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


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.

Who wins a footrace: Kyle Anderson or Tim Duncan?

Tim Duncan, Kyle Anderson
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Former UCLA Bruin Kyle Anderson has some skills. The reigning Summer League MVP plays a high IQ game and is a forward who can handle the rock, which is getting him a few Boris Diaw minutes off the Spurs bench this season.

But the man is not fast.

After watching him on a “fast” break Monday night, Tim Duncan thought he could take him in a race. Via Jeff McDonald of the Express-News.

Anderson knows he’s not fleet of foot, his twitter handle is “slowmo.”

This harkens back to the “who would win a race between Dirk Nowitzki and Peyton Manning” debate from the preseason. These are races that could be timed with a sundial. Saying there would be winners is a relative term.

But in this case we might actually see the race. I want a Duncan/Anderson race. Charles Barkley and Dick Bavetta can be the honorary timers.

Draymond Green on Warriors’ 16-0 bid: ‘I think we’ve gotten greedy, but a good greedy’

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Anyone who thought the Golden State Warriors would be content after winning one NBA title was sadly mistaken.

With Stephen Curry hitting 3-pointers at a record-setting pace and the rest of his teammates playing with a high level of intensity and focus, the Warriors have tied the NBA record with 15 straight wins to open the season.

Somehow, they have found a way to improve following a season when they won 67 games and rolled through the playoffs without ever being taken to a seventh game.

“We’re trying to win another championship,” forward Draymond Green said. “That’s what we’re fueled by. I think we’ve gotten greedy, but a good greedy. I think it’s way better to be greedy for success than hungover on success. I think we’re on the right end of the spectrum, which is great.”

The Warriors have a chance to break the record they currently share with the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and 1993-94 Houston Rockets when they host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

After downplaying the chase of the record at the start of the season, Golden State has embraced it.

“Now that we’re here and have tied the record, it’s a huge accomplishment,” Curry said. “You never know if you’ll ever be in this position again. We have a great group and to be able to be in position to do something that hasn’t been done in the history of the NBA with all the great teams and all the great players who have played in this league, that’s special.”

The only team standing in their way is the Lakers, who have the second-worst record in the NBA with just two wins in 13 games.

Lakers coach Byron Scott said the Warriors are the best team he’s seen in a while and star guard Kobe Bryant said stranger things have happened than a team playing as poorly as the Lakers beating one as dominant as the Warriors.

“We might go up there and we might play like gangbusters up there,” Bryant said Sunday in Los Angeles. “You never know.”

The Warriors have gotten to this point with the help of a late game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime in a home win against Brooklyn, a comeback from 23 points down to beat the Los Angeles Clippers and plenty of blowouts.

They have outscored the opposition by 14.4 points per game, the most at this point of the season since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls followed up their record 72-win campaign by outscoring their first 15 opponents by 16.5 points on the way to a 14-1 start the following year.

“They’ve just been consistent,” said LeBron James, who lost to Golden State in the finals last season with Cleveland. “Think the most impressive thing is the way they’ve been playing at a high level for so long. I think it comes with a lot of health. They’ve been healthy. They’ve been the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history and they have great talent. Those guys all play for one common goal and that’s to win and that’s all that matters.”

Golden State has the depth to overcome whatever injuries the Warriors have had. Starting center Andrew Bogut missed six games with a concussion, guard Klay Thompson has been dealing with a stiff back that forced him to miss one game and key reserve guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa have also missed time.

Golden State has also done all of this without head coach Steve Kerr, who has been sidelined since training camp because of complications from offseason back surgery.

“It would be more impressive if they were doing all this without Steph,” James said. “Then there would be a conversation to talk about.”

Instead, Curry has been a driving force to the success under interim coach Luke Walton. Curry is on pace for a record-setting 404 3-pointers and his 490 points through 15 games are the eighth most in the league in the past half-century.

Curry and his teammates see no reason to slow down now.

