USA starts slow, picks up pace to blow out France 98-71

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We’re going to see a lot of games from Team USA during the Olympics.

This was not an end-to-end dominant performance to open the Olympics from the Americans. France was in it early. Tony Parker was making smart plays slashing into the lane while The USA shot 29.2 percent overall and was 0-of-6 shooting from three in the first quarter. The result was this was a one-point game after one (22-21 USA).

But Team USA comes at you in waves. They are insanely deep — the 12th guy on the bench is the NCAA Player of the Year. They wear you down. Against France it started with threes from LeBron James and Kobe Bryant to open the second quarter as the USA went on an 11-0 run and they never looked back, going on to win 98-71 to open their Olympics. The USA is now 1-0 in Group A play (with four more group stage games left).

Kevin Durant led the USA with 22 points and you’re going to see him lead this team in scoring all through the Olympics (he is the best scorer in the world and the Americans best pure shooter). Kevin Love chipped in 14 and Kobe Bryant had 10. LeBron James had 9 points, 8 assists and 5 boards, Carmelo Anthony added 9 points and 9 rebounds.

A lot of the keys for Team USA were evident in this one.

First, they need to knock down the outside shots and when they started 0-for-6 from three it allowed France to hang around. The game felt like one refereed by FIBA as there were a lot of foul calls, but that slowed the game down and took the USA out of the transition rhythm they like. The result was a lot of isolation hoops from Team USA in the first half.

France, however, did not make the USA pay for its transgressions, in part because of the USA’s athletic pressure defense. France shot just 39.4 percent overall and was 2-of-22 from three. That’s not good enough. France got some nice post play out of Ali Traore, who led France with 12 points. Parker added 10.

But those two combined for 8 turnovers as well, part of the 18 their team had, and that is part of what started to wear France down. The USA’s relentless depth and pressure started to lead to some transition buckets and the threes started to fall. The result was a 30-15 Team USA second quarter win and from there it was all over.

Whatever Coach Mike Krzyzewski said at halftime worked as in the second half the USA’s ball movement improved dramatically as they started to really stretch out the lead. It was 78-51 USA after three and the only real question was if Team USA would break 100. They didn’t, and in the USA that would have led to unhappy fans who didn’t get free tacos. In London, the fans just all went to the pub and were fine.

The USA’s next two games — Tuesday and Thursday — are against Tunisia and Nigeria, two games the USA should win handily. Well, more handily. The level of talent drops off with the African squads. The USA’s next real test is against Lithuania next Saturday.

But even as they get tested before the medal rounds, expect more games that look like this. The USA just wears you down.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.