Team USA experiments its way to blowout 113-59 win

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LAS VEGAS — Exhibition games should be about experimentation, about learning things to help you later. Unfortunately, you can’t learn too much from Team USA’s 113-59 throttling of the Dominican Republic in Las Vegas

We learned that teams are going to struggle with the athletes and pressure defense Team USA can bring. We learned that teams are going to pack the paint on the USA and give them jumpers (which they knocked down for a night). We learned that Kevin Durant can really score. We learned Carmelo Anthony is fun to watch when he works off the ball.

Those are things we all knew.

What we did start to learn was what kind of matchups and rotations we may see going forward and how Coach Mike Krzyzewski wants to use a versatile roster. He has a roster so deep the bench might beat the starters, and he used that. He spent the night trying everything. The USA Started Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, LeBron James and Chris Paul, bringing Durant off the bench. Durant thrived in that role, scoring a team high 24. After the game Krzyzewski said they plan to stick with that for at least another game.

Coach K went mad scientist experimenting matchup experiments all game. He had LeBron James at center for a stretch (guarding Al Horford in the post) with Andre Iguodala at the four. He went big for a stretch in the third with Tyson Chandler at center and Kevin Love at the four. Even just called up Anthony Davis (here because of the injury to Blake Griffin) played eight minutes.

“I thought Iguodala, Carmelo and LeBron and Kevin (Durant) all played big, they all covered fours and fives,” Krzyzewski said. “And we have to get comfortable with that.

“I thought Iguodala played a great game. He shot the ball well. (Sixers coach) Doug Collins was saying ‘why don’t you do that for us all the time?’”

Going small like that worked against an overmatched Dominican Republic, but Krzyzewski admitted it will be a better test against a big Brazil team next week in an exhibition in Washington D.C.

Iguodala said with this roster they shouldn’t worry about traditional positions as much.

“You see that when we have certain lineups in there,” Iguodala said. “One lineup we had LeBron and KD, and I was guarding the four and KD was guarding the three, but on the offensive end we’re interchangeable. We just play basketball.

“The really interesting thing is when anyone gets the rebound that turns it a break… it’s crazy when we’re coming at you and pretty hard to stop when we are executing the right way.”

What Coach K liked was the intensity on defense, the communication on switches, the pressuring the ball for 94 feet and wearing the Dominican Republic down. He found a lineup he likes doing that and you can bet you’ll see it again.

“I like when we have those guys off the bench — (Russell) Westbrook, Iguodala, (James) Harden, LeBron stays out there and Deron Williams, I like how we pressure the ball,” Krzyzewski said.

He added that Williams played very well and you can expect him to get more minutes. Chris Paul played only 8 minutes because he is recovering from a thumb injury.

Krzyzewski said you can expect some more mad scientist over the next couple weeks, but he hopes to have a pretty set rotation by the time Team USA gets to London.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.