“You want to keep it going and the only way you can do that is by staying sharp, staying focused and bringing effort every night and that’s the mentality that we have,” Curry said. “That’s the reason we’re 15-0. It’s the reason why last year we had a 16-game winning streak. We built up a winning mentality and confidence in each other. We want to bottle that up and ride the wave as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham, Pat Graham and Tom Withers contributed to this report.

Amar’e Stoudemire blames Knicks coaches for not using him, Carmelo Anthony properly together

Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony
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Many Knicks fans thought Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire would lead New York to greatness.

Instead, they won just one playoff series together.

Melo has expressed sadness Stoudemire’s injuries hindered their ability to succeed together.

Stoudemire found a difficult culprit.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Stoudemire said he and Anthony wanted to run more pick-and-rolls in the two-man game but couldn’t get the coaches on board, probably referring to Mike D’Antoni and Mike Woodson.

“I don’t think we had enough opportunities to play together,’’ Stoudemire said in the Heat locker room Monday. “I moved to the bench and [became the] sixth, seventh man. When I was in the game, Melo, he was out of the game and vice versa. When we did play together, we showed some flashes of what we could do on the pick-and-roll.

“I don’t think that pick-and-roll offense between Melo and I was ever taken advantage of, which we could have. The way he shoots the ball, handles the ball from the outside and the way I attack the rim, it could’ve been a pretty good combination. I don’t think the coaching staff at the time really bought into that.’’

Maybe the Knicks’ offense could have been better if they ran more Melo-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls. The combination seems good, though I question whether Melo had the passing ability to really make the play an elite weapon.

But what about defense?

Melo and Stoudemire were a dreadful defensive combination, especially as power forward and center – their best offensive positions. Does Stoudemire have any ideas how New York could have defended better with those two on the court? Perhaps, the Knicks could have scored enough on Melo-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls to offset any defensive shortcomings, but that would have been a mighty tall task.

In four of the five seasons Melo and Stoudemire played together, the Knicks were both outscored when those two shared the court and played worse with those two on than off. The only exception was last season, which featured the smallest sample before Melo got hurt and Stoudemire took a buyout.

This was a partnership that looked better on paper than in reality.

Stoudemire’s injuries played the foremost role in holding it back. Coaching might have also contributed, but it’s difficult to believe D’Antoni or Woodson prevented the pairing from becoming special.

Kobe Bryant names his four closest teammates

LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 15:  Caron Butler #1 holds back teammate Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers after Bryant received a technical foul during the game against the Utah Jazz on February 15, 2005 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, 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 Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant‘s relationship with his teammates through the years has largely been defined through Derek Fisher.

Kobe called Fisher his favorite teammate, but Fisher once said he’d never been to Kobe’s home.

That’s Kobe, whose greatness always made him seem removed from/above the fray.

Kobe addressed a slightly different question in the foreword to Caron Butler‘s autobiography, “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA.”

Kobe on Butler:

It’s very rare for me to open up to somebody like that, but I just had a connection with him. He’s one of my favorite teammates.

When that happens, it makes the season better. It doesn’t always happen. It’s not something that I need to happen, but there are certain players that I just automatically get along with. You gravitate to each other because you eye to eye on things and you get along extremely well. And Caron was one of those players.

There aren’t many like that. There’s Caron, there’s Pau, there’s D. Fish, and Ronnie Turiaf. That’s four guys in a twenty-year career.

I just found that an interesting look into the psyche of one of the greatest players of the generation.

Kobe has spoken extremely positively of Pau Gasol. The Lakers star has never hidden his fondness for Butler, Fisher and Turiaf, either. Those four have exhibited professionalism amid any difficult circumstances. That’s where I’d start with a common denominator, and it makes sense Kobe would appreciate that.

It’s also unsurprising Kobe has trusted so few teammates enough to develop a tight connection. He seems intensely private (really, intensely everything).

Kobe also seems very secure in how he operates. As he wrote, these types of close relationships aren’t necessary to him if they don’t come about naturally.

He’s sure not forcing them in his later years.