USA has to work for win over Argentina. Just a reminder gold will not come easily.

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Team USA was back in Barcelona, wearing 1992 Dream Team throwback jerseys, which led to another round of the Dream Team vs. 2012 team talk.

But the 2012 version of Team USA having to work for an 86-80 win Sunday over Argentina in an Olympics tune-up shows why comparing the two eras is hard (and why the 2012 team’s style can lead to some close games).

The first minutes of Sunday’s game looked like one of those old Dream Team routs. Team USA had Kevin Durant raining threes (he finished with 7 and a game-high 27 points, he will be the MVP of this team) and started out 7-of-7 from the floor and were quickly up 19-3. The USA had 13 fast break points in the first half. They overwhelmed Argentina.

But the Dream Team faced a bunch of international teams in awe of them who rolled over when the first run came. Those teams never dreamed of a comeback.

That is not Argentina. They roll out five NBA players (past or present) including scrappy veterans such as Manu Ginobili (23 points on the game), Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino. They have grown up together as Argentina’s golden generation, they won the gold medal in 2004 in Athens. And they will not quit.

Argentina ground the game down and executed with their passing (and a lot of step-back threes). They got back on defense to take away the easy fast break points that fuels Team USA. Argentina packed the paint on defense, went under picks and dared the USA to shoot jumpers. Team USA obliged and put up 34 threes in the game (hitting 13, 38.2 percent).

And while the USA would make runs, like they did again at the start of the second half to get the lead back up to 20, Argentina would just grind it back down. All the way down to a 78-74 USA lead with 2:45 left in the game. It took a Durant three, a Chris Paul three and some getting the ball inside for the USA to old on and win. Kobe Bryant added 18 for Team USA.

The USA’s aggressive attacking style that gives them the runs can make them more vulnerable against veteran sides that can handle the ball pressure better and know how to slow a game down.

Argentina is not better than the USA. Neither is Brazil (which led Team USA after a quarter) nor France. But those are good squads that can suck the USA into playing a different style. The USA goes on runs but lets up a little, and these team will not quit.

Then there is Spain, who beat Argentina by 20 a few days ago.

The USA plays Spain in a “friendly” on Tuesday in what should be a preview of the gold medal game in London.

It’s going to be the biggest test of the USA’s small lineup, as Spain starts Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol, then brings Serge Ibaka off the bench. Against Argentina Tyson Chandler was a huge impact in the game — he was +26 after three quarters — and he needs to stay on the court against Spain.

The USA is now 4-0 in tune-up games and what we’re judging them on is style points — are they looking as dominant as we expect and want them to be. Like we remember the Dream Team being. And so far this 2012 team has not always been that, not consistently. Coach Mike Krzyzewski is still playing with lineups (he changed it up again for this one, starting Chris Paul over Deron Williams) and trying out combinations. It’s a preseason game and you’re not playing to win so much as to experiment and see what works.

So you can’t take too much away from a closer-than-expected win over Argentina (USA was 28 point favorites). But what you can take away is that the road to gold in London is not a cakewalk. These teams will not just lie down for the Americans.

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.