US guard Kobe Bryant (R) stands by Argen

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.

NBA: DeMarcus Cousins got away with (more important) travel before incorrect foul of Dwyane Wade

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The NBA acknowledged the attention-grabbing officiating error late in the Bulls’ win over the Kings on Saturday: DeMarcus Cousins shouldn’t have been called for fouling Dwyane Wade, who hit the go-ahead free throw with 14 seconds left.

But before Sacramento claims the referees cost it a win, the Last Two Minute Report reveals a more significant missed call that favored the Kings.

Cousins should have been called for travelling with 56.3 left as he drove for a basket, according to the league:

Cousins (SAC) moves his pivot foot. The official is looking for any illegal contact and does not pick up the pivot foot.

The non-call directly allowed Cousins to score two points. Wade made only one free throw.

The officiating errors in the final two minutes helped the Kings more than the Bulls.

(Sacramento center Kosta Koufos also got away with a shooting foul on Jimmy Butler with 37.8 seconds left, according to the league, but Robin Lopez tipped in Butler’s miss, anyway. The Bulls weren’t shorted any points on that possession.)

NBA: Marcus Smart wrongly called for huge foul late in Celtics’ loss to Trail Blazers

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The Trail Blazers beat the Celtics on Saturday in an overtime thriller. The game provided so much action, there was little objection when what would’ve been one of the most exciting plays was waived off.

But it should have counted.

With Boston down one one and 11 seconds left, Marcus Smart stripped Damian Lillard under Portland’s own basket and immediately hit a go-ahead layup. Except officials called a foul on Smart – in error, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Smart (BOS) makes clean contact with the ball.

Lillard went to the line and made both free throws, and Terry Rozier made a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, where the Trail Blazers emerged with a 127-123 win.

Portland still would’ve had a chance to answer, but with a correct call, Boston would have held the lead a much better chance of winning in regulation.

Nets’ Jeremy Lin out another 3-5 weeks after re-aggravating hamstring injury

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles up court against the Chicago Bulls during the first half at Barclays Center on October 31, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Jeremy Lin has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup due to a lingering hamstring injury. He has already missed 31 games, including the last 11.

The point guard hoped to return around now, but that’s not happening.

Nets release:

The following statement has been released by Brooklyn Nets General Manager Sean Marks:

“During the course of his rehab, Jeremy re-aggravated his strained left hamstring and will be out approximately three to five weeks as he continues to work towards a full recovery.  We understand and appreciate Jeremy’s competitive desire to get back on the court with his teammates, however, we are going to be cautious with his rehab in order to ensure that he is at full strength once he returns.”

Of course, this improves the fortunes of the Celtics,who own the Nets’ 2017 first-round pick. Brooklyn, 9-34 and 4.5 games worse than anyone else in the NBA, appears even more certain to secure the No. 1 seed in the lottery.

The Nets have been bad with Lin this season and a little worse without him. With no first-rounder, the difference is negligible to them.

Isaiah Whitehead, Sean Kilpatrick and Spencer Dinwiddie will get more opportunities to develop. But Brooklyn is probably overburdening those young guards. Even with Lin, there was plenty of playing time available.

NBA: 76ers got away with violation before Robert Covington’s late 3-pointer against Trail Blazers

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Robert Covington hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the 76ers’ 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers on Friday, but that wasn’t Covington’s only triple as Philadelphia overcame a four-point deficit in the final 40 seconds. He also buried a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left.

The catch: That shot came after Philadelphia should have turned the ball over, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

Gerald Henderson missed a 3-pointer, and Dario Saric prevented the rebound from going out of bounds, saving the ball with a pass to Covington. Except Saric got away with stepping out of bounds with the ball with 42.1 seconds left, per the league:

Saric’s (PHI) left foot is out of bounds when he makes contact with the loose ball.

That would’ve given Portland the ball up four.

The 76ers overcome the odds to win this game. But a correct call might have produced too steep of a hill for Philadelphia to climb.