James of the U.S. goes in for a lay-up past Lithuania's Kleiza during their men's preliminary round Group A basketball match at the Basketball Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games

Lithuania gives USA a real test, but LeBron passes it in 99-94 win

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There is a script for beating the USA, we talked about it before the Olympics: Pack the paint on defense and hope they miss threes, play good transition defense, don’t turn the ball over, and have a hot shooting night yourself.

Lithuania did almost all of that, playing their best game of the Olympics by far.

But there is no script for stopping LeBron James.

With the USA down USA 84-82 in the fourth, LeBron scored 9 of the USA’s final 17 points to lead the USA to a hard-fought 99-94 win. A win that keeps them undefeated (4-0) in Group A play and headed to the medal round.

For three and a half games LeBron had been a facilitator, a guy doing all the little things for Team USA. But when it was on the line for real LeBron reminded everyone he was the best player on the face of the earth. In the final minutes he hit a key three, threw down a dunk in transition, backed his man down in the paint and put up a pretty spin move — seven key, fast points that changed the tide of the game. He was clutch. He was everything his detractors said he wasn’t a year ago.

The USA coaching staff and players will spin this game as “it was good for us to be tested in group play, it helps us going forward.” I’m not totally on board with that. It might remind them they need to be focused every game, but Lithuania (and every team the USA plays from here on out) is good and if you let them get a foot in the door they will make it a game. A real game. The playground of the Nigeria game is long gone.

It was close because Lithuania played smart, played to the script and flat out executed against the USA better than they have all tournament.

On defense they switched every pick then the big man would slide back a step and dare the USA ball handler to shoot the three. The USA took the bait, especially in the first half, turning that big-on-small into isolation basketball and then settling for jumpers. In the first half the USA was 6-of-19 from three (31.7 percent) and shot 47.6 percent overall.

For the game, the USA was 10-of-33 from three (30.3 percent) and for the game shot 44.3 percent.

When the shots weren’t falling they adjusted in the second half and worked hard, making the extra pass and attacking the paint. It worked, the Americans drew fouls, but the USA was just 19-of-31 from the free throw line (61.3 percent). Kevin Love could not find his stroke, he was 3-of-8 from the stripe.

The USA is supposed to cover its off offensive nights with good defense, but they didn’t for much of this contest.

The USA did a terrible job on transition defense, allowing a slower Lithuanian team to get good looks pushing the ball. The USA also did a poor job switching — or whatever it was they were trying to do — on the pick and roll, allowing former NBA point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius to carve them up. Linas Kleiza had 25 points and outplayed the USA in the paint for much of the game.

And it was a game. Lithuania’s Achilles heel turned out to be turnovers — they had 23 of them. They struggled to enter the ball into the post late in the game, they made some unwise passes that led to USA fast breaks. It was a key difference.

LeBron James had 20 points for Team USA, along with Carmelo Anthony who also had 20. Kevin Durant had 16.

So the USA will spin this as “a wake up call” or some such thing, but in a short Olympic tournament (8 games at most) you shouldn’t need one.

What this shows is that when the outside shots are not falling, and when their pressure defense takes a night off or doesn’t work on experienced guards, the USA is vulnerable.

But despite all that the Americans may still win, because at the end of the day they still have the best player in the world on their team. And probably the next five or six on that list as well.

Steve Kerr on if Stephen Curry will play Saturday: “Probably not”

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 01:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts on the bench during the second quarter of their game against the Portland Trail Blazers during Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 01, 2016 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Two days before Golden State heads into Portland for Game 3 of its second-round series, the Warriors practice ended with a relatively intense scrimmage.

Stephen Curry was a bystander.

Well, not exactly, he was working out with a trainer on another court, but he didn’t play in the scrimmage. And he likely will not play on Saturday in Game 3, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, via Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com.

Though Curry’s status has been upgraded from definitely “out” to “probable” for Game 3 against the Trail Blazers on Friday at Moda Center in Portland, it’s more realistic that he’ll return for Game 4 on Monday.

Asked if Curry could be cleared for Game 3, coach Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “Probably not.”

That fits with the original timeline, which was two weeks.

The Warriors are up 2-0 in the series, and regardless of the outcome on Saturday they will want Curry back on Sunday. If the Trail Blazers win at home this becomes the same scenario Golden State faced against Houston, wanting to make sure the Warriors win one game on the road they bring back the once-and-future MVP to the lineup.

