US forward Kevin Durant and US forward L

Spain pushes USA, but too much LeBron, CP3, Durant makes USA golden

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Spain had what they needed — spark plug Juan Carlos-Navarro couldn’t miss early and would not let the USA run away with the game. Pau Gasol took it right to the USA’s weakness in the second half and had 15 points in the third quarter to put his team ahead at one point.

But the USA had what they needed. They had 30 points from Kevin Durant who was so hot Spain was forced to go to a box-and-1 defense to shut him down. Chris Paul pressured on defense and controlled the tempo, then made key buckets late. Then LeBron James capped off as great a year as a basketball player could have — NBA MVP, NBA champion, gold medal — with key baskets to help the USA seal the game in the fourth quarter.

It ended 107-100 and the USA didn’t just win the gold medal, they had to earn it.

It was a fun, entertaining game for fans from the start — both teams started out shooting well. For Spain it was former Grizzlies guard Juan Carlos Navarro knocking down threes (12 of first 16 points for Spain). On the other side Kobe Bryant (who finished with 17) and Durant were knocking down buckets. Both teams were working the ball inside-out. Spain played a zone but early the USA drove down the lane and shot over the top of it.

So when Spain started to miss a little the USA went on a 10-2 run and they were up nine quickly. The USA hit 7-of-10 threes in the first quarter and they cannot be beat by anyone when those shots are falling. Kevin Durant finished with a game-high 30 points and 156 for the entire Olympics — the most any single player has scored in an Olympic tournament. Ever. Durant has cemented himself as the best pure scorer on the planet right now.

But when the USA’s threes don’t fall, the USA can be caught. Especially when they don’t defend well. Spain answer on a 14-2 run early in the second quarter and Spain kept it a one-point play at the half because their guards hung with the USA’s guards. Some overzealous officiating helped Spain as well as there were 22 fouls called in the second half, destroying any flow to the game. The USA needs that flow.

In the third, Pau Gasol showed all of us why he is so deadly in the post (Lakers fans should hope Mike Brown was watching and realizes he needs to get Gasol post touches, not have him live at the elbow). Gasