Preview: It's no Cold War, but Russia should scare the USA a little

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Thumbnail image for teamusa.jpgIt’s not the size of the test — although this will be a pretty good one for the USA — it’s the consequences of failure.

This is the round of eight — lose and go home. Early. Hearing from the home front about the failings of the youngsters of USA Basketball. Just like the Spanish team is doing right now.

The USA are the favorites, but the Russians bring some things to the table that should give the USA pause. This is not Angola or Iran — this is the best team the USA has seen since Brazil.

How Russia wins games is defense — a pressure matchup zone. (As The Painted Area points out, they actually run several variations of it.) It will almost look like a man-to-man because once you step into a zone the man is on you fast. This is not a simple zone to just shoot over the top of.

Opposing teams have shot just 40.8% overall and 28% from three in this tournament against Russia. That’s not an accident.

The USA needs to get its points two ways. One is how they always get points — force turnovers and get out and run. Russia will want to slow it down, if the tempo is up and the USA gets easy baskets in transition Russia cannot keep up.

The other is to use dribble penetration or passes to flashing bigs in the paint — but get the ball inside. Attack from the inside and open up outside shots on kickouts. Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Chauncey Billups should be able to get inside off the dribble. The USA cannot just settle for jumpers.

The other thing Russia brings to the party is size.

They have former Kansas Jayhawk Sasha Kaun at 6’11” (11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds), and he is usually subbed out by incoming Knicks center Timofey Mozgov at 7’1″. The Russians also have 6’11” Alexey Zhukanenko and 6’9″ Andrey Vorontsevich.

The strategy will be pretty obvious — pound the generally smaller USA team inside. The USA’s bigs are more athletic but Lamar Odom, Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler need to stay out of foul trouble, and they have to limit offensive rebounds and second chance points.

Russia is a bit shorthanded. Their two best players — Andrei Kirilenko and J.R. Holden — did not come and their best player here, Vik Khryapa, likely will not play due to injury.

Without them Russia does not score well. As you might expect from USA born, Princeton playing Russia coach David Blatt, they run the Princeton offense. Lots of cuts, back screens, backdoor cuts, and moves along the baseline, etc. If the USA falls asleep on defense Russia could get easy baskets. If the USA is focused the Russian guards should struggle with the ball pressure. Meaning the fast break points the USA thrives on.

This is a good Russian team, but not on the level of the USA. Unless the USA lets them be. And if so, this could be a stiff text. Complete with stiff consequences for failure.

Report: Pelicans to waive Omri Casspi after broken thumb leaves them shorthanded

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 23:  Omri Casspi #18 of the New Orleans Pelicans warms up before a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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In his first game in New Orleans, coach Alvin Gentry threw forward Omri Casspi right into the rotation, and he scored a dozen points.

Casspi also broke his thumb and will be out 4-6 weeks.

Because there is so little time in the season and the Pelicans want to make the playoffs, they have decided to waive Casspi, reports Sams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The idea is to create a roster spot to either grab someone waived by another team over the next few days or to get players on 10-day contracts.

Casspi will be a free agent this summer, and there are a number of teams that think he has real potential once unleashed outside what was going on in Sacramento.

Hawks sign Ryan Kelly, Lamar Patterson to multiyear deals

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 13:  Tobias Harris #34 of the Detroit Pistons defends against a pass to Ryan Kelly #30 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 13, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks have signed forward Ryan Kelly and guard Lamar Patterson to multiyear contracts.

Patterson provides depth across the perimeter, including at point guard. He previously signed two 10-day contracts with the team, most recently on Feb. 8. He has averaged 2.3 points in four games.

The 6-foot-11 Kelly has played in nine games with the Hawks after signing Oct. 31.

The Hawks now have their maximum 15 players. They traded forward Mike Scott to the Suns on Thursday, leaving two vacant roster spots.

Kelly and Patterson are expected to be available when the Hawks play Miami on Friday night.

Kevin Durant: Shaq’s constant ripping of JaVale McGee ‘childish’

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 09:  Shaquille O'Neal reacts during the 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on September 9, 2016 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Golden State Warriors center JaVale McGee fired back at Shaquille O’Neal via Twitter after the former star-turned analyst posted on his verified account a disparaging photo of McGee with the words, “America meet Javale “BUM” McGee.”

O’Neal also responded angrily to McGee , saying he would “smack” McGee’s “bum a–.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Kevin Durant backed McGee on Friday, with Durant calling Shaq “childish” while calling out the retired center’s free throw shooting and other flaws in his game during a Hall of Fame NBA career.

Shaq and McGee went back and forth in a heated Twitter spat late Thursday night, when McGee returned to a reserve role for the NBA-best Warriors as starting center Zaza Pachulia returned from an eight-game absence because of a shoulder injury.

Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey on plan for Warriors: Bury them in an avalanche of threes

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 19: Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets speaks during a press conference announcing the signing of Jeremy Lin at Toyota Center on July 19, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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For a couple of seasons now, teams have tried to beat the Golden State Warriors by making the game ugly — slow, grinding, physical, and the opposite of the free-wheeling game they like. Only one team has had any real success with that strategy, and it has LeBron James on it (and even that wouldn’t have been enough if Draymond Green could keep his hands to himself).

So why not beat them at their own game?

That’s what Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey thought when he added Lou Williams to the roster, he said.

There is a sense around the Warriors that the Rockets may be a bigger concern than the Spurs, because Houston can score with them. Don’t confuse that with worry in the Bay Area, they are the best team in the West if healthy, but the Rockets may be the team they face off against in the conference finals.

And if that happens, Lou Williams is going to play a significant role.