Team USA starts real tests with Argentina on Sunday

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Every NFL fan knows you can’t predict what the New Orleans Saints season will be like based on their Aug. 5 Hall of Fame game performance (vs. the Cardinals). Along the same line, it’s hard to infer what will happen when the games matter by watching Team USA’s pre-Olympics tune-ups.

We’re left making projections based more on style points than competitive games. What we’ve learned for sure is Team USA can destroy weaker sides like the Dominican Republic. And we learned that when the Americans miss a lot of shots against at team with size someone like Brazil can hang around for a while.

None of which tells us much. The reality is there are only a few teams with real medal chances in London besides the United States and in the next few days they will play two of them.

These are the games that will give us a better idea of what is to come.

Sunday (3:30 ET on NBA TV) it is Argentina — a team that boasts Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and a core from that country’s “golden age” of basketball that know how to play the international game. This is a group that has fared well in international competitions for years and is a tough out. (Tuesday Team USA will face off against the second best team in the tournament, Spain.)

This game will be cloaked Dream Team talk — it is being played in Barcelona, where the ’92 team won its gold. It is the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team team and there was some controversy when Kobe Bryant said this Team USA could beat that side and Michael Jordan laughed at it. Sunday Team USA will be wearing Dream Team throwback uniforms.

But the USA doesn’t have to play the Dream Team, that’s a legacy debate, a barstool discussion. One you can’t even really have properly before the Olympics.

Argentina is real and pretty good. They can defend and score. The USA is better (Team USA is a 28 point favorite). But can the USA use its pressure defense to get easy buckets in transition against a more experienced team? Can the USA execute in the half court? How will their defense fare against a side that does execute and moves very well off the ball (plus can shoot)? Can LeBron James play the four against Scola? Is Kevin Durant going to keep lighting it up? Is Deron Williams going to keep up his amazing level of play against stiffer competition?

The USA and Argentina will play in London, they are in the same first-round group. This is just a warm-up. But both sides will be trying to send a message.

And we’ll be left trying to make inferences from the style points.

NBA reacts to Suns’ Devin Booker dropping 70 on Celtics

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Devin Booker was the story of the NBA Friday night.

The 20-year-old Suns’ guard — who never scored more than 19 points in a game at Kentucky in college — dropped 70 on the Boston Celtics in a losing effort. He becomes only the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 70 in a game. At the end the Suns were fouling and calling time outs to stop the clock and get the ball back to Booker, but as Phoenix coach Earl Watson said to those who complained, “You got a problem with that? Do something. Simple as that.”

NBA Twitter exploded at what Booker did.

Booker himself responded this way.

Lonzo Ball makes expected official, declares for NBA Draft

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There was no hesitation. None was expected.

After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.

Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.

Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.

The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.

And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.

Watch highlights of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling outside Staples Center

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Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”

Jerry West said he loved him like a son.

Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”

The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.

Check out the highlights above.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah to be suspended 20 games for violating league drug policy

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Joakim Noah hasn’t set foot on an NBA court since Feb. 4, and his season was all but ended when he had knee surgery at the end of February. Last summer, Phil Jackson took a $72 million gamble on an aging Noah that has not worked at all, and left New York with an anchor of a contract for three more seasons after this one.

Tomorrow it will be official Noah is done for this season, but not because of the Knicks or his injury.

During his recovery, Noah violated the NBA’s drug policy and will pay for a 20-game suspension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Noah tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the outgoing Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources said.

Noah, 32, is expected to serve 10 games of the suspension to finish out the 2016-17 regular season and 10 games to start the 2017-18 season, league sources said.

The National Basketball Players Association’s investigation concluded that Noah hadn’t “knowingly or willingly” violated the policy and cooperated fully with the league’s probe, league sources said.

According to reports, this is not a substance banned in the new CBA that kicks in July 1, but was covered in the previous CBA. Over-the-counter supplements could be something put in his regular workout recovery drinks that he was unaware of, although we are unsure of the details.

Traditionally, the player has to be healthy enough to play before the league starts the suspension. Noah has been out for more than a month, but if a league doctor says he is healthy enough to play the then the clock on the suspension can start. The 10 games this season is no big deal for the Knicks, he wasn’t going to play anyway, but the 10 at the start of next season could sting (depending on how they plan to use him).