USA's flaws exposed as team barely survives against Brazil, wins 70-68

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Thumbnail image for andre_iguodala_team_usa.pngAre you a glass half full guy about USA basketball, or glass half empty?

Because that will determine how you feel about the USA’s come-from-behind-then-hold-on-to-the-seat-of-your-pants 70-68 victory over Brazil.

If you’re a pessimist, you saw all the perceived flaws of this USA squad exposed — they had trouble protecting the paint against Brazil, especially early, they turned the ball over 22 times, and in the clutch everyone not named Kevin Durant or Chauncey Billups seemed to struggle. The USA barely got by a Brazilian team that didn’t even put an injured Anderson Varejao out on the floor (sprained ankle).

If you’re a cockeyed optimist, you like that your team got tested early — in a game it could afford to lose. You like that it didn’t lose, that the team fought back from being behind as much as 8 points to win. Most of all, you like that Kevin Durant walked off the court pissed off after that game, saying that was not good enough.

The USA was lucky to avoid overtime and get the win.

This game was tied at 62-62 with 8:11 left when both teams both stepped up defensive pressure and conversely seemed to shoot like they felt the pressure. Missed shots piled up late in the game.

The USA took a four-point lead pretty quickly after that tie on a dunk by Lamar Odom (off an Andre Iguodala feed) and a spectacular behind-the-backboard Derrick Rose layup. A minute later Tiago Splitter — the future Spur who showed a lot of polish and why he’ll be good in the NBA, finishing with 13 points — forced his way by Odom for a basket to cut the lead to two. Rose eventually stretched the lead back to four with a couple free throws.

The USA had several chances to extend that lead but kept missing — most notably Lamar Odom putting a great move on Splitter than missing the wide-open layup, something Lakers fans thought looked very familiar. Then with 1:04 left, Brazilian point guard Marcelo Huertas made it a two-point game with a layup.

Billups may have won the game for the USA next trip down by driving into the lane, into Splitter, taking the contact and going up for a pretty little four-foot bank shot. Toronto’s Leandro Barbosa got in for a layup — we told you the USA had trouble protecting the rim — to cut it to two.

After a missed Billups three, Brazil had one last chance to tie (or win) and without calling a timeout Huertas came down and tried to isolate on Rose, but drew the foul on a helping Durant.

Then Huertas missed the first free throw. He intentionally missed the second, chased down his own tipped rebound in the corner and threw a pass to Barbosa, who was in the post trying to shoot over the much taller an stronger Kevin Love. And it still almost went in.

USA fans both exhaled and cheered.

With the win, the USA should go undefeated in group play. They have a day off followed by Iran and Tunisia, neither team nearly as good as any the USA has faced so far.

But the questions are all about the next rounds, the knockout stages.

Kevin Durant led the USA with 27 points but when he sat the USA floundered a lot on offense. The USA’s vaunted depth let them down and starters played big minutes. Brazil shot 71 percent in the first quarter against the vaunted ISA defense, then led by three at the half shooting 7 of 11 from three. That cooled off in the second half, but the USA ran into a team that didn’t flinch at their pressure defense, one that exploited it and knocked down shots.

The question is, can the USA learn from this and improve, or was that just a team exposing flaws that cannot be fixed with this personnel?

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.