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.

76ers coach Brett Brown: Joel Embiid’s minute limit likely to remain 28 this season

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 6: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during the second half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 6, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the 76ers 110-106. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid‘s per-36 minute numbers – 28.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks – are unprecedented by any rotation regular.

In fact, the only players to come close are Hall of Famers: David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Player Year Team Points Rebounds Blocks
Joel Embiid 20117 PHI 28.0 11.0 3.5
David Robinson 1995 SAS 26.2 10.3 3.1
Patrick Ewing 1990 NYK 26.7 10.2 3.7
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1977 LAL 25.7 13.0 3.1

Robinson, Ewing and Abdul-Jabbar each averaged more than 36 minutes per game. Embiid is at just 25 due to a minute limit.

How would the 76ers rookie handle a larger load?

According to Philadelphia coach Brett Brown, we probably won’t find out this season.

Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly

This is probably the right approach considering Embiid missed his first two professional seasons due to injury, but it’ll cost the 76ers on the court. They outscore opponents by 2.6 points per 100 possessions when Embiid plays and get outscored by 11.3 points per 100 possessions when he sits.

Embiid will still run away with Rookie of the Year, though I doubt he takes much solace in that. He wants to play.

On the bright side, this will improve Philadelphia’s draft position.

Report: Timberwolves “actively shopping” Ricky Rubio, packaging with with Shabazz Muhammad

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 15: Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on November 15, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 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 Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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At 14-27, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been one of the bigger disappointments of the NBA season. Maybe we were all a year out in front of what this team will become with all this talent. Especially defensively (Tom Thibodeau can’t work instant miracles, it turns out).

Offensively, they lack shooting. The Timberwolves have two slashers in Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, they have Karl-Anthony Towns in the paint, but you can pack the paint on this team — they get 23.3 percent of their points from three, the third-lowest percentage in the league, and they take the fifth fewest threes per game in the league. Fixing that is going to fall more on Thibodeau the GM — this team needs shooters. Ideally at the point guard spot.

Which means the Timberwolves are shopping Ricky Rubio, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are actively shopping point guard Ricky Rubio in trade proposals, league sources told The Vertical.

The Timberwolves have attached Rubio to multiple offers with Shabazz Muhammad to several teams around the NBA, league sources said. Minnesota has been seeking something of a “bridge” guard in return, a player capable of starting in the short term, but who’ll ultimately settle into a backup role and give way to rookie Kris Dunn to become the long-term starter, league sources said.

The Sacramento Kings have had a strong interest in acquiring Rubio, but there’s no traction on a deal between those two teams, league sources said. So far, the Timberwolves are trying to exhaust the market elsewhere for a better return of assets than the Kings can offer.

This is confirmation of something talked about on this site and whispered around the league for a while — the pieces don’t fit well in Minnesota and Rubio was always likely to get moved. That said, the Timberwolves are not giving him away, there needs to be a quality return of Rubio stays put. And the question is, what team is in a position to bring in a point guard who is a brilliant passer but can’t shoot? That’s a very short list.

The Kings start Darren Collison at the point and bring Ty Lawson off the bench behind him — one of those guys plus some other pieces could come to Minnesota (Omri Casspi?). The Kings desperately want to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade, and they are just half-a-game back of eight-seed Portland, but does Rubio get them there? Rubio is a better passer but not near the shooter (Collison hits 40 percent from three). Collison for Rubio seems a lateral move.

I can see why the Timberwolves are looking for a better offer, and leaking this so teams know they are serious may help bring a few more suitors to the table.

One other thing to watch in Minnesota: Is Dunn the future at the point guard spot? He’s the first pick of the Tom Thibodeau era so they are committed to making it work, but is he a future starter? Or, should the Timberwolves spend money on a quality free agent point guard this summer (Patty Mills, Jeff Teague) and make him the glue that brings all the talent together? That buzz is out there around the league, it’s something to watch.

Report: Carmelo Anthony tells Phil Jackson he wants to stay with Knicks

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks during a stop in play against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on January 12, 2017 in New York City. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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Phil Jackson asked Carmelo Anthony whether the star forward wanted to remain with the Knicks.

Apparently, what Anthony said publicly over and over and over and over and over was true.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

This further proves Anthony’s loyalty to New York.

A trade could’ve sent him to a better team with a more-desirable boss and netted him a $10 million trade bonus. But Anthony enjoys living and playing in New York, even with the tumult – including Jackson – that follows.

Now, it’s on Jackson to improve the roster around Anthony, repair player-coach relations and create a culture where the starting point guard doesn’t go AWOL.

Report: In ‘far more contentious’ meeting, Phil Jackson asked Carmelo Anthony whether he wanted to stay with Knicks

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Carmelo Anthony finally got his desired meeting with Knicks president Phil Jackson.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

At turn after turn after turn after turn after turn, Anthony has stated his loyalty to the Knicks. What has he done since to indicate he wants to leave New York?

Jackson, not Anthony, has fostered all this recent controversy.

Jackson built a crummy roster that faced a difficult path to the playoffs. Jackson used the code word “posse.”  Jackson publicly critiqued Anthony for being a ball hog. Jackson mouthpiece Charley Rosen wrote “Anthony has outlived his usefulness in New York.”

Anthony just wants to play basketball for a good team in the world’s biggest market – not work under a black cloud. Jackson is making it impossible for Anthony to get all his wishes, though.

So, the question falls to Anthony: Would he rather keep playing for the Knicks – and all that comes with it – or waive his no-trade clause to join another team?

For years, he has unequivocally answered that question publicly with devotion to New York. But the act of Jackson asking might invite a different response.