U.S. Olympic basketball player Kevin Durant challenges Argentina's Luis A. Scola during exhibition game in Barcelona

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


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.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.