Forget starting, Kevin Love and Eric Gordon need to be finishing for Team USA

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Love_USA.jpgPlaytime is over boys and girls — things are now serious for Team USA. Well, maybe not against Angola but after that. Lose one and you’re done. Sixteen teams in a knockout tournament for the World Championship.

There can be no more bad games, it’s time to put your best players out there for the most minutes.

Which begs the question, shouldn’t Kevin Love and Eric Gordon be getting those minutes? Should they be starting?

Personally, I wouldn’t start them because starting isn’t where it’s at — finishing is. Love and Gordon have earned the minutes because they have played well off the bench while the guys in front of them — starters Lamar Odom at center and Chauncey Billups in the backcourt — have struggled.

Odom has had some classic “disappearing act” games that Lakers fans know all to well, and it shows up in the stats. In nearly 20 minutes a game he is averaging 4.2 points on 47.6 percent shooting and 5.6 rebounds. Love is getting about half the minutes of Odom and is averaging 7.6 points on 59.3 percent shooting, and grabbing 6.6 boards. Love’s rebounding has been nothing short of spectacular to watch in this tournament.

Love is not a great defender, and by that I mean not really even good or average either. But Odom has been no better. The one guy expected to be the defensive and rebounding specialist — Tyson Chandler — has been a foul magnet. Love has been the USA’s best big.

Start Odom, because you need to see early on if this is one of his magical nights or his off nights. If it is the former, ride the wave. But if not, we’d love some extra Love. He has earned it.

The challenge with Billups is his three ball — he is shooting 21.1 percent in this tournament. Gordon is shooting 45.8 percent. From here on out, the USA is going to see a lot of zone. They’ve seen a lot, but they will see more and better varieties of it. The USA needs to do a better job with penetration and flash-cuts inside to the middle of the zone to get into its underbelly. But they also need to be able to shoot over the top of it. Kevin Durant has done that well (he does everything well on offense) but Gordon is the USA’s best spot-up guy.

Again, start Billups, but if it is a zone game get Gordon in fast and play him a lot. Put him next to Derrick Rose, let Rose have the ball and drive the lane and Gordon will be floating around for the kick-out-and-three in a way Billups cannot.

The USA needs to go with the hot hands, the guys making plays right now. That is Love and Gordon. Play them because the guys playing the best deserve the run. Especially now when it counts.

Gordon Hayward dunks on Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker (videos)

Gordon Hayward (20), del Jazz de Utah, intenta un enceste ante Thon Maker (7) y Michael Beasley (9), de los Bucks de Milwaukee, en el duelo del viernes 24 de febrero de 2017, en Milwaukee. (AP Foto/Benny Sieu)
AP Foto/Benny Sieu
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Are we obligated to call Gordon Hayward “deceptively athletic”?

The Bucks have something special in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they think they have something special in Thon Maker.

But Hayward jammed all over those two in the Jazz’s 109-95 win last night.

First, he got Antetokounmpo:

Then, he got Maker:

Report: Lakers working toward buyout with Jose Calderon; Warriors, Rockets interested

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 18:  Jose Calderon #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a called foul during the second half of a game against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on November 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Lakers took on the salary of Jose Calderon this year so they could get a couple second-round picks from the Bulls (Chicago got him from New York in the Derrick Rose trade), but even with the previous regime in Los Angeles the aging point guard was never part of the future.

As was expected, the Lakers are now talking about buying out the Spanish national and letting him head to a playoff team for a stretch run, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Sources told ESPN that it’s not yet a certainty Calderon will secure his release from the Lakers in the coming days, but the sides are indeed discussing the options as Wednesday’s playoff eligibility deadline nears….

Sources say that Calderon, if he winds up hitting the open market, would instantly become a target for both the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets.

Cleveland may also have interest if their plan to land Deron Williams when he is bought out by Dallas goes awry.

Calderon, 35, was not part of the Lakers’ regular rotation, playing in just 24 games. He can still knock down a shot if he has space and can set his feet, and he still has a high hoops IQ and can see the floor, but his athleticism has faded, and that can leave him exposed. Particularly on defense.

Players are being waived now so they clear in time for teams to sign them by March 1, after that said players are not eligible for playoff rosters.

There are better players to hit the waiver wire in the coming days — D-Will, Andrew Bogut, Matt Barnes — but Calderon is going to land somewhere. He’d be a solid third point guard and veteran presence for a playoff run.

Marquese Chriss blocks Bobby Portis, who gets testy (video)

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Bobby Portis didn’t enjoy getting blocked by Marquese Chriss. And Portis sure didn’t appreciate how Chriss fell on him.

But it was all worth it (for me, at least) just to see the Bulls forward make a face that reminded me of this:

Dwyane Wade with dagger dunk to seal Bulls win vs. Suns (VIDEO)

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The time off during the All-Star break did Dwyane Wade some good.

The Bulls guard turned back the clock on Friday night, leading the Bulls with 23 points and topping it off with this dunk that proved to be the dagger, sealing a Chicago win. The Suns were convinced Wade was going to run the shot clock way down before making his move and they lollygagged into position — so he just blew past everyone for the poster slam.

The Bulls won 128-121. Devin Booker led the Suns with 27.