Team USA may have a perfect record, but they're far from flawless

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chauncey_billups_team_usa.jpgFirst, the obvious: Team USA is currently undefeated, while other quality teams in the FIBA World Championships are not. That’s a credit to every player and each member of the coaching staff. Their next two games are against Iran and Tunisia, and if all goes according to plan, the U.S. national team will remain undefeated going into the elimination rounds. From a bottom-line perspective, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Chauncey Billups focused on that positive after USA’s win over Brazil, though he’s clearly aware of his team’s lackluster play. From Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press:

“We can’t worry about how much we win by, winning the same fashion as
other USA teams. All of that’s out the window,” Billups said. “All we
need to do is get wins. Win every game we can and we’ll worry about
everything else later.”

The only problem is that Team USA can’t afford to focus solely on wins and losses. The makeup of each win matters a great deal, and though the loss column remains spotless, there is some reason for concern. The Americans’ near-miss against Brazil provided a case study in what can go wrong for Team USA. One reliable big can give Lamar Odom a heap of trouble down low. Team USA’s pick-and-roll defense can be dissected. When opposing defenses increase their pressure on the USA’s ball-handlers, it’s like tapping a well of careless turnovers.

Though the Americans still boast a perfect record, their play against Brazil was anything but.

However, as I’ve noted previously in this space, the onus isn’t all on the players. The five on the floor will always deserve the majority of the credit/blame in my mind (after all, successful on-court execution is the key to any win), but the man who controls who sees the floor in the first place is also burdened with the responsibility for those decisions. There are a number of reasons why Mike Krzyzewski decided to stick with his starters for essentially the entire the fourth quarter, but in the end, that lineup scored on just two of their final 11 possessions. That’s on Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Lamar Odom, surely, but it’s also on Krzyzewski.

Once the elimination rounds begin, Team USA won’t have the luxury of adjusting after a loss. They can’t wait until things get worse to figure out how to make them better. One loss and that’s it. Game over, thanks for playing, see you at the Olympics. That makes it awfully important for Team USA to work on their weaknesses now, whether they rest with the players or the coaches.

The Americans are winning, and that’s crucial. Yet their work is far from complete. Even forgetting my gripes about Coach K’s rotations, Team USA’s pick-and-roll D and half-court execution still need improvement. A team full of guards couldn’t run an offense in the fourth quarter, and that’s borderline nonsensical. On paper, perimeter play is one of Team USA’s greatest strengths, and yet in the second half against a Brazil, the USA’s guards looked like a liability.

Maybe Team USA’s preparation was the problem. Maybe it was their execution. Maybe it was Krzyzewski’s shortened rotation. Regardless, Team USA needed two missed layups, two missed free throws, and a quarter’s worth of cold shooting from the Brazilians to squeak out a victory against a good team missing two of its top players. A win is a win and all, but Team USA will have to do better.   

Watch Brad Stevens remain completely stoic after Avery Bradley’s game-winning 3 (video)

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Avery Bradley hit a perfectly dramatic shot Friday – a 3-pointer down two with time expiring against the conference’s best team.

When it fell, the Celtics justifiably went wild.

Well, not all the Celtics:

Tweet of the Day: Stephen Curry and crying Jordan

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Stephen Curry is a Carolina guy and a huge Panthers fan — he’s been that way since childhood, this was not a bandwagon jump.

Before the Super Bowl Sunday, he got to pound the drum for the Panthers (who also gave him a locker for the day).

We all know how the game went, it wasn’t a good day for Panthers’ fans. Curry handled it beautifully in this tweet.

Five Takeaways From NBA Sunday: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant at Super Bowl

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Sunday was all about Coldplay… was there something else going on? If you didn’t watch Sunday’s NBA games because you were prepping for a Super Bowl only someone who bet the under could love, here is what you missed from around the NBA Sunday. Which includes some Super Bowl talk.

1) Stephen Curry pounding a drum was not enough for the Panthers. Curry is a Carolina guy — he did not just jump on the Cam Newton/Panthers bandwagon, he’s been a fan for a long time. The Panthers rewarded him on Sunday with a locker and jersey.

They also let him pound the drum for the team pregame. Turns out, that was not enough (apparently Curry cannot secure a win without some help from Draymond Green). But he handled it beautifully on Twitter after the game.

2) Kevin Durant joined the media for a day to be a photographer at the Super Bowl. Kevin Durant’s relationship with the media has been about as smooth as a Kardashian marriage, but since he was in the Bay Area this weekend to take on the Warriors (another Golden State win), he decided to join the media for a day and be a photographer for the Players Tribune. You know, the website that will break Durant’s plans this summer. Follow this link and you can see his account and his photos.

Associated Press
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Now, on to actual basketball….

