“Problems” are kind of a relative term for Team USA, at least in group play. Talent’s going to carry them pretty far in the opening rounds of Olympic play. But we’re always able to get better. So here are three problems that showed up in Team USA’s win over France.
1. Shooting is going to be OK overall, but it’s worth a note. Team USA shot just 44 percent from 2-point range in the first half, and it took a hot second half to get their three-point shooting to 32 percent. The idea is that even without pure shooters like Eric Gordon on the team that someone will get hot each game, but there has to be some concern. If Kevin Durant’s not on the floor, Team USA struggled on the catch-and-shoot, and that’s going to have to be a big part of Team USA’s gameplan because better teams will stack the paint against them. Russell Westbrook and James Harden are both inconsistent. Team USA could really use Eric Gordon, who was cut for harden, though Harden played well overall.
2. Post defense. France has some better post players than a lot of the competition, but it still should be noted that with Tyson Chandler out, France went right to work down low. That contributed to the big deluge of fouls that befell Team USA, and it’s going to have to be an area of emphasis for Team USA’s forwards. Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Kevin Love have to be prepared to play low and defend without fouling, not an easy ask with FIBA officials.
3. The initial adjustment to the blitzkrieg. Team USA hammered France early, getting out in transition and running them out of the gym. But the French adjusted, and started getting back in transition to cut off angles. Team USA has to keep pushing the issue. It wears the opponent out and eventually, that’s when the real break-apart happens. Constant attack has to be the motto because this team just isn’t built for brilliant halfcourt play.
Kevin Durant has been working out on the court before the last couple of Warriors road games, and people watching have taken note — he was moving well, shooting, and generally looking healthy for a guy coming off a grade 2 MCL sprain and a bone bruise.
Reports were out that Durant was on target to return before the end of the season.
Wednesday the Warriors confirmed that.
Teams are vague, realistically what is that timeline?
Durant likely would be on a minutes restriction for those game, but just getting to shake the rust off and work on his conditioning in a real game would help Golden State heading into the playoffs.
Not that they need much help, having won eight in a row. The Warriors have a 2.5 game lead over the Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference heading into the game between the two Wednesday night.
The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.
But that young Lakers core also has its moments.
Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.
After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.
What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.
Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).
That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.
Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.
The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).
Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.
The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.
Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.
It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.