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.

Andrew Wiggins answers Carmelo with game-winning 3-pointer (VIDEO)

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Sunday’s matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves was perhaps a preview of a Western Conference playoff series. We should certainly hope so given the late-game heroics we saw this weekend courtesy of Karl-Anthony Towns, Carmelo Anthony, and Andrew Wiggins.

The two teams played a razor thin matchup in the fourth quarter, with Towns hitting a floating shot with just nine seconds left to take the lead. OKC took the torch just seconds later when Carmelo hit a 3-pointer with less than five seconds to play from the left wing.

That left the Timberwolves down by one point with no timeouts to spare.

After Minnesota inbounded to the ball, Wiggins drove down the left sideline and toward the middle of the floor. With the clock running out, Wiggins pulled up from nearly 30 feet out and drained 3-pointer off the backboard as time expired.

Here’s what the two threes looked like back to back.

Via Twitter:

Today was absolutely mental in the NBA. Between the drama that’s happening with the Phoenix Suns and this Western Conference shootout, the regular season just keeps amping it up each and every day.

Clippers say Milos Teodosic out indefinitely with plantar fascia injury

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The LA Clippers needed everything to go right for them injury-wise to be able to survive losing Chris Paul the same year many teams in the Western Conference got much stronger. Sunday’s news that rookie Milos Teodosic is out indefinitely with a left plantar fascia injury won’t help the confidence of fans in southern California.

Teodosic suffered the injury during a game against the Phoenix Suns earlier in the week. Teodosic could be seen pulling up lame toward the near corner on a seemingly innocuous play, which you can watch above.

Here is the release from the team on Teodosic’s injury..

Via Twitter:

Teodosic was expected to be a boost for the Clippers’ offense, who lost Paul over the offseason to the Houston Rockets. Teodosic is a 30-year-old rookie whose passing acumen was sure to be a highlight reel staple over the course of the season.

Plantar fascia injuries can be tough for players to come back from, although the severity of the injury can vary greatly. In the past, players like Damian Lillard and Al Jefferson have made relatively speedy recoveries or have been able to play through the injury itself.

However, a plantar fascia issue can be a tough one and is often difficult to get to recover given the inherent stress level of the area and because soft tissue injuries can be pesky. Obviously, a word like “indefinitely” is pretty dang scary.

Meanwhile, the Suns had a few issues of their own on Sunday. They fired head coach Earl Watson and point guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted out that he no longer wanted to be “here”. The former Clippers point guard has already had lobbyists from LA come calling. Big man DeAndre Jordan already tweeted that he wanted Bledsoe to “come back home”.

Someone has to trade for Bledsoe. Might as well be the Clippers.

Report: Suns fire Earl Watson within an hour of Eric Bledsoe’s tweet

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Things are just getting weirder in Arizona.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Phoenix Suns have fired head coach Earl Watson. This comes in less than an hour after Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted out that he no longer wanted to be “here”. The assumption is that the “here” meant with the Suns organization, although Bledsoe nor the team have clarified.

Phoenix was always slated to be a bad team but they have been an absolute mess to start the season. Just three games in and they have yet to win a contest. They have lost by a combined 92 points in those games during some hilariously bad efforts. While Watson’s firing is sudden, it’s not entirely surprising.

Via ESPN:

Meanwhile, it’s not clear what the Suns will do from here both with Bledsoe and in filling the head coach spot on the bench.

Teams like the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers have struggled when players have requested a trade publicly. Much of their leverage is lost and it could be harder to find a usable return for Bledsoe. A friend of LeBron James, Bledsoe has been rumored in trades from Phoenix to places like Cleveland for years. Now, it will be curious to see if the Suns will need to move him and what they can get for Bledsoe once a deal is done. Any assets will be a vital to their rebuilding process.

In terms of coaching, Phoenix has both Ty Corbin and Jay Triano on the bench, both of which who have been head coaches in the NBA before. It appears Triano will be stepping into the interim role, but that still leaves the question of what Phoenix should do from here on out. A directionless team in the middle of a rebuild with less-than-stellar ownership is a recipe for continued failure.

Phoenix has been a poorly-run organization for some time, particularly when it comes to expenses. Phoenix owner Robert Sarver is notoriously cheap, even going so far as selling draft picks outright. Phoenix exchanged players like Marcin Gortat, Rudy Fernandez, and Rajon Rondo for pennies on the dollar.

They are already the worst team in the NBA, one of their star players wants out, and now they no longer have a head coach. If you are a basketball fan in Phoenix, things have to be tough for you right now.

Suns PG Eric Bledsoe tweets “I don’t want to be here”

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The Phoenix Suns were always going to be a bad team, but I think we were all surprised when they started off the season with a historical loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Now, it seems things are getting worse.

On Sunday, Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe sent out a message on Twitter that seemed to insinuate that he no longer wanted to be a part of the organization in Phoenix.

That tweet set the NBA sphere on fire during a relatively sleepy afternoon. Ramifications of players being open with their requests to move teams has not always played out well for the organizations. Think about the decreased leverage for the Knicks and Pacers when it came to Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Via Twitter:

It would be a major bummer for fans in Arizona if Bledsoe does indeed want out of Phoenix. The team has played all of three games, and after years of trade speculation around Bledsoe so it would be a huge blow to give him up to suitors for pennies on the dollar.

As of publication on Sunday afternoon we have yet to confirm that this is the intent of Bledsoe’s tweet, but no doubt we will hear more about it as the day goes on.