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?

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.