Referee Crawford calls a technical foul on Oklahoma City Thunder Brooks in the first half during Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals in Miami.

Our annual reminder to fans: The referees are not deciding the finals

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Every year it is part of the narrative of the NBA finals — fans the team coming out on the bottom are convinced that their heroes would win if it were not for the referees clearly having it in for their team and David Stern trying to determine the outcome. You can count on it like rain showers on a humid day on Maui, like you can count on coming across an interesting smell walking the streets of New York.

The last few days it’s the Thunder fans — Kevin Durant keeps getting in foul trouble, LeBron James isn’t getting in trouble, the Heat took 11 more free throws in Game 3 and clearly this is all being controlled by Stern and the Illuminati. And Jay-Z.

Stop it. Just stop it. The referees are not deciding the finals.

Their calls are not perfect, and we can all agree that some of the calls in the last game on Kevin Durant were borderline.

But the refs had been calling it tight on the perimeter all game and Durant didn’t adjust. Plus, Brooks has him often guarding one of the strongest and most aggressive players the league has ever seen, and LeBron James happens to be on a hot streak, too. That’s your problem.

Let me break it down.

• The Thunder didn’t lose Game 2 because of a no call on Durant’s last shot, they lost because they were down 18-2 to start the game. The Heat only won one quarter of that game, the first quarter, but it turns out that counts as much as the other three. Who knew?

• The free throw disparity in Game 3 is because the Heat were aggressive and getting into the paint. Plus you stupidly fouled three point shooters twice. In Game 3 the Heat had 35 shots right at the rim and took 35 free throws, the Thunder took 27 shots at the rim and had 24 free throws. That’s called correlation folks.

• LeBron isn’t getting in foul trouble because he’s a good defender that really never gets in foul trouble. He fouled out in the playoffs last round and it was the first time ever he fouled out in the post season. For a guy drawing tough defensive assignments every night it’s a testament to the fact he’s good. That’s not a conspiracy.

• You lost Game 3 because Scott Brooks kept Durant on LeBron then when Durant was in foul trouble sat Russell Westbrook at the same time, so Miami went on a 15-3 run. But it was still close late and you lost because James Harden was a hot mess. Plus you missed nine free throws.

Again, I’m not saying the officiating has been stellar, it hasn’t been. There have been some odd calls. But that’s not why the Thunder lost the last two games, and if the Thunder win Game 4 it will not be because of the officials. (I know some of you will say I’m pro-Heat on this, which also is wrong. I’d say this to Heat fans if the Thunder were up 2-1. Ask the readers of my old Lakers blog how often I ticked them off saying it wasn’t the referees.)

Not that you believe any of this. Fans love conspiracies. You love the idea of the referee on the grassy knoll actually deciding it all. So have fun with it. Just know you’re wrong.

Watch Kyle Lowry’s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler in USA win

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There were a lot of ugly things for Team USA in its exhibition win over Venezuela — the 4-of-25 shooting from three comes to mind. There was more, it was not a strong offensive performance from Team USA.

But like usual, we can overwhelm teams with athleticism, and that means wins and highlights. Like Kyle Lowry‘s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler.

Or DeMar DeRozan‘s late-game windmill dunk.

Kyrie Irving helps USA to ugly 80-45 win over Venezuela

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  Kyrie Irving #10 of the United States Men's National Team looks to make a move with the ball against the China Men's National Team during the first half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins powered a dominant performance in the paint, and the United States pulled away from Venezuela for an ugly 80-45 exhibition victory Friday night.

Coming off three straight flashy victories in Las Vegas and California, the United States shot 42.4 percent from the field and committed 13 turnovers in by far its worst offensive performance of its five-city tour in preparation for next week’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. But the Americans used their superior athleticism to limit Venezuela to 24 percent shooting and owned the interior with a 54-29 rebounding advantage.

Returning to Chicago for the first time with the U.S. national team, Bulls star Jimmy Butler was cheered every time he was announced at the United Center. He had four points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes in his first start with Team USA.

Butler had one of the few electric plays for the U.S. when he ran out on the break and dunked Kyle Lowry‘s tip pass in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Jordan also had a vicious dunk off a lob from Kevin Durant, and DeMar DeRozan drew chants of “USA! USA!” with a windmill jam in the final minutes.

Klay Thompson also scored 13 points, and Cousins finished with seven points and 12 rebounds. Durant had nine points of 3-of-9 shooting.

John Cox scored 14 points for Venezuela, which will play the U.S. again on Aug. 8 in the Olympics.

Irving and company were greeted with a round of hearty cheers when they came out for pregame warmups. Fans lined the side of the court where the Americans had their layup line, and Anthony and Durant posed for pictures with a couple of eager boys.

Before Butler’s introduction drew the most applause of the night, former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau received a thunderous ovation when he was announced with the U.S. coaching staff. Thibodeau took a year off after he was fired by the Bulls in May 2015, and then was hired as Minnesota’s coach and president of basketball operations in April.

The star power also extended to the sideline near the U.S. bench, where former Olympians Scottie Pippen and Dwyane Wade watched the action attentively. Wade was joined by his wife, actress Gabriel Union, hours after he held his introductory press conference for his new contract with his hometown Bulls.

Pippen played on the 1992 Dream Team that rolled to gold in Barcelona, and also helped the U.S. win gold in 1996. Wade was on the Americans’ gold medal-winning teams at each of the last two Olympics.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Associated Press
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.