Russia’s defense, running bigs move them past Lithuania

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Lithuania does not make it easy on you, they are a physically and mentally tough side that plays savvy basketball. Just ask Team USA.

Or, ask Russia. The top seed out of Group A had to work hard for an 83-74 win to advance to the semifinals of the London Olympic basketball tournament.

Russia did it with a defense that held Lithuania to 37.3 percent shooting, and they did it with big men running the floor and scoring — Minnesota’s Andrei Kirilenko had 19 points, Denver’s Timofey Mozgov had 17 and was key to Russia’s second half run.

The game was close most of the way. Lithuania got out to an early lead but Russia cranked it up to the defensive pressure and went on an 11-1 run to end the first quarter and lead 17-10. Lithuania started 3-of-16 from the field in the first quarter. Russia does a good job smothering players who get the ball below the free throw line as they use sort of a matchup-zone defense that has worked well.

It was a five point game at the half and in the third quarter Lithuania got that down to 1 point. But Russia responded with a 7-0 run keyed by Mozgov running the floor and connecting with soon-to-be Timberwolves guard Aleksey Shved, who had 6 assists and runs the pick-and-roll very well.

Russia held a small lead through the rest of the game. It was never big enough to call it comfortable, but it was big enough.

With the win Russia assures themselves of two more games. The first will be Friday against the winner or Spain and France. Win that game and they play for the gold, lose and they fight for the bronze.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?