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.

Joel Embiid hits shots, blocks Westbrook, looks good in debut

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And somewhere, Sam Hinkie weeps.

After two seasons on the sidelines with foot injuries, Joel Embiid played his first NBA game Wednesday night — and he looked good — 20 points, seven rebounds, and a couple of blocked shots. The Philadelphia crowd loved him — when he opened the game with a nice move and free-throw line jumper, followed by a block of Russell Westbrook, the arena nearly exploded. He was later serenaded with “trust the process” chants as he shot free throws.

He’s still a work in progress — he tried to do too much rather than let the game come to him. That led to 7-of-17 shooting and him chasing blocks on defense and getting out of position. He played like an over-amped rookie. Which he was. (Apparently, some Philly fans were a little over-amped, too.)

But one with a world of talent. The Sixers have something here.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Lakers youth steps out of Kobe’s shadow

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 04:  D'Angelo Russell #1 and Jordan Clarkson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers react to a Sacramento Kings foul during a preseason game at Honda Center on October 4, 2016 in Anaheim, 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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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The NBA had its first full slate of games, and PBT is back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. This is what you missed while getting arrested for blocking traffic dressed as a tree.

1) Lakers youth shows out. Rockets are what we thought they were. Last season’s Kobe Bryant farewell tour was entertaining at moments — but Wednesday night the new, young, Luke Walton Lakers were unleashed and that was a much better show. And it was show Lakers fans have longed to see. For the first time D’Angelo Russell looked like he enjoyed playing in the NBA. Jordan Clarkson was clutch and led the team with 25 points. Julius Randle used his athleticism wisely on his way to 18. Brandon Ingram showed flashes. Heck, I swear I saw Nick Young doing the dirty work on defense. Sure, it helps when the opposing defense is basically a matador waving a cape as you drive past them, still these young Lakers were attacking, playing fast — and winning, 120-114. No, the Lakers are not suddenly morphing into a playoff team in the West this season, but their young stars came out of Kobe’s shadow and basked in the sunlight for a night. This team is going to be fun. And it’s the show Lakers fans have wanted to see.

This season is so simple for the Rockets: They will go as far as their defense takes them. And that defense was a dumpster fire on opening night (the Lakers scored at a 115 points per 100 possession pace). In the second half the Lakers upped their defensive pressure and when the Rockets offense stumbled — 18 points in the fourth, just two in the final 2:55, no James Harden assists for more than 18 minutes — there was nothing for Houston to fall back on. The Rockets are going to be a entertaining to watch this season, but if their defense doesn’t improve they will lose a lot of games just like this.

2) Anthony Davis put up Jordan, Wilt numbers on opening night — and it was not enough. Anthony Davis is back. A year ago he was the guy most NBA GMs said they wanted to build around, then after one “down” season (24.3 point and 10.3 rebounds a game is down?) everyone is in love with Karl-Anthony Towns. Tuesday, Davis reminded everyone he’s a beast. A franchise player. Absolutely unstoppable when he gets going. And Wednesday night he was going — 50 points (on 34 shots), 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists, and four blocks. Only three others in NBA history put up 50 on opening night: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan. That is some serious company.

And the Pelicans still lost to the Denver Nuggets. For all Davis’ greatness the management in New Orleans has not put enough team around him to win games, not at a “make the playoffs” level anyway. Pelicans not named Davis shot 36.2 percent overall and 17.7 percent from three. This isn’t on coach Alvin Gentry, blame falls higher up the ladder. The clock is now ticking in New Orleans — Davis is in the first season of his new five-year contract (the first after his rookie deal). If the Pelicans don’t have it together around him by the time this contract is up, he’s going to bolt.

3) Myles Turner might be your Most Improved Player. When we at PBT made our award predictions for the coming season, I did not pick Myles Turner for Most Improved Player (in part because I don’t like to pick second-year players for that award — they are supposed to improve). But as NBC’s Dan Feldman told me lat night, we both should have picked him. Wednesday night Turner looked like the guy making the biggest leap — he had 30 points,16 rebounds, and four blocks in the season opener. He’s the guy who led the Pacers to an overtime win over the Mavericks. Paul George had an efficient 25, he stepped up as you’d expect in OT, but this was Turner’s night. He can score inside and has range — does this shot chart work for you?

