Team USA ready to begin track meet to London against Dominican Republic

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LAS VEGAS — Any good coach plays to the strengths of the guys on his roster. And Mike Krzyzewski is a very good coach.

He looks at a roster of elite players entering their peak, a roster deep with great athletes no other team in the world could match. He and assistant coach Mike D’Antoni know what they want with this roster:

They want a track meet.

“The one thing we do have right now, we have a lot of speed,” LeBron James said Wednesday. “Coach K., Coach (Mike) D’Antoni, they put in some (offensive) sets, but ultimately they want us to defend, rebound and run. Because we have the ability to do that. It’s kind of similar to what I do in Miami. Coach (Erik Spoelstra) always says let’s defend, and if we can get a rebound let’s get up the floor fast and not face a (set) defense.

“In international ball we know we’re going to face a lot of zone. They’re going to dare us to shoot jumpers and we’re going to face all these zones, but a zone can’t be set up if we get stops.”

Starting tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas against the Dominican Republic, Team USA is going to use pressure defense to create turnovers and missed shots, then convert those into fast breaks. They have big rebounders — Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler — who are great outlet passers, they have unstoppable forces in the open court like Lebron, and this team is loaded with guys who can finish at the rim.

We’re going to see some massive Blake Griffin dunks.

But Krzyzewski knows he has that. Right now he’s got the USA Select Team out there running zone against the Olympians, trying to grind the game down. Dealing with zone in the half court has been one of the focuses of practices.

“We figure that we’re really going to see that, teams are really going to pack the paint against us, so we have to be able to shoot it and knock down shots,” Kevin Love said.

For Krzyzewski, it’s about the team really coming together as a unit, that’s what this team is going to need against Spain or when challenged.

“We have 12 really good guys that over the next couple weeks we have to develop into a team,” Krzyzewski said, adding that it was a process.

The key part of that process is to have them be individuals within the system.

“All these guys want to fit in, they have great attitudes, but as their fitting in we want them to be the players they were with the roles they had with their parent team…” Coach K said. “I’ll give you an example. In ’08 (Beijing Olympics) Wade came off the bench, but when he came off the bench he didn’t come off the bench like an off the bench player, he came off the bench as Dwyane Wade.”

Tonight against a decent Dominican team — they have Al Horford and Francisco Garcia, and the team finished fourth at the recent Olympic Qualifying Tournament (the top three teams got invites to the games) — we’ll get a first look at how the process is going.

Isaiah Thomas loses tooth, calmly hits two 3-pointers vs. Wizards (VIDEO)

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Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is going to need a dentist after Sunday’s Game 1 against the Washington Wizards. While trying to fight around a screen, Thomas caught a spare elbow and wound up with his dental work all over the floor at TD Garden.

The play came in the first quarter as Thomas was trying to guard Washington’s Otto Porter Jr. coming off a screen. As Porter reached for the ball as the pass came to him on the curl, he wound up whacking Thomas in the front of his grill.

Thomas’ tooth could be seen on slo-mo replay flying across the air.

Warning: sort of gross.

Via Twitter:

Gross! Although it should be said that it seems possible that Thomas’ tooth is actually a bridge, which is to say it was missing already. The Celtics medical staff was able to put the tooth back in during the second quarter.

Meanwhile, Thomas came back up the floor after losing his tooth and hit two 3-pointers, so perhaps it’s good luck?

Why is Robin Lopez holding this dog during his exit interview? (VIDEO)

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What did Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez have to say during his exit interviews? I can’t really tell, it’s all a bunch of white noise. All I see is him holding his giant, shaggy dog named Muppet while speaking to reporters.

I can’t get over it, really. Why hasn’t someone thought of this before?

Lopez is the perfect candidate to do this if you think about it, given his propensity to be a little off-kilter.

Via Twitter:

Lopez was mostly talking about taking away positives from a weird Bulls season in which they struggled all year until miraculously making the 8-seed before challenging top-ranked Boston in round 1.

Clippers, Jazz prepare for Game 7 in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES  (AP) – Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul was adamant the sun would not set on Paul Pierce‘s NBA run in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

“I looked over at ‘Truth’ during one of (those) timeouts and I said ‘You’re not ending your career in Utah,’ ” said Paul, referring to Pierce’s popular nickname. “We told him that. We just said we want to keep this thing going for him. Paul was big tonight. Like the 3 he hit over there on the wing, and stuff like that. Just his energy and his voice in those different timeouts I think was huge for us.”

With a crucial 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6, the Clippers will attempt to extend the career of the 39-year-old Pierce, who is retiring at season’s end, and capture the series Sunday in Game 7 at Staples Center.

The winner advances to the second round to meet the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven affair beginning Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Paul, whose two late free throws sealed the win against the Jazz, led the charge by scoring 29 points, dishing eight assists and allowing the Clippers to avoid elimination in the opening round for the second straight season. The Portland Trail Blazers bounced them last season in six games, aided by injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin.

And as Paul loathes to hear, the point guard has never guided a team past the second round.

“This is what we talked about before (Game 6),” said Paul, who has become the Clippers’ main force offensively with Griffin out of the playoffs again, this time with an injury to his big toe. “Doc (Rivers) said to go out there and give yourself a chance. We knew we couldn’t win both games (Friday), and we wanted to give ourselves a chance.”

Utah will have another opportunity to end Pierce’s career on Sunday despite missing a chance on its home court. After the Jazz won Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward made it clear he didn’t want to return for a Game 7.

Hayward, though, is humming a different tune now.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were three years ago,” Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. “If you had told me at the beginning of the year you’d be in a Game 7 against the Clippers in L.A., I’d have been like, ‘Bring it on.’ ”

The Jazz will be forced to bring their best with center Rudy Gobert hobbling again. Gobert, who sustained a hyperextended left knee in Game 1 that kept him out of the lineup for two games, sprained his ankle in the second half of Game 6 and was forced to the bench because of it during critical stretches.

Gobert said the ankle wouldn’t hinder him Sunday.

“I sprained it on somebody’s foot,” said Gobert, who finished with 15 points, nine boards and three blocks, according to the Tribune. “I tried to run through it, but that didn’t work out. I’ve had a lot of sprained ankles before. I will be good.”

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.