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.

Stephen Curry caps Warriors’ 50-point quarter with incredible buzzer-beating 3 (video)

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Why was Stephen Curry messing around with all that dribbling? Did he realize how little time was left?

Oh, yeah.

Curry and the Warriors knew exactly what they were doing in the third quarter against the Clippers last night.

Curry’s 3-pointer capped a 50-point quarter — just the third 50-point quarter in the last 25 years. The 2010-11 Pacers scored 54 in a quarter against the Nuggets, and the 2013-14 Lakers (!) scored 51 in a quarter against the Knickers (oh).

Golden State trailed by 12 at halftime, but flipped that into a 12-point lead entering the third quarter. The Warriors didn’t look back in a 123-113 win, but we’ll look back and enjoy all that third-quarter shot-making:

Mike Malone on people in Sacramento that wanted him fired: “You were wrong”

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Mike Malone spoke to reporters before the Denver Nuggets took on the DeMarcus Cousins-less Sacramento Kings on Thursday, and was candid about his dismissal from Northern California.

Malone remarked that there were some within the Kings organization that thought his style of play and defensive nature as a coach was holding back the team.

Now the coach in Denver, Malone has the Nuggets 7th in pace and 6th in offensive efficiency. So perhaps it wasn’t all Malone’s fault?

Via Twitter:

I can’t remember all the things that were said when I was fired because there was so much being said. I know one of the things that was being said was style of play. There were people that were not in my corner that used that as a way to get me fired. Now we’re one of the highest-scoring teams in the NBA. I look at you people, you were wrong.

While Sacramento wasn’t good during Malone’s tenure, they were always in the top half of the league in terms of pace. There was and is a lot wrong with how the Kings are run, so certainly it can’t all be Malone’s doing.

In any case, it’s fun to see Malone being candid.

Draymond Green trash talks Paul Pierce for “farewell tour” with Clippers (VIDEO)

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 23:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on January 23, 2017 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Draymond Green is known as a trash talker, and that reputation help up in Golden State on Thursday night. The Warriors forward was active early in the first quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers, going hard at … Paul Pierce?

Yes, that Paul Pierce.

Green, while standing during a free throw, could be heard on isolated audio spitting at Pierce about going on a farewell tour.

If you can’t make it out, Green says (in part), “Chasing that farewell tour. They don’t love you like that … You thought you was Kobe.”

That hurts.

But not as bad as getting kicked by Draymond Green, which Blake Griffin unfortunately had to endure on Thursday.

Three Things We Learned Thursday: DeMarcus Cousins puts up numbers, but will Pelicans keep up pace?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 23:  DeMarcus Cousins #0 and Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans react during the first half of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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The NBA got back to work on the court Thursday night after all the drama of the trade deadline day, but if you missed out on it because you were breaking down Donald Trump’s “clasp and yank” handshake we have you covered with the big takeaways from the day.

1) DeMarcus Cousins puts up 27 and 14 but Rockets expose question in rout of Pelicans. DeMarcus Cousins tried to give the people what they paid to see Thursday night — he got deep position and sealed his man inside for buckets, he showed his shooting range near the top of the key, and on the other end he blocked four shots. Cousins put up 27 points and 14 rebounds in his Pelicans debut.

However, the Houston Rockets ran the Pelicans out of the building in a 30-point win, a game where most of the second half was garbage time. The game made Chris Herring at fivethirtyeight.com look prescient — Cousins’ Pelicans couldn’t handle the pace of the Rockets. That’s maybe not a shock in the sense that the Rockets play at one of the fastest paces in the league and have played faster and faster as the season has worn on (fastest in the NBA in the past 10 games). What’s not as well known is the Pelicans play at a top 10 pace for the season. However, Cousins likes to hold the ball and has been having a career-best season in one of the NBA’s slower offenses. He can get out and run, he can play and play well in an uptempo offense, but it’s not where he’s at his best. How is Alvin Gentry going to find a balance between these competing forces?

Thursday night was not going to answer every question, particularly on a night when Jrue Holiday plays poorly at the point and turns the ball over against a team that thrives on live-ball turnovers. But how fast the Pelicans play with Cousins, and how much coach Alvin Gentry staggers Cousins and Anthony Davis, will be things to watch in the coming weeks.

As for the Rockets, just acquired Lou Williams had a team-high 27 points. He’s going to fit in just fine, thank you very much.

2) Who won the deadline day trades? Dallas. If you talk about which teams had the best last couple weeks in the run-up to the trade deadline, then the Pelicans (despite the loss Thursday) and Toronto Raptors are the clear winners.

However, who had the best Thursday? Who had the best trade deadline day itself? The Dallas Mavericks.

We’ve all watched them try to find their next center for a while, complete with the DeAndre Jordan drama and Blake Griffin barricading the door (not really). Now the Mavs got their guy — Nerlens Noel. He’s athletic, he rolls to the rim and finishes strong in the paint, and he’s just 22. Sure there are questions — Noel has a worrying injury history and a limited offensive game (but he stays in his lane) — but he was going to be a highly sought after restricted free agent this summer and the Mavericks just got his rights and now can match any offer. Which will likely be expensive ($100 million?), but he could anchor the Mavs inside for a decade.

The real reason this is a win for Dallas is all they gave up was Justin Anderson (a potentially nice “3&D” player), Andrew Bogut (who the Sixers will waive), and what was billed as a first-round pick but is top 18 protected this year so it will revert to two second rounders. That’s almost nothing.

3) Watch Kemba Walker and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put on a show and force OT in eventual Pistons win. If you want the most entertaining game of Thursday night, it was the Hornets and the Pistons going to overtime as Walker and Caldwell-Pope exchanged buckets. Don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.

Walker finished the night with 34 points, but Caldwell-Pope had 33 and his Pistons got the 114-108 win at home.