Turner shot chart

If Indiana is going to be a real playoff threat, they are going to need this Turner regularly — and they just might get it. This guy is ready to take the next step.

Bonus Wednesday note: If you’re betting that Russell Westbrook can average a triple-double this season, opening night was a good night for you. Westbrook had 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. He is going to just be a stats machine this year.

Watch as DeMar DeRozan drop 40, lead Raptors to 109-91 win over Pistons

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 40 points and Jonas Valanciunas added a career-high 32 as the Toronto Raptors opened their season with a 109-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.

DeRozan made a career-high 17 field goals on 27 shots and was a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line, while Valanciunas was 10 for 15 from the field to go along with 11 rebounds. Valanciunas’ previous career high was 31, also against the Pistons, on Jan. 12, 2015.

Tobias Harris had 22 points and Marcus Morris had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who lost for the eighth time in their last 11 games against Toronto.

DeRozan broke Vince Carter‘s opening-night record of 39 points, set against the-then New Jersey Nets in 2003. Alvin Robertson is the only other Toronto player to record a 30-point opening-night game, in the franchise’s first-ever game, also against New Jersey, in 1995.

Pascal Siakam, drafted 27th overall in June, became the first Toronto rookie to start a season opener since Valanciunas in 2012, and rose to the occasion, hauling in nine rebounds to go along with four points in 21 minutes.

Despite falling into a seven-point deficit 2:09 into the game, the Raptors went in front on a jumper by DeRozan with 6:47 to go in the first quarter and led the rest of the way.

DeRozan and Valanciunas steadied the ship in the opening quarter, driving to the basket and drawing fouls. They were a combined 13 for 13 from the free throw line and scored 15 and 10 points, respectively, as the Raptors took a 33-23 lead after one quarter.

While Detroit responded against Toronto’s reserves in the second, drawing within four points early on through Morris, Valanciunas returned to the game and added another 11 points as the Raptors pulled into a 58-46 halftime lead.

DeRozan provided much of the fireworks in the third quarter, scoring 21 points as Toronto pulled away to lead 86-71 going into the final 12 minutes.


Pistons: C Andre Drummond took a hard elbow to the face from Valanciunas at the start of the game and remained down on the court. Detroit was forced to burn a full timeout, but Drummond returned to the court. . Henry Ellenson, Detroit’s first-round draft pick last June (18th overall) went scoreless in two minutes of play, while second-round selection Michael Gbinije (49th overall), had two points in two minutes.

Raptors: C Lucas Nogueira (ankle) sat out. . DeRozan started his franchise-record eighth straight season opener, breaking a tie with Carter. . Kyle Lowry‘s basket with 3:58 remaining in the first quarter broke the monopoly of Valanciunas and DeRozan, who had scored all the points up to that point. . First-round draft pick Jakob Poeltl became the first Austrian to play in the NBA. He finished with two points in 13 minutes. . Oct. 26 is the earliest date that Toronto has ever had a home opener. . The Raptors are 13-9 on opening night and have won four straight.


PBT Extra: Spurs showed Warriors have work to do defensively

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Nobody expected what happened Tuesday night in the Bay Area.

If you had said “San Antonio would beat Golden State by five” most people would have said that’s a possibility — but nobody saw a 29-point thrashing. A game where the Spurs were never threatened and where Kawhi Leonard looked like the MVP.

What does it mean? In this PBT Extra I talk about how the Spurs showed the Warriors they have some work to do on the defensive end. The Warriors clearly miss the rim protection and rebounding of Andrew Bogut, and they are going to have to make that up as a team (because Zaza Pachulia is no Bogut). The Warriors also have 81 more games to figure it out.

Cleveland, on the other hand, has it figured out.