Even if the Warriors win Game 3 and have a 3-0 lead, if they can bring Curry back they need to. With all this time off he’s going to be rusty (he looked it in the one part of Game 4 against Houston he did play) and the Warriors need to make sure he shakes that off before the Conference Finals, when the Warriors will need him at full strength regardless of opponent.

Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” retirement announcement to be made into short animated film

In this photo taken Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant waves good bye to the fans after an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in his last appearance at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif. Renamed SleepTrain Arena, the facility has been the home of the Kings since it opened in 1988. The Kings won an NBA-best 61 games in the 2001-02 season behind Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, losing to the eventual champion Lakers in Game 7 of the conference finals. The Kings will play their last game at the aging building, Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder and begin play next season at the new Golden One Center built in downtown Sacramento. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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What’s next for Kobe Bryant after his retirement tour?

Apparently a little more focus on his retirement tour.

Kobe announced his retirement just after Thanksgiving via a “Dear Basketball” poem on The Players’ Tribune. Now Bryant and his new “storytelling” production company have teamed up with Sports Illustrated to turn that poem into an animated short film. From the press release:

Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated Group and NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s new production company, Kobe Studios, along with Believe Entertainment Group, announced an exclusive multi-platform video production and development project devoted to Dear Basketball, Bryant’s poetic tribute to the game. The collaboration includes the world premiere of Dear Basketball the animated short film on SI.com as well as a series of exclusive SI Films mini documentaries taking viewers behind the scenes of the animation process. Dear Basketball is targeted to premiere in the fall on SI.com….

“Dear Basketball is the perfect tribute to something I’ve loved for so long. Glen and John are two legends in their industries, so to partner with them on the creative process is a dream come true,” said Bryant. “Working with Sports Illustrated on this special project is an amazing opportunity to hopefully inspire fans all over the world.”

I have no idea what a poem about basketball turned into an animated short film is going to look like, but it should be interesting. It’s got to be better than that last Sponge Bob movie.

I guess this is a logical first step for Kobe in this kind of production, playing off his brand and into a topic where he should be very comfortable. I’d sit here and be snarky about it, but we all know we’re going to watch it, right?

 

Paul Millsap and Al Horford: Hawks wouldn’t have gunned for 3-point record like Cavaliers did

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) is fouled by Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) in the second half during Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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The Cavaliers are making 3-pointers at a blistering pace.

Cleveland even set a record for any NBA game with 25 3-pointers in its Game 2 win over the Hawks. To get there, the Cavs attempted 11 3s in a fourth quarter they entered up 36.

Did that disrespect Atlanta?

Paul Millsap, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“It’s a certain way of being a professional,” the Hawks’ Paul Millsap said to cleveland.com. “I’m not mad about it, but just being professionals man. If that’s how you want to approach it, that’s how you approach it. I think our team and our organization has class and I don’t think we would have continued to do that, but other organizations do other things so what can you do about it?”

Al Horford, via Haynes:

“We probably wouldn’t do anything like that [if we were in that position],” he told cleveland.com. “…It’s hard to say, but I would say no.”

We can’t know what the Hawks would do, because they’ve never made more than 20 3-pointers in a game. I’d guess they’d hunt the record if it were within their grasp in an uncompetitive game, but that’s just a guess. Millsap and Horford are guessing, too.

What were the Cavs supposed to do? Just take shot-clock violations? Of course not. As long as they have to shoot anyway, there’s no reason not to take 3s. Even if they didn’t have to shoot, it would’ve been fine to take 3s. Atlanta had one solution: Defend the arc better.

If the Hawks want to tell themselves they should be offended in order to motivate themselves for Game 3, good for them. Just don’t confuse that with Cleveland doing anything offensive.

Phil Jackson goes on vacation, reportedly puts Knicks’ coaching search on hold

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Phil Jackson has stumped for Kurt Rambis, interviewed David Blatt, talked with Luke Walton and ignored Carmelo Anthony.

It must be exhausting.

So, it appears the Knicks president took off on a tour the American West:

No big deal. Everyone has cell phones. Jackson can still run the coaching search from afar.

Except….

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Jackson is on vacation at the moment. The interesting thing here is that league sources say that some involved in the Knicks’ coaching search have been informed that Phil is away at the moment, meaning the search is on hold.

This matters only if Jackson isn’t just going to hire Rambis anyway. But if the Knicks are interested in exploring candidates other teams – Rockets, Pacers and Kings – might want, Jackson is missing a valuable opportunity.

Reminder: The Knicks are paying him $12 million per year – money that could have lured someone with a record of front-office success or even just the commitment to delay a vacation until after hiring a coach.