Argentina may be tougher test for USA than gold medal game

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Argentina is not more talented on paper than the Spanish men’s national team in these Olympics. We can have a debate about Argentina vs. Russia but it’s close.

But the Argentineans could pose a bigger threat to the United States’ gold medal hopes in the semi-finals on Friday than either Spain or Russia in a potential Gold Medal matchup Sunday.

Why? Style and familiarity.

Familiarity as in this will be the third time the two teams will meet inside of three weeks (once in a tune-up game, once in group play in London). It’s hard to beat a good team three times that close together — they know your actions, your preferences and your weaknesses. They have an understanding of what they have to do — and this is a veteran Argentinian side with Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino. They play a high-IQ, savvy game. They run multiple picks on each offensive play — they run a pick-and-roll at the top of the key where the pick setter doesn’t roll or pop but runs to set another pick for a wing player, trying to force switches into mismatches or just confusion. They have seen what works. The familiarity helps them.

Style wise, Argentina knows what to do to try and take the United States out of its up-tempo, free-flowing game. This is going to be a grinding, physical — let’s call it chippy — contest. Argentina likes to get under your skin. The USA can’t let them.

The USA has won the first two meetings because they made big runs for a quarter the Argentines could not match. The Americans are more athletic and deeper, they can do this at any time. In the first game the USA push came at the start, they owned the first quarter, but then the rest of the game Argentina chipped away at the lead, they ground the game down, they took away the transition points and easy baskets for the USA. It ended up being a six-point USA win.

On offense Argentina runs a flex-like system (think Jerry Sloan Utah Jazz) that can expose and lead to easy buckets against a USA side together for less than six weeks and still not covering each other on defense all that well. They run multiple picks with lots of action off the ball, all looking to create confusion or a mismatch. And they have veterans like Ginobili who do not make many mistakes under pressure defenses.

Think of it this way — Argentina plays the kind game that Australia and Lithuania do, but they have more talent and play it better than either of those sides.

The Americans are and should still be the favorites — it will take a perfect game from the Argentines to beat the USA… and they would still need some help. The USA had Kevin Durant raining threes on Argentina before, if he and Team USA go cold from beyond the arc in this one it could be trouble. If the shots are falling from deep the USA is virtually unbeatable.

In the two previous meetings Argentina played most of the game well but the USA’s athleticism (and in second game depth) got them big runs of points the Argentines could not recover from. That probably happens here. Probably.

But this is the last Olympics for Argentina’s golden generation, and they will not go quietly into that good night.

This could be a real test for the USA. Maybe their biggest test.

Phil Jackson to miss Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement Monday

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For one last night, Staples Center will belong to Kobe Bryant on Monday.

Sure, the Warriors are in town to take on the Lakers, but Monday night the Lakers are retiring Kobe Bryant’s numbers — both 8 and 24 — in a halftime ceremony. It’s been the hottest ticket in Los Angeles, with celebrities, luminaries, and regular Lakers fans shelling out a lot of cash to see the Laker legend be honored.

Except, Phil Jackson will not be there, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Jackson has been in touch with Bryant in advance of the ceremony to congratulate him, sources said. But he was unable to travel from his Montana home for the ceremony in Los Angeles.

No reason was given (nor does one need to be made public, that’s between Kobe and Jackson).

Jackson coached Kobe to all five of his NBA titles, and while their relationship had its ups and downs — remember Jackson called out Kobe as almost uncoachable in one of his books — they remain close.

 

Three Things to Know: LeBron James racks up third straight triple-double

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed on Sunday while practicing your ax throwing in Paris

1) LeBron James has third straight triple-double… and sends equality message. Back in the 2008-09 season, LeBron James strung together three consecutive games of triple-doubles, the season he went on to win his first MVP award. Despite 61 career triple-doubles, he hasn’t had a string like that since.

Until now. LeBron put together three again this week, the most recent coming at the expense of the Washington Wizards on Sunday, a team that had no answer for his playmaking skills. James finished the game with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists. It wasn’t the most efficient LeBron scoring performance of his career (8-of-23 shooting overall, 2-of-7 from three, his legs looked a little tired on the back-to-back) and he was playing too much in isolation (nearly twice as many possessions as in pick-and-roll). However, down the stretch he was a fantastic playmaker, finding teammates — such as finding the cutting Jeff Green and Kyle Korver — and doing what it took to lift his team to the 106-99 win (Cleveland’s has won five straight and 18-of-19).

LeBron was also sending a message while playing in our nation’s capital: He wore one black and one white of the LeBron 15s, with the word “Equality” on the back of both of them. Good on LeBron, I love that he has found a voice and is comfortable using it.

2) Cavaliers sticking to plan even if he seems ready: Isaiah Thomas should join Cavaliers after the first of the year. Patience. It’s a virtue. Cleveland’s end game is to have another elite playmaker and scorer on the floor in late May and (hopefully) June, not for Christmas Day (no matter who is on the schedule).

Meaning that despite the face Isaiah Thomas is working out and says he and his injured hip feel ready to return, it will be 2018 before he officially pulls on a Cavaliers jersey and takes the court.

This is the smart play by the Cavaliers, who have racked up enough wins not to need to push him. That said, LeBron is carrying a heavy load — he’s played more minutes than anyone in the league so far, and this is his 15th NBA season — and the Cavaliers need to get him some help and rest so he is fresh for the postseason.

3) Detroit ties a franchise record with 17 made threes in win over Orlando. The Pistons are not exactly a great three-point shooting team: They average a middle-of-the-pack 29.3 attempts per game (31.6 percent of their attempts), but at least hit them at a healthy 38.3 percent clip. Detroit does a good job at least of getting corner threes up and knocking them down.

Sunday they were knocking everything down, hitting 17-of-34 threes to tie a franchise record for the most made threes in a game. Anthony Tolliver led the way (5-of-7 from deep) with Reggie Bullock pitching in 4-of-5.

The Pistons have snapped out of their seven-game losing streak to win three in a row now, including a quality win over the Pacers on the second night of a back-to-back.

Heat forward James Johnson expected to miss 7 to 10 days

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MIAMI (AP) The Miami Heat will be without starting forward James Johnson for at least two games and probably more after bursitis was found in his right ankle.

Johnson left Miami’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday with ankle pain, and an MRI performed Sunday led to the bursitis diagnosis. Johnson is not traveling with the team for its trip for games at Atlanta on Monday and Boston on Wednesday.

The team says Johnson could miss seven to 10 days, which would also mean his status for home games against Dallas on Dec. 22, New Orleans on Dec. 23 and Orlando on Dec. 26 is in some doubt.

Johnson is averaging 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Heat this season.

LeBron James wears one black, one white LeBron 15 shoes with “Equality” on back (VIDEO)

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LeBron James notched his third-straight triple-double on Sunday, this one coming against the Washington Wizards. But before the game, the story was all about how James was voicing a silent protest — in Washington D.C., no less — by wearing a special version of his shoes.

LeBron took to the floor wearing his LeBron 15s, but this player edition had the word “Equality” on the back of them. James wore one black shoe and one white shoe.

James wore the black versions of this shoe in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ opener to start the season.

Via Twitter:

LeBron finished the game with 20 points, 15 assists, and 12 rebounds. The Cavaliers beat the Wizards, 106-99.