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.

Warriors say Kevin Durant doing non-contact drills, could return before end of season

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Kevin Durant has been working out on the court before the last couple of Warriors road games, and people watching have taken note — he was moving well, shooting, and generally looking healthy for a guy coming off a grade 2 MCL sprain and a bone bruise.

Reports were out that Durant was on target to return before the end of the season.

Wednesday the Warriors confirmed that.

Teams are vague, realistically what is that timeline?

Durant likely would be on a minutes restriction for those game, but just getting to shake the rust off and work on his conditioning in a real game would help Golden State heading into the playoffs.

Not that they need much help, having won eight in a row. The Warriors have a 2.5 game lead over the Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference heading into the game between the two Wednesday night.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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