USA’s defense, outside shooting needs to return vs. Argentina

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Argentina is in some way a better version of the Lithuanian team that gave the USA trouble on Saturday — more talented but with that same experienced veteran savvy that exposed the American’s mistakes.

But that’s really what Monday is about — has the USA learned from its mistakes as it heads to the medal round? Team USA faces Argentina in the final game of Group A play, starting at 5:15 Eastern Monday.

It’s not really about this game for Team USA — Argentina would need to beat the Americans by 110 points to win Group A. Team USA is the top seed heading into the medal round. But Argentina can be the two-seed with a win (beating out France because the tie breaker is total point differential and they are 65 points ahead in that category).

Argentina will be the more desperate side, but still it’s not about Argentina. It’s about team USA. It’s about them executing better, particularly on defense. It’s about them playing as one.

“We played a couple of games where we were able to jump all over the passing lanes and a little bit of bad habits creep in,” Tyson Chandler told ProBasketballTalk. “And then you play a game like Lithuania and those bad habits are exposed. But the great thing is they are exposed and we came away with a win. It was a learning thing for us. Now we go out and make the adjustments.”

Team USA had that same kind of game against Argentina in a tune-up to the Olympics. To open the game Kevin Durant was knocking down threes (he finished with 27 points) and Team USA started out 7-of-7 from the field. The USA had 13 fast break points in the first half. They overwhelmed Argentina and had a double-digit lead minutes into the game.

But Argentina kept moving the ball and stuck with their game plan to grind the game down to a crawl. It worked. They got back on defense to take away the easy fast break points that fuels Team USA. Argentina packed the paint on defense, went under picks and dared the USA to shoot jumpers. The Americans shot better than they did against Lithuania (31 percent on Saturday, nearly 39 percent against Argentina) but it wasn’t enough.
The USA would make a run, Argentina would grind it down — all the way down to a four-point USA lead inside of three minutes left in the game.

No team has knocked off the USA yet and no team will without some help from the Americans. They have to be off on defense and missing their outside shots.

But the formula to beat the USA is out there and Argentina will be the latest to use it. We’ll see if the Americans have learned their lessons from Lithuania about how to avoid it.

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.