Preview: Nigeria next very small bump in the road for USA

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Nigeria — Team USA’s opponent in the late game Thursday — is better than Tunisia, the USA’s last opponent.

Barely.

Nigeria beat Tunisia by four points. Vegas odds makers have the USA as 42 point favorites, which is closer than predicted against Tunisia (it was a 54 points spread, a number the Tunisians covered). The two meet in a game that starts at 5:15 ET (live on the NBC Sports Network).

Nigeria isn’t going to put up much of a test for the Americans, who should run away and hide early. The USA is vastly superior at every position on the floor and this should be another chance for Mike Krzyzewski to get into his bench and give guys a lot of run. As he did the last game. Do look for Kevin Durant — who leads Team USA in scoring (17.5 per game) and rebounding (9.5) to get his, but anyone on the USA roster can put up numbers in this one.

Nigeria has two players that will be familiar to NBA fans. One is former Clippers lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu, who was traded to New Orleans in the Chris Paul deal (and is now teammates with Team USA’s Anthony Davis). Aminu averaged 6 points and 4.7 rebounds a game last season, shot just 41 percent, doesn’t have great handles for a wing and generally shows promise but is not making NBA fans think he will live up to it.

Aminu has averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds through two games in London. Expect the USA to pressure him when he has the ball to get it out of his hands.

The leading scorer and rebounder for Nigeria has been former NBA player Ike Diogu, who has averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds a game. Diogu is an undersized (6’8”) forward who couldn’t get off the Spurs bench last season. He has some tools and is using the Olympics as a showcase to get a new NBA contract. That said, he is not a guy who can really exploit the “undersized” USA inside. Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love should have their way with him.

Look for the USA to experiment with lineups and throw a lot of lobs to Anthony Davis. There isn’t a lot else to do.

This should be another game that is only close if the USA doesn’t take it seriously. Things will get more challenging with Lithuania then Argentina next on the schedule, but for today this should be a stroll through Hyde Park for Team USA.

Jazz boost international bona fides with new minor-league coach

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Martin Schiller has been named coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, the Utah Jazz’s NBA G League affiliate.

Schiller previously served as an assistant coach of MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in Germany and replaces Dean Cooper. He was an assistant coach for the Artland Dragons from 2010-15.

Schiller has also been an assistant coach on the German National Team since 2015, where he worked with Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen.

Schiller hails from Vienna, Austria, and Stars vice president of basketball operations Bart Taylor lauded him for his international experience and player development background.

The Jazz organization is known to have close relationships with the international basketball community. The Jazz currently have eight international players.

Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 with Celtics

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BOSTON (AP) — Newly acquired guard Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 in Boston because the Celtics already have retired the numbers he wore in college and with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving wore No. 11 at two New Jersey high schools before switching to No. 1 at Duke. He wore No. 2 with the Cavaliers for the first six years of his NBA career.

The Celtics retired No. 1 for founder and original owner Walter Brown. They retired No. 2 for former coach and general manager Red Auerbach.

In all, the Celtics have retired 21 numbers, with Paul Pierce’s No. 34 next in line for the TD Garden rafters.

 

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.