USA uses "Big Ds" — Durant and defense — to beat Turkey, win gold

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Thumbnail image for durant_usa_fun.jpgThink back a couple weeks ago to the start of the FIBA World Championships, to all those concerns about Team USA — they were not big enough, they lacked international experience, they were too young.

You can get caught up in what a team can’t do and ignore what it can. And this version of Team USA had two things going for it:

Tenacious defense and Kevin Durant.

And those two things were enough to get the USA the gold medal, beating host Turkey in front of a loud crowd, 81-64. The win qualifies the USA for the 2012 Olympics in London, meaning all the top players can take next summer off from USA basketball and focus on the coming lockout.

Durant finished with 28 points but in the first half he carried the USA. Turkey went to its aggressive match up zone and the USA took a while to adjust, with 9 points on the 14 possessions after they started it.

But Durant kept the USA alive — Durant shot 7-12 in the first half, everyone else on Team USA was 6-26 (23 percent). From three, Durant was 5-9, the rest of Team USA was 1 of 13.

Durant was named Tournament MVP.

But maybe bigger than Durant Sunday — and all tournament — was the USA’s aggressive defense. They pressured the ball and tried to use their athleticism all over the court, and that more than compensated for the lack of size on this team.

The USA’s defense forced a veteran Turkey squad into four shot clock violations. In the first half, while the USA’s offense was sluggish, the defense held Turkey to 34 percent shooting with 10 turnovers.

In the third, again with some baskets by Durant leading the way, the USA started to pull away from Turkey, stretching the lead to 20. You could see the defeat start to creep into the body language of Turkish players — they defended Durant well, doubled him and he hit a turnaround fadeaway over them in the lane, and Turkish shoulders just slumped. Soon the transition baskets that Turkey had kept the USA from getting all game started to come as Turkey just succumbed.

Lamar Odom may be unfocused at times, but he brings it in big games and had 15 points and 11 boards in this one, doing it against a very big Turkey front line. Russell Westbrook added 13 points. Hedo Turkoglu had 16 points to lead Turkey on 5 of 8 shooting and 4 of 4 from three.

It was a well earned gold medal for Team USA, a tournament where the star that is Durant really started to break through, and where USA basketball showed a commitment to defense it not always has. When teams this talented are committed on defense, they don’t lose.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.