USA starts pretty blah, Kobe and LeBron help them run away from Aussies late

34 Comments

There are certain boxers and MMA fighters that nobody looks fighting good against. Even the fighters with all the style get sucked into an ugly grappling contest, nobody looks pretty in the ring/octagon against these guys.

That is Australian basketball.

For three quarters against Team USA the Aussies were physical, they mucked up the game, they made sure it wasn’t pretty and they hit a few threes. Australia played well and exactly how they wanted. They kept it close. But behind a triple-double from LeBron James (11 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists) and some hot shooting from Kobe Bryant, the Americans pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 119-86.

Next up is a third game in three weeks against a good Argentina side. The Olympic semifinal is at 4 p.m. Eastern Friday. Win that and the Americans will play for the gold on Sunday.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves because Argentina likes to grind out the game like Australia, the South Americans just do it better and have more skill.

And the Aussies gave the USA some trouble. Just like they did four years ago in the Beijing Olympics — Australia plays physical and can be tough to play against. There was not a great flow to the game but the USA was up 28-21 after one and you kept waiting for the big run in the second. But it never came, it was more ugly, more grinding. The USA still kept playing a little better and was up 14 at the break.

Then Australia opened second half on an 11-0 run, bringing it down to 56-53 lead for the USA. The USA needed a spark.

They got a one from the guy getting shredded on twitter. Kobe Bryant was 0-5 shooting with three turnovers by a few minutes into the third quarter, and after guarding Aussie star Patty Mills in the first half he was switched off him (Chris Paul took over). He was having a bad half. Anyone who has seen Kobe struggle over the years knows what is next — he is going to shoot his way out of it.

He did. And it worked. Kobe hit back-to-back threes in the third — one catch-and-shoot, then made a steal and knocked down a transition three — and that sparked a little run by the USA that got it back up to 14. In the fourth Kobe couldn’t miss from three as he racked up 20 second half points.

In the fourth, the USA picked up their defensive pressure and Australia just did not have the depth of talent to hang with it. The USA was back to putting on a show with Kobe threes (six total in the second half), LeBron passes and even an impressive James Harden dunk. They ran away and hid.

Deron Williams had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17 for the United States. Mills (the former St. Mary star who played for the Blazers and Spurs) led the Aussies with 26.

It was a win and in the end that’s all that matters for the USA. But now they will have to beat a good Argentinian team who has played them very well for five of the eight quarters when the two teams have met in recent weeks. They have Manu Ginobili playing very well and good guys around him like Carlos Delfino and Luis Scola. The USA will have to play better.

In the two meetings thus far Argentina has not been able to keep up with the runs of the USA and that has been the difference. But for the USA to do it a third time they will need a better game, a more consistent defensive effort than we saw against Australia.

76ers take 1 big step (and a couple smaller ones, too)

Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Even the NBA’s worst team has only a 25% chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the lottery.

The 76ers made their own luck.

Philadelphia finished with the league’s fourth-worst record, fell to No. 5 in the lottery, swapped picks with the Kings to move up to No. 3 thanks to a two-year-old trade then traded up to No. 1 by enticing the Celtics with a future draft pick (another pick acquired in that heist of Sacramento, a Lakers pick or one of the 76ers’ own).

Whew, that’s some Process.

No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz is the latest prize in the 76ers’ reverse engineering of the NBA’s system, joining Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That’s an exciting young core that might be ready to lift Philadelphia from years of tanking to playoff contention.

To that end, the 76ers signed J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract. The 33-year-old has already shown signs of decline, but he’s an upgrade over any shooting guard on the roster. If their other young players are ready to make the leap, the 76ers didn’t want to learn the hard way they were a starting shooting guard short of reaching the postseason. In securing an immediate boost, Philadelphia essentially paid extra for flexibility. Redick’s salary will almost certainly outpace his production, the 76ers ensured no lasting negative effects beyond this season.

The same logic could apply to Amir Johnson, who signed a one-year, $11 million contract. But Philadelphia’s frontcourt depth and the dreary market for bigs make that deal less defensible – especially if Johnson’s salary could have been reappropriated for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who surprisingly became an unrestricted free agent) or paying Robert Covington more up front (as opposed to in future seasons, when the savings might matter more) in a renegotiation-and-extension.

