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.

Frank Vogel says Paul George is best two-way player in game

Paul George, John Wall
Leave a comment

The moniker of the “best two-way player” sounds more like something an agent made up to gain a little leverage contract negotiations. It’s a nebulous concept. It’s an intentional dig at whomever is perceived as a better player, suggesting they don’t play enough defense.

But it’s part of the NBA lexicon now, and Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel thinks he has the best two-way player in the game in the resurgent Paul George. Tuesday night George dropped 40 points on Wizards and Vogel said this after the game, via the Washington Post.

“It’s tough to quantify in words,” Pacers Coach Frank Vogel said. “I mean, he just does so much. He’s capable of going for 40, carrying the offensive load and being the best defensive player on either team. He’s a special player, and the best two-way player in the game. We’re a different team with him out there.”

Paul George’s return to an elite level of play is one of the best stories of this young NBA season — for nine straight games now he has scored at least 25 points, he has pushed the Pacers to a 9-5 record with a top 10 NBA offense and defense. Tuesday night John Wall talked about how George’s improved jumper has made him a far more dangerous, more difficult to guard player. And he’s still a lock-down defender.

But George is not the best two-way player in the game — that’s Stephen Curry. George does not have the offensive impact that Curry brings to the Warriors, plus Curry has developed into a solid NBA defender. Curry gets steals, plays smart, and is a positive on defense, plus he’s the best offensive player in the league right now.

That doesn’t make the return of Paul George any less fun, any less good for the game. It’s great to see George back. Whatever you want to call him.



Kobe Bryant “not really worried” about his shooting after 1-of-14 night

1 Comment

Sometimes a picture can tell the story better than words.

That’s why above you can see all of Kobe Bryant‘s shot attempts against the Warriors Tuesday, a night where he went 1-of-14 from the floor (and “facilitator Kobe” had two assists). If you want another picture, here is Kobe’s shot chart for the game.

Kobe shot chart vs. Warriors

On the season, Kobe is shooting 31.1 percent overall, 19.5 percent from three, and he has a career low true shooting percentage of 41.5 percent. It’s hard to watch. On a team that is supposed to be developing their young stars, Kobe took as many shots as D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle combined. Laker coach Byron Scott is good with Kobe doing whatever he wants.

But Kobe is worried about his shooting performances, right? Not so much. From Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

If Kobe can figure out the Lakers’ system this season, he will be in a club of one.

I could go on a longer rant here, but the bottom line is this is just a sad spectacle to watch. And there’s a lot of season left to watch it.

Kobe Bryant: Warriors can make run at record 33-game win streak

1 Comment

Pat Riley compared the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to one of the legendary guard tandems the game has ever seen — Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. Two Hall of Famers who led the 1972 Lakers to an NBA title.

That West/Goodrich team also won 33 straight games that season.

The Warriors are off to the fastest start in NBA history at 16-0 after destroying the hapless Lakers on Tuesday night, and the question of “when will they lose?” Kobe Bryant thinks these Warriors could get to that legendary 33 mark, as he told Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“Yeah, they could do it – because they’re good,” Bryant said afterward. “It’s a very young league, and they’ve managed to put together a team of extremely intelligent players and extremely versatile players, and great shooters. And so I see no reason why they couldn’t continue to extend (the record).”

The Warriors are not even halfway there and have shown some flashes of one-game vulnerability of late (a rough game against the Nets, for example). They have an upcoming seven-game road trip with a couple back-to-backs where they likely stumble at least once.

Then again, look at their next dozen opponents: Suns, Kings, Jazz, Hornets, Raptors, Nets, Pacers, Celtics, Bucks, Suns, Bucks, Jazz. Teams such as the Raptors and Pacers are certainly playing well, but there is no team on that list that makes you step back and say “that’s a loss.” Get through that dozen and the Warriors are at 28-0 and the Lakers’ record is within shot. The Warriors are not going to stop doing what they do — if the wearable science tells them Curry needs a night off, he’ll sit — but if they can get close, for a team trying to establish a legacy of greatness this would be a step in that direction.

The 16-0 mark already is.

Nick Young wears Gilbert Arenas’ old shoes during game (PHOTO)

Nick Young, Devin Harris
1 Comment

In a disastrous Lakers season, one thing can be counted on (besides Byron Scott saying absurd things about Kobe Bryant): Nick Young will always be able to lighten the mood. He brought some levity to the Lakers’ blowout loss to the Warriors on Tuesday night with a blast from the past: a pair of gold shoes formerly worn by his ex-Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas.

These shoes, like Swaggy, and like Gilbert before the injuries and the guns, are awesome and should be celebrated.