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?

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.