With about $15 million in cap space remaining, the 76ers will likely still renegotiate-and-extend Covington once they can in November. He fits well into a deep crop of solid assets beyond the big three: Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jahlil Okafor, Justin Anderson, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Furkan Korkmaz (the No. 26 pick last year who signed this year), all Philadelphia’s own future first-rounders plus one extra (from either the Kings or Lakers – or both, if if Philadelphia’s own pick is conveyed to Boston). The 76ers even added to the pool this summer with a couple draft-and-stash selections – No. 25 pick Anzejs Pasecniks and No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (who I’m personally quite high on).

That grouping alone would be envy of many teams. And then there are still Embiid, Simmons and Fultz – the trio that will determine how quickly the brighter days ahead arrive in Philadelphia.

The 76ers’ revival is built on Embiid’s back – and feet and knees. He could be a generational player, but injuries have already cost him 215 games in three years and limited him to just 25 minutes per game in the 31 he has played.

Though it’s the one that looms far beyond, Embiid’s health isn’t the only potential pitfall this season. Rookie point guards – whether it be Fultz or Simmons – rarely lead good teams. It’s a position that typically requires fine-tuning.

Still, this is just the start in Philadelphia. Making the playoffs this season would be nice, but bigger goals down the road appear attainable either way.

The 76ers were in great shape entering the summer. They’re in even better shape now.

Offseason grade: B

Report: Wizards signing Donald Sloan

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Wizards look like they solved their backup-point-guard problems with Tim Frazier.

But they also looked like they solved their backup-point-guard problems with Trey Burke and then Brandon Jennings last year – and look how that turned out.

So, even after trading for Frazier, Washington is still trying to increase stability behind John Wall.
CSN Mid-Atlantic:

The Wizards added some depth to their backcourt on Thursday by signing veteran guard Donald Sloan to a one-year deal, CSN’s Chris Miller confirmed on Thursday night.

The 29-year-old Sloan has played for the Hawks, New Orleans Hornets, Cavaliers, Pacers and Nets in a five-year NBA career. He spent last season in China.

Sloan isn’t much of a scorer, and he’s only a decent distributor. But he makes up for it with all-around adequacy, highlighted by his rebounding for his position.

The veteran will compete with second-year Sheldon Mac, whose salary is just $50,000 guaranteed, to be Washington’s third point guard.

Report: Knicks sign Nigel Hayes to partially guaranteed deal

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nigel Hayes became a cult hero at Wisconsin for bringing a “BROKE COLLEGE ATHLETE ANYTHING HELPS” sign to GameDay and soliciting Venmo donations, challenging the stenographer in a press conference and “accidentally” calling a stenographer beautiful in front of a hot mic.

After going undrafted, Hayes and his colorful personality are headed to New York, where Knicks fans are starving for fun.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Could Hayes stick into the regular season? The Knicks have just 14 players with guaranteed salaries, leaving one more spot for a player on an standard contract. Chasson Randle has an unguaranteed salary that becomes partially guaranteed around the time training camp opens. The Knicks could also sign other players, though they’re down to just minimum exceptions.

Hayes – a 6-foot-8 forward – has a chance, but he’s most likely ticketed to New York’s minor-league affiliate after being waived by the parent club.

Who is betting favorite to win Rookie of the Year? Lonzo Ball? Ben Simmons? Depends.

Getty Images
2 Comments

The Rookie of the Year race is wide open heading into next season.

It’s that way every year — if you had predicted Malcolm Brogdon was going to win a year ago, you would have been laughed out of the room — but this coming season has a deep pool of elite talent who will be in position to put up numbers, the usual formula for winning the award. Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum all have a real shot — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Who is the betting favorite? Depends on where you do your betting.

The William Hill’s Nevada sportsbook (which works with a number of Las Vegas casinos, such as the SLS), has these odds (hat tip ESPN):

Lonzo Ball 9-5
Ben Simmons 5-2
Dennis Smith Jr. 4-1
Markelle Fultz 13-2
De'Aaron Fox 8-1
Jayson Tatum 8-1

The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas has Simmons as the betting line favorite at 9-4

The online betting site Bovda.lv has this line

Lonzo Ball 9-4
Dennis Smith 3-1
Ben Simmons 5-1
Jayson Tatum 5-1
Markelle Fultz 8-1

Traditionally, Rookie of the Year goes to a guy who has the ball in his hands, is aggressive, and puts up raw numbers. It celebrates scorers. All of the guys on that list can do that, although Ball will be judged more on his passing and how he helps turn the Lakers into an up-tempo team. In addition to the guys on that list, Josh Jackon in Phoenix will get numbers, as might John Collins in a rebuilding Atlanta. There are sleepers down the board with a chance.

This year a whole lot of guys fit the traditional mold of a guy who can win the award, more than are mentioned here. It’s going to be a wild ride.