

Kobe Bryant is averaging 15.2 points a game at age 37. It’s just taking him 16.4 shots per game to get there. After his 1-of-14 shooting performance against the Warriors the other night — with too much isolation and too many plays run just for him — there has been a lot of talk about his shot. With reason, this is his shot chart so far this season.

Kobe shotchart season

So what do the Lakers’ do? Get Kobe to shoot less and get the ball in the hands of the young stars they supposed to be developing more? Nah.

They just need to get Kobe better looks, Scott told the Los Angeles Times.

“I know his mentality is that he can still play in this league,” Scott said. “And we feel the same way….

“Obviously he’s struggling right now with his shot, and I think everybody can see that,” Scott said. “So it’s trying to get him in better position to be able to have an opportunity to knock those shots down on a consistent basis. That’s No. 1.

“I don’t know if it’s his legs. I don’t think so. Again, our conversations are pretty blunt. … He tells me when he is tired and he tells me when he’s not tired. And the last few days, he said he feels great. So, I don’t think it’s a matter of him being tired or his legs being tired. I think it’s a matter of his timing being a little off.”

Yes, how could it be his legs? It’s not like he’s a 37-year-old with more than 55,000 NBA minutes played, and coming off an Achilles rupture and major knee surgery.

Honestly, I hope the Lakers and Kobe find a balance soon, because they have become just hard to watch. And I don’t want Kobe to go out this way.