Argentina’s Nocioni not sure USA wins gold medal

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It’s the problem Team USA faces — they are judged as much on style points as wins and losses. So far they are 4-0 in preseason games, but because Brazil led after one quarter and Argentina lost 86-80 — two teams with big front lines playing into a weakness of the U.S. squad — they have not been convincing enough to make American fans comfortable.

Because we all know a very good Spanish side — with Pau Gasol, Mark Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez and more talent on a team that has largely played together for a decade — is looming. They play a friendly on Tuesday where both sides will hold back what they think will work best, because it’s all about the gold medal game we expect from the two teams in London.

The one team in a good place to make a call is Argentina — they lost by 20 to Spain before taking on the USA. And here is what Andres Nocioni said Sunday after the USA game, via basquetplus.com and The Big Lead.

“The U.S. team will have to work very hard for the gold medal and I’m not so sure they will get it.”

Anyone actually disagree with that?

Well, I disagree with the gold medal part, but not the general sentiment.

I said that after Sunday’s game the close game with Argentina showed there are a few teams — France, Argentina, maybe Russia — who can push the USA and beat them maybe once in a seven game series. Especially with a USA that plays an aggressive, pressure style of game that some teams have the talent to adjust to and grind down. Spain is another animal, they wouldn’t win a seven game series against the USA but they might force it to a Game 6.

And in a one-and-done playoff or gold medal game, that makes these teams dangerous. It will take a focused USA to get the gold. It will take Kevin Durant scoring, LeBron bringing his all-around game and Tyson Chandler staying on the court (the USA’s +/- is dramatically better when he is in the game).

You can’t take too much from the USA’s Olympic tune-ups, even Tuesday’s showdown with Spain in Barcelona. Right now coach Mike Krzyzewski is playing around with lineups and experimenting, as he should. Nothing the team does really matters until June 29 against France.

But the one lesson we can learn is that it will not be easy. Not at all.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?