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?

Blake Griffin suspended four games, docked five games pay

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Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers said the NBA would lead any punishment for Blake Griffin, who broke his hand punching a team equipment manager at a dinner. The league investigated, and…

A suspension was announced by the Clippers.

Clippers release:

The following is a joint statement from L.A. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Doc Rivers:

The L.A. Clippers announced today that forward Blake Griffin has been suspended without pay for four games for striking a team employee on Jan. 23 and his wages will be withheld for one additional game for injuries he sustained. The NBA has assisted us in this process.

The Clippers will donate the salary from the five games to charities focused on disadvantaged youth in Los Angeles. At his request, Blake will support this activity with his time.

We have made it clear that this conduct has no place in the Clippers organization. Blake is remorseful and has apologized for his actions. He is a valued member of our Clippers family and we support him as he rejoins the team. He understands his actions have consequences, and is eager to get back to work with his teammates, the organization and Clipper Nation which starts immediately with rehab, appearances and attendance at games.

For our team and organization, it is time to move forward which begins today and ultimately concludes when we have Blake back on the court.

If you want to parse the statement, it doesn’t say the Clippers suspended Griffin. It’s in passive voice — “has been suspended without pay” — and leaves open the possibility the NBA suspended him. We just know the Clippers announced it, which would be strange for an NBA suspension. So, I believe the Clippers suspended him. I’m just not absolutely certain.

NBA suspensions typically begin only once a player is healthy enough to play. It’s unclear how that applies to this situation, but I’d guess – no matter who levied the suspension – the same rule will apply. Again, that’s not a given – especially given the hard-to-follow use of “which starts immediately with rehab, appearances and attendance at games.”

The Clippers announced on Jan. 26 Griffin would miss 4-6 weeks, a timeline unaffected by a second surgery on his swollen, scarred hand. But Rivers called a 4-6 recovery period “unrealistic.” So, if he can’t serve his suspension until healthy, good luck figuring out when that is. Probably just have to trust the Clippers.

For each game a player is suspended by the NBA, he loses 1/110th of his salary. If that applies to this suspension, it’d cost Griffin $859,442.

Teams also have their team salary as it applies to the luxury tax – which the Clippers are in line to pay – reduced by that amount. Again, more conclusion. It’s unclear whether the Clippers will get their tax bill trimmed. If they suspended him and don’t receive the savings, that’s a significant difference – $2,148,605 in tax payments (or $1,718,884 if you count only the four games actually suspended).

Four games and a fifth game of pay is probably a break for Griffin. This could’ve been much worse for him, including legal action. But Matt Barnes received just a two-game suspension for a similar situation – one NBA employee attacking another while away from official team business. What’s the difference here?

The Clippers want to move on, but this result provides more confusion than clarity.

Marv Albert gets contract extension to call NBA on TNT

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05:  Marv Albert attends the New York Knicks vs Brooklyn Nets game at Barclays Center on December 5, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Veteran broadcaster Marv Albert has agreed to a multiyear contract extension with TNT to call NBA games.

Albert will call this weekend’s All-Star Game in Toronto, his 21st year providing commentary for the event. He’ll continue to call regular-season and playoff games for the network.

The Hall of Fame broadcaster has been associated with the NBA for nearly 50 years.

Turner Sports executive Craig Barry on Tuesday calls Albert a “legendary broadcaster,” who has been “a true icon in the industry.”

Albert is in his 18th season as a play-by-play commentator for TNT. He has won five national Sports Emmy Awards and was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame last year.

Miami Heat to retire Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey next season

Shaquille O'Neal Heat
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Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 34 jersey already hangs in the rafters at Staples Center for the Lakers.  He’s getting a statue there, too.

Next season, he will have his number retired on the other warm southern coast, this time in Miami.

The Heat have announced they will retire Shaq’s No. 32 jersey next season.

“Shaquille O’Neal is one of the truly elite players in the history of the game and one of the greatest players to ever wear a Heat uniform,” team president Pat Riley said in a released statement. “He took us to another level as a basketball franchise while leading us to our first NBA championship. Retiring his number in the rafters, along with Heat greats Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, is something we are very proud of.”

Riley left out that the Heat also retired Michael Jordan’s 23, and Dan Marino’s 12 also hangs in the rafters of the arena. Neither of those make much sense, but whatever.

Shaq played three-and-a-half seasons in Miami, averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. Shaq was a three-time All-Star with the Heat and was at the heart of the franchise’s first title, along with Dwyane Wade… and Mark Cuban would tell you the officials. But that’s another discussion. He was also bitter after being traded to Phoenix and slammed Miami management and players on his way out the door.

Time heals all wounds.

Bull for Bull: Pau Gasol to replace Jimmy Butler in All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler is out of the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto this weekend due to a strained knee. Which suck, because he earned that spot, and while the fans didn’t vote him in the coach’s did.

Butler’s teammate Pau Gasol will replace him.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make the call on a replacement, and he stayed in Chicago, but he added a front court player to replace a guard. Keeping a Bulls representative might have been part of the thinking. The coaches’ votes on replacement players has been weighed in the past (Gasol may have been high on that list, coaches love him). Also, the East roster has a lot of wings and was light on bigs (Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh are the only real bigs), so this gives coach Tyronn Lue some flexibility up front.

The East leading Cleveland Cavaliers remain with just one representative, LeBron James (voted in by the fans).

Gasol is averaging 17 points, 10.9 rebounds, and a couple blocks a game, and is the only thing close to a consistent performer the Bulls have. Besides the injured Butler.