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.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.