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.

U.S. soldier shares pen pal letters from 2003 with Larry Nance Jr.

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Larry Nance Jr. is now a professional athlete for the Los Angeles Lakers, but back in 2003 Nance was just a 10-year-old kid with a dream of playing in the NBA.

During that time, Nance was apparently a pen pal with a U.S. soldier named Bianca Snow. Snow recently posted old letters from Nance to social media that shows the interaction between the two.

It’s pretty cool to see a moment in time like this.

Via Twitter:

The letters read as follows (transcription via SB Nation):

March 19, 2003

Dear U.S. Soldier,

My name is Larry Nance. I have 1 sister, 1 brother that annoy me all the time. My dad played in the NBA.

Thank you for fighting for us in the war. You must be brave and miss your family.

I hope you get home soon and see your family soon. Good luck.

Sincerely,

Larry Nance

Dear U.S. Soldier is the war almost over? Where is Saddam? How are you? I’m fine. Thank you for writing back. Where are you?

Are you good at basketball? I like the Lakers too they are wining there series with the Timberwolves. Who is your favorite player? Mine is Shaq. Who do you want to get LeBron James? I want the Cavs to get LeBron, that is because my dad played for the Cavs. His number is retired in the Gund Arena.

And again Thank you!!

from,

Larry Nance

Nance saw the post on social media and responded to Snow, inviting her to a future game.

Pretty neat stuff.

Check out the 100 best crossovers of last season (VIDEO)

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Do you have 22 minutes to watch the 100 best crossovers of last season? It’s Monday, of course you do. It’s either that or work.

Here they are, as compiled by the fine folks at NBA.com. Enjoy. And don’t be shocked that Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, and Russell Westbrook have the top spots.

And if you must go into the comments and complain that technically not all of these are crossovers, go ahead, but it doesn’t change anything. It’s like saying there is only one way to make a proper matzo ball soup — there are a lot of variations (I like it with dill in the broth), and they all can be delicious. Just enjoy it.

Cavaliers name Koby Altman full-time general manager

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CLEVELAND (AP) The Cavaliers have named Koby Altman their full-time general manager.

Altman’s promotion had been expected for days and was made official on Monday. The 34-year-old has been serving as Cleveland’s interim GM this summer after David Griffin parted ways with the club following the NBA Finals.

Altman has been with the club since 2012. He will be the fifth GM for owner Dan Gilbert since 2005.

Gilbert said he’s been impressed with the job Altman has done over the past five weeks and said he “has the credentials, knowledge, experience and instincts to be an outstanding general manager. … I am confident that Koby is equipped and prepared to lead and succeed in this dynamic environment.”

Altman is taking charge during an interesting juncture for the Cavs. All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving recently asked to be traded and LeBron James is heading into his final season under contract.

More AP basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: Derrick Rose commits to sign with Cleveland Cavaliers

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It looks like former NBA MVP Derrick Rose is heading to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Rumors have been swirling all week about Rose, who could be a backup or big-minute replacement for Kyrie Irving, who reportedly wants to be traded away from LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

According to reports released on Monday from Yahoo! Sports and ESPN, Rose has committed to sign with the Cavaliers after completing a physical. Rose will be paid $2.1 million on a one-year contract.

Via Twitter:

The Cavaliers have had one of the weirder offseasons, and while adding Rose isn’t necessarily the strangest thing they have done, it could be a larger signal for the rest of the league with regard to what direction the team is going to go.

Rose played OK in New York last season, and would be well suited as a backup bench spark for a contending team if he found the right fit. The Cavaliers will likely try him out in lineups with Lebron, but how he fits in as of the end of July isn’t quite clear. Will he be a backup? Will he be the de facto starter if Irving is no longer on the team come opening night?

The 2017 NBA offseason has been endlessly interesting, and this move is another in a long series of twists and turns.