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.

76ers coach Brett Brown: Joel Embiid’s minute restriction could quickly rise

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Joel Embiid‘s minute limit of below 20 bummed out everyone (especially Embiid).

But good news could be on the way.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers look like a borderline playoff team, Embiid’s health the biggest variable. There’s a direct correlation between his ability to stay on the court and Philadelphia’s postseason chances.

Plus, he’s just so darn fun to watch. The more he plays, the bigger victory it is for every viewer not rooting for the 76ers’ opponent that night.

Report: Bucks have offered second-round pick as enticement for Rashad Vaughn trade

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John Henson was on the trade block. Greg Monroe seems permanently affixed there.

Another player the Bucks apparently want to deal? Rashad Vaughn, who was the No. 17 pick in 2015.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Milwaukee has been working to trade several players to clear salary-cap space, including guard Rashad Vaughn and center John Henson, league sources said. The Bucks have been willing to attach a second-round pick in offers for Vaughn, league sources said.

It’s unclear whether the Bucks are still as motivated to move Vaughn. They slid under the luxury-tax line by stretching Spencer Hawes. One-time target Richard Jefferson already signed with the Nuggets. A roster vacancy and cap savings might not matter as much anymore to Milwaukee.

But Vaughn has struggled in two NBA seasons. The Bucks might be better off trying to develop someone else, even a D-League player, over the 21-year-old Vaugh.

Vaughn is due $1,889,040 this season. He faces a $2,901,565 team option for next season, which his team must decide on by Oct. 31. It seems unlikely that will be exercised.

This is what happens when you draft players for the wrong reason.

Report: Cavaliers nearly traded Richard Jefferson last year when he revealed championship rings on Snapchat

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Richard Jefferson announced his retirement after the Cavaliers won the 2016 championship, changed his mind, re-signed with Cleveland then played another season there. He played big playoff minutes for the Cavs both years.

But they traded him to the Hawks (who waived him, allowing him to sign with the Nuggets) in a rather abrupt end to his Cleveland tenure.

His exit could have been far more strained.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Then he was nearly traded the summer after the championship because he revealed what the Cavs’ rings looked like on his Snapchat account before the team was ready to release them to the public. Then-GM David Griffin was so ticked that he was ready to ship him out of town, sources told ESPN, before eventually calming down and accepting Jefferson’s apology.

Talk about some petty nonsense. And Griffin was known for soothing tension!

Thankfully for Jefferson – at least if he wanted to stay in Cleveland – he revealed the ring design in September. As a newly signed player, he couldn’t be traded until Dec. 15. That gave Griffin time to cool down.

Carmelo Anthony: Phil Jackson was willing “to trade me for a bag of chips”

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Carmelo Anthony wanted to be traded to the Houston Rockets. Badly. (Whether that was good for Houston is a different discussion.) His time in New York was over by mutual consent, but now was time to move on, however, thanks to a no-trade clause Phil Jackson gave him, Anthony had leverage. And he wanted to be a Rocket with James Harden and Chris Paul.

It looked at one point like a deal would get done between New York and Houston, then it fell apart. So what happened?

Phil Jackson was booted, that’s what happened, Anthony told Marc Stein the New York Times.

The delay to find a workable trade, in Anthony’s view, stemmed from the fact that Jackson was willing “to trade me for a bag of chips,” while Scott Perry, who became the Knicks’ new general manager after Jackson’s departure, took a harder line in trade talks with Houston and Cleveland that eventually fizzled.

“They went from asking for peanuts to asking for steak,” Anthony said with a laugh.

‘Melo can laugh, he landed in a good spot with Oklahoma City. He’s on a potential contender.

As for his feelings on Jackson and leaving the organization? Still some hard feelings there.

“There was no support from the organization,” he said. “When you feel like you’re on your own and then on top of that you feel like you’re being pushed out …”