With outside shot missing, USA relies on defense, transition to beat Brazil


Well, that wasn’t pretty.

Sure team USA beat Brazil 80-69 in an exhibition of two Olympics-bound squads front of president Barack Obama and a packed house in Washington D.C., but Brazil provided a real test for the Americans and the result was some vulnerabilities showing for Team USA.

The problem was the United States could not get its outside shot to fall. The Americans started the game 0-for-9 from three and finished 6-of-24 from deep. On the night, the Americans shot just 27 percent on shots outside the paint for the game, according to John Schuhmann of NBA.com.

The USA settled for a lot of jumpers because Brazil rolls out a huge front line with the Wizards’ Nene, the Cavaliers Anderson Varejao and the Spurs Tiago Splitter — active big men who can cut off driving lanes and alter shots. The USA could not get inside to start, and their outside shots stayed out.

The result was Brazil leading 29-21 at one point midway through the second quarter. People were mocking this squad’s debate with the Dream Team at this point, some were saying the squad needed to be humbled and this was it. I think the more direct answer is there are just nights for every team when the shots won’t fall.

But while shooting can take a night off, defense doesn’t. That is supposed to be the USA’s trademark and their pressure defense bailed them out in this game — the United States forced 26 turnovers (nearly one third of all Brazil possessions ended in a turnover), which the United States converted into 19 fast break points. Brazil scored just five points in the second quarter.

“I felt our defense won the game,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “I thought it was outstanding for three quarters, especially since we didn’t hit shots and we missed a lot of dunks. I liked the mental toughness of our team. We kept reminding them we’re not doing it on offense, don’t let it affect defense. I thought it didn’t.”

The other weapon the USA had — LeBron James.

Playing like he did for Miami in the finals when he had to carry his team for stretches on offense, he was a one-man wrecking crew on his way to 30 points on 20 shots, plus six boards. He attacked ferociously in transition and Brazil had no answer for that. Nobody does.

“We came out and didn’t shoot the ball extremely well,” LeBron said. “It got us down and we let our offense mess with our defense early on. Once we decided we needed to focus on our defense and not our offense we were able to turn the game around. It’s hard when you know you’re not scoring the ball like you know you can but it allowed us to pick up our defense even more and came out strong.”

It wasn’t pretty. But the USA took on a team that has an outside shot at a medal and found a way to win on an off night. They won with defense and transition buckets. Those are positives.

But if the USA plays like that in Barcelona in the coming days against Spain like they did against Brazil, it will not be enough. This team still has some growing to do before it can claim a spot as the best team in the world right now, forget comparing yourself to a team from 20 years ago.

Dwight Howard posts just second 30-30 game in last 36 years

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Dwight Howard never played for the Nets. He almost got traded to Brooklyn by the Magic, but the deal never happened.

Which puts a dent in Dennis Schroder‘s theory Howard gets up for games against only his former teams.

Howard dominated Brooklyn for 32 points and 30 rebounds in the Hornets’ 111-105 win tonight. That’s just the second 30-30 game in the last 36 years, Kevin Love notching the other in 2010.

All 30-30 games since Wilt Chamberlain, who had a ton:

  • Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets, 3/21/2018): 32 points, 30 rebounds
  • Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves, 11/12/2010): 31 points, 31 rebounds
  • Moses Malone (Houston Rockets, 2/11/1982): 38 points, 32 rebounds
  • Swen Nater (Milwaukee Bucks, 12/19/1976): 30 points, 33 rebounds
  • Elvin Hayes (Capital Bullets, 11/17/1973): 43 points, 32 rebounds

Howard helped Charlotte erase a 23-point second-half deficit and a 10-point deficit with four minutes left. The Hornets are playing out a lost season, and Brooklyn has looked overmatched most of the year, particularly at center. But no matter the situation, Howard says he still feels super-sized expectations.

Tonight, he exceeded them by leaps and bounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves Bucks’ loss to Clippers with ankle injury (video)

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The Bucks lost, 127-120, to the Clippers tonight.

More importantly, Milwaukee lost Antetokounmpo to an ankle injury.

He limped off in the second quarter and didn’t return. The Bucks called it a sprain.

Any more time Antetokounmpo misses would be a huge loss. Hopefully, he recovers quickly.

No matter how many other good players – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee has put on the floor, the team has struggled without its star. Antetokounmpo is a commanding force offensively who just does so much, and his defense impresses.

The Bucks (37-34) are eighth in the East. They’re safely in playoff position, five games ahead of the ninth-place Pistons. But this hurts Milwaukee’s chances of avoiding a first-round matchup with the excellent Raptors – though the way Toronto has regressed in the playoffs in previous years, that might not be so bad. Still, the Bucks should probably chase the seventh-place Heat, who are up 1.5 games on Milwaukee, and a likely first-round matchup with the injury-ravaged Celtics.

Obviously, a healthy Antetokounmpo would be central to that pursuit.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win


The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.