Durant, Team USA level Lithuanian challenge, advance to FIBA Finals

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Hey, the good news is that Lithuania was right. Team USA probably isn’t invincible.

Kevin Durant in this tournament, though? Yeah, he’s pretty close to it.

Durant scored 38 points in an 88-74 win over LIthuania, as Team USA advanced to the FIBA World Championship Finals. Durant wound up 14-25 from the floor, despite every attempt made by Lithuania to stop him. They tried man. They tried zone. They tried help. They tried face-guarding. Nothing worked. Durant simply owned them as you would expect from someone who bombed 38 points in FIBA play. We’ve already had several “coming out parties” for Durant. He’s already arrived. But this game will certainly be added to his legacy as a sign of the greatness we all fully predict will come from him.

Meanwhile, Lithuania had almost no opportunity to respond. Their red-hot shooting against Argentina bottomed into nothingness (38% from the field) under a stifling USA defense that will not get the pub it deserves because, well, Durant dropped 38. Lithuania’s star, Linas Kleiza, managed just 4 points on 1-11 shooting, after Andre Iguodala decided to lock down on him and completely shut him off. Lithuania hung without getting blown out of the building, in part thanks to Team USA’s latest bout of poor three point shooting (32% from the arc).

Derrick Rose was benched the entire fourth quarter for USA after an unimpressive showing, forcing shots and looking erratic. There’s talk that his play may have caused Coach K to abandon his faith in Chicago’s dynamic point guard, but that’s probably premature, considering the wide variance in decisions from one game to the next from the Hall of Fame coach.

Today was Lamar Odom’s big game, as the Laker forward finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal. Odom’s been is usual space cadet self against most of the rest of the world, but his productions is still trickling in, and against a smaller Lithuania team, he flourished, bullied, and busted his way through.

USA will play the winner of the other Semifinal today, when Serbia faces host nation Turkey. If you’re looking for the matchup everyone wants, it’s Turkey vs. USA., as Turkey has been downright dominant in this tournament (in their own right), with the Bucks’ Ersan Ilyasova and the Suns’ Hedo Turkoglu both making impact. Serbia is no slouch, though, after downing the arguable favorite in Spain in a (very) minor shocker.

As Durant said he would on Twitter, Durant wrote “9-11-1” in memory of those who were affected by the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. In an era where many are exploiting the tragedy for personal self-aggrandizement, once again it’s Durant showing a more humble, more inspiring way of showcasing the better parts of humanity. The kid is human, and isn’t too good to be true. And he’s not invincible. But today he certainly seemed like it.

Just ask Lithuania.

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Miami Heat to retire Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey next season

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Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey already hangs in the rafters at Staples Center for the Lakers.  He’s getting a statue there, too.

Next season, he will have his number retired on the other warm southern coast, this time in Miami.

The Heat have announced they will retire Shaq’s No. 32 jersey next season.

“Shaquille O’Neal is one of the truly elite players in the history of the game and one of the greatest players to ever wear a Heat uniform,” team president Pat Riley said in a released statement. “He took us to another level as a basketball franchise while leading us to our first NBA championship. Retiring his number in the rafters, along with Heat greats Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, is something we are very proud of.”

Riley left out that the Heat also retired Michael Jordan’s 23, and Dan Marino’s 12 also hangs in the rafters of the arena. Neither of those make much sense, but whatever.

Shaq played three-and-a-half seasons in Miami, averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. Shaq was a three-time All-Star with the Heat and was at the heart of the franchise’s first title, along with Dwyane Wade… and Mark Cuban would tell you the officials. But that’s another discussion. He was also bitter after being traded to Phoenix and slammed Miami management and players on his way out the door.

Time heals all wounds.

Bull for Bull: Pau Gasol to replace Jimmy Butler in All-Star Game

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 6:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Chicago Bulls prepares to shoot a free throw against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 6, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Jimmy Butler is out of the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto this weekend due to a strained knee. Which suck, because he earned that spot, and while the fans didn’t vote him in the coach’s did.

Butler’s teammate Pau Gasol will replace him.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make the call on a replacement, and he stayed in Chicago, but he added a front court player to replace a guard. Keeping a Bulls representative might have been part of the thinking. The coaches’ votes on replacement players has been weighed in the past (Gasol may have been high on that list, coaches love him). Also, the East roster has a lot of wings and was light on bigs (Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh are the only real bigs), so this gives coach Tyronn Lue some flexibility up front.

The East leading Cleveland Cavaliers remain with just one representative, LeBron James (voted in by the fans).

Gasol is averaging 17 points, 10.9 rebounds, and a couple blocks a game, and is the only thing close to a consistent performer the Bulls have. Besides the injured Butler.

Bulls’ All-Star Jimmy Butler out 3-4 weeks with strained knee

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It was concerning when it happened — Jimmy Butler injured his knee and had to be taken off the court on a stretcher.

But then the reports came back saying the X-rays were negative, this was just a strain. Butler was going to miss some time, but the question was how much?

Turns out, 3-4 weeks — including the All-Star Game, the team announced Tuesday. From the official team press release:

Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler was re-examined by Bulls Head Team Physician Brian Cole.  Butler is expected to miss the next three to four weeks with a strained left knee. Butler has begun rehabbing his injury and he will be allowed to engage in all activities as tolerated with the primary goal of maintaining his conditioning over the ensuing weeks.

Butler is the Bulls best player, averaging 22.4 points a game and handling a lot of the shot creation for the team (along with Derrick Rose, who was out Monday injured). The Bulls offense is 1.6 points per 100 possessions better when Butler plays, plus he usually draws the other team’s best wing player as his defensive assignment.

Following an ugly loss to the Hornets Monday night, the Bulls are now 5-12 in their last 17 games. Since Joakim Noah went out for the season with an injured shoulder in particular, their defense has struggled. They still have no offensive identity.  Chicago has fallen to the seven seed in the West, just 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte and falling out of the playoffs completely. This injury is simply going to add to that slide.

The Bulls thought they were the team that could challenge Cleveland for supremacy in the East at the start of the season. Now they may need a late push just to make the playoffs.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will pick his All-Star Game replacement. In the past, he has picked the player highest in the fan voting not selected as a reserve, in this case that would be Kyrie Irving. But Silver can go any direction he chooses.

Report: George Karl to remain Kings coach following face-to-face meeting with GM

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George Karl isn’t going anywhere as coach of the Sacramento Kings after all.

At least for now.

Marc Stein of ESPN, who had the report that the Kings decided to fire Karl during the All-Star Break — now says the two sides have sat down and hashed things out. For now.

Those first reports went too far down the line, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

First things first, the Kings are a leaky organization right now. Which is never a good sign.

This has become a power struggle in the organization — DeMarcus Cousins has said the Kings’ problems go beyond the players, and he is known not to be a fan of Karl (Rajon Rondo is the coach’s biggest supporter because Karl gives him a green light). Owner Vivek Ranadive remains too impatient, stability is needed.

But there are still big picture questions to be answered.

Ranadive, with Vlade Divac, needs to sit down and set the long-term course for this team, including style of play they want to have, then decide if Karl can be part of that future. Also, if Cousins can be part of that future. If those two can be part of the future together (I’m not sure they can).

There needs to be more meetings with the Kings, and then this summer some significant decisions must be made. But doing it now at the All-Star break isn’t going to change anything. So Karl stays.