3) Nikola Vucevic saves Magic with fade-away game winner. Orlando looked to be in control of their game with the Hawks, up 11 entering the fourth quarter and leading by eight with 3:30 left in the game — then Atlanta went on an 8-0 run. A Kent Bazemore three with :48 left tied the game at 94-94 (Bazemore finished with 23 points on the day).

But as he had done earlier in the year, Vucevic hit a game-winning fade away (this time over some good defense from Al Horford), and Orlando got the victory.

4) Chris Paul starts slow, finishes fast and Clippers pick up a road win in Miami. Chris Paul and the entire Clippers team started this game out looking like they had the South Beach Flu (after a night on the town). CP3 opened the game 0-of-9. But Paul was 6-of-10 in the second half, and when his shots fell it opened up the roll for a couple of huge DeAndre Jordan alley-oops.

The Clippers got 22 from CP3, another 20 from Jamal Crawford off the bench, and the Clippers kept right on winning with a 100-93 victory against Miami. If you want to nit-pick this team and how the teams above them in the West might attack flaws in the playoffs, go right ahead, but you’ll be missing a fantastic show in the meantime. The Clippers are playing well on the offensive end and just keep winning without Griffin in the lineup.

5) Brad Stevens gets the most out of the talent he has in Boston, George Karl does not in Sacramento. So that matchup went as you would expect. Brad Stevens has proven to be one of GM Danny Ainge’s best moves — and Ainge assembled a title team. He has a team of nice role players as the third seed in the East, with a fantastic defense and enough offense from Isaiah Thomas to get the job done. On the other side, George Karl’s job is in jeopardy in part because he can’t get buy-in from a team with some good talent (except for Rajon Rondo, who likes Karl because Karl has given him carte blanche in the offense). This game was just a contrast of organizations, and as you would expect the Celtics won handily 128-119.

Also, know that Thomas can play a little defense — he blocked a DeMarcus Cousins‘ shot.

Paul shakes off awful start, leads Clippers past Heat 100-93

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) drives to the basket past Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) and forward Amare Stoudemire, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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MIAMI (AP) — Chris Paul had the worst possible start to his shooting day.

His finish, however, was perfect.

Paul’s consecutive 3-pointers in the final minutes were daggers to a Miami comeback, and his game-high 22 points helped the Los Angeles Clippers hang on to beat the Heat 100-93 on Sunday.

“I kept shooting it,” Paul said, “because sooner or later it had to go in.”

J.J. Redick scored 14 points, Wesley Johnson had 10 and DeAndre Jordan and Cole Aldrich grabbed 11 rebounds each for the Clippers, who won despite a 1-for-15 start from the field and swept the two-game season series with Miami.

“That was a team win because nobody really had it going,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But our defense really had it going all game.”

Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic all scored 17 points for Miami. Luol Deng added 15 points for the Heat, and Hassan Whiteside finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.

“They did to us what we’ve been doing the last few games, just grinding an opponent,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what they did to us, then made the bigger plays down the stretch.”

Paul was 0 for 7 in the opening period, the worst one-quarter shooting performance of his NBA career, and was 0 for 9 before he finally got a shot to fall. But his 3-pointers in the fourth snuffed out a Miami rally, and his lob that set up Jordan for a dunk was the clincher for the Clippers – who, after that horrid start, shot 55 percent the rest of the way.

Redick made a layup on the game’s first possession and the Clippers proceeded to misfire on their next 14 shots, but recovered to win for the 11th time in their last 13 road games, most of that with Blake Griffin sidelined by injuries.

“We’re just trying to hold it down until our big fella comes back,” Paul said.

Miami went to the oft-used strategy of intentionally fouling Jordan in the third quarter to slow the Clippers’ offense. And while it worked to a point – Jordan went 3 for 10 from the free throw line in the quarter – Miami couldn’t score. The Heat were 4 for 20 in the third, got down by as many as 11 and never led again.

“They made big plays down the stretch,” Wade said. “That’s the way we’ve been winning of late, so we can’t be mad at that. We got a little taste of our own medicine.”

TIP-INS

Clippers: G Austin Rivers will miss four to six weeks with a broken left hand. For now, the Clippers aren’t planning on making any roster changes to add depth. “We may have to make a decision but we’re just going to try to ride it out,” Doc Rivers said. … Paul has faced the Heat 19 times, and his teams are 13-6 in those games.

Heat: Whiteside took his first charge of the season. … Wade’s first point of the day gave him outright possession of 41st place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He came into the game tied with John Stockton at 19,711 points. … Deng has scored at least 15 points in five of his last six games.

 

SUPER SATELLITE

The Clippers were using a different plane than usual for their postgame flight from Miami to Philadelphia, for Super Bowl 50 reasons. They changed planes in order to have satellite television access so they wouldn’t miss any of the Carolina-Denver game.

“It’s really nice of the NBA to have us play today and then travel during the Super Bowl,” Doc Rivers said. “Just really a great move. But at least we get to watch it.”