Thursday Olympics recap: Spain almost falls to host nation

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On a day that the USA routed Nigeria and looked pretty invincible doing it, some of the other supposed powers of the Olympics showed signs of vulnerability.

Now comes the disclaimer — d read too much into that. Once you get into the one-and-done medal round tournament a sloppy game a week before doesn’t matter. It’s like the NCAA tournament that way. Still, Thursday was a day to feel pretty good about the USA’s gold medal chances.

We’ve already broken down the USA’s record rout of Nigeria and told you how Russia needed a buzzer-beater to beat Brazil in the best game of the day (see the game winning shot here), now we’ve got a roundup of the rest of the day’s action.

Spain 79, Great Britain 78: The host country almost pulled off a real shocker of an upset, then in the final seconds looked like the inexperienced team that they are.

This game was never supposed to be close but Spain let them hang around. Still, Spain had a small but hard-to-lose lead in the final minutes. But Great Britain’s players just kept knocking down threes and chipping away at it — give up two, hit a three, give up two, hit a three. Then down 79-75 with 7 seconds left in the game Luol Deng hit a leaning, contested three (giving him 26 on the night) and it was a one-point game.

The British needed to foul and then hope for a miracle three… except they never fouled. Deng almost fouled but pulled up because four fouls (they needed him on the court and in international ball you are out on the fifth) but nobody else knew what to do and they watched Spain dribble out the clock. Jose Calderon had 19 to lead Spain, Pau Gasol had 17.

Spain may have been looking ahead to the big game Saturday — they play Russia. Both are undefeated and he winner will take Group B, and avoid facing the USA until a gold medal game.

France 82, Lithuania 74: Tony Parker is looking better and better with each game as he gets his conditioning back and gets used to the goggles. He had 27 points in this contest including 7 of the final 8 for France in a tight game down the stretch. Nicolas Batum added 21 for France. Lithuania was led by Martynas Pocius who had 18 points, followed by Linas Kleiza with 17.

With this win, combined with their win over Argentina previously, France is going to finish No. 2 in Group A. Which may well set them up with Brazil in the first round of medal play.

Argentina 92, Tunisia 69: Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on Team USA for their slow start against Tunisia on Tuesday, it could have been worse — Argentina was tied with them 40-40 at the half. The second half was like a different game, the one we all expected where Argentina cruised to a win.

Manu Ginobili had 24 points and arguably has been the best player in the games, he has been fantastic at both ends of the court. Carlos Delfino added 21. Argentina is now 2-1 in pool play (and faces the USA next Monday). Argentina’s Pablo Prigioni — who has signed with the Knicks — missed Thursday’s game against Tunisia with what likely is a kidney stone.

Australia 81, China 61: Not only is China now 0-3 in pool play they may have lost their best player — Yi Jianlian took a blow above his right knee and his status for the next two games is unclear.

The Chinese came out hitting seemingly everything and took an early lead, but they eventually cooled down and Australia took control of the contest. Australia did a good job denying Yi the ball, forcing China to get its offense from other sources. Patty Mills led Australia with 20 points.

Fergie says she “tried my best” after national anthem blowback

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fergie is apologizing after trying something different with the national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game.

“I’ve always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA,” the Grammy-winning singer said in a statement Monday. “I’m a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn’t strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best.”

Fergie’s slow, bluesy rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Sunday night wasn’t particularly well received at Staples Center or on social media before the 67th edition of the NBA’s annual showcase.

A low chuckle rumbled through the sold-out arena after she finished the first line of the song with a throaty growl on “the dawn’s early light.”

Fans throughout the star-studded crowd reacted with varying levels of bemusement and enthusiasm while her languid, 2 +-minute version of the song continued. Although Fergie was on pitch, her tempo, musical accompaniment and sexy delivery were not exactly typical for a sporting event or a patriotic song.

Golden State All-Star Draymond Green captured Sunday’s mood – and became an instant GIF – when he was shown open-mouthed on the scoreboard and the television broadcast in apparent confusion over the unique vocal stylings. Green then chuckled to himself after realizing he was on TV.

After a forceful finish, Fergie finally got big cheers when she shouted, “Let’s play some basketball!”

The Black Eyed Peas singer, born Stacy Ann Ferguson, is from nearby Hacienda Heights, California.

Famed basketball commentator Charles Barkley joked that he “needed a cigarette” after Fergie’s performance during the TNT halftime show.

Former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal leaped to Fergie’s defense, saying: “Fergie, I love you. It was different. It was sexy. I liked it. Leave her alone.”

Others on social media weren’t as kind, with criticism of the performance outpacing the positive reviews.

 

Did Lakers help keep LeBron James in Cleveland with trade?

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When the trade went down between the Lakers and Cavaliers before the deadline — sending Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye plus Cleveland’s 2018 first-round draft pick (top-five protected) — it caught the NBA by surprise.

The first reaction for a lot of people to the deal? This opens up as much as $70 million in cap space for the Lakers this summer (depending on other moves with players such as Julius Randle). Los Angeles could sign two max players — LeBron James and Paul George. Why would Cleveland help Los Angeles open up room to steal LeBron.

The Cavaliers didn’t see it that way — they knew they had to make a major shakeup or LeBron was gone. At that point, does it matter where? So in a series of moves, Cleveland GM Koby Altman radically remade the roster around LeBron. The goal was to energize them back into being the team to beat in the East, and from there make it hard for him to leave as a free agent. Since the trades, the Cavaliers are 2-0 and LeBron has clearly been reinvigorated, plus they will add Kevin Love back in a few weeks.

Altman’s plan seems to be working, one executive told Mark Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in Cleveland now,” one high-ranking Eastern Conference team executive said. “The Cavaliers put a really good team around him. The Cavaliers have made it really tough for him to decide to leave Cleveland again. The Lakers might have helped them keep LeBron.”

I had heard from sources for a while LeBron to the Lakers was not likely (Paul George is another story, that door remains open). As Spears notes, the Lakers did not have an All-Star in Sunday’s game. Even if LeBron and PG13 went to Los Angeles, that team was third or fourth best in the West next season. LeBron is in full on legacy mode and wants to win rings. Los Angeles is not the place to do it.

Houston is interesting (and it’s still a team I hear some execs think has a real shot), but the gutting or role players on that roster to make it work would be a concern. Maybe a dark horse such as Philadelphia can emerge. However, if LeBron can lead this newly-energized Cavaliers team to the Finals again (his eighth consecutive trip there), they get a high draft pick with the Brooklyn pick, then LeBron gets a commitment from Altman and owner Dan Gilbert to keep spending and being aggressive, where is he going to be closer to a title than at home?

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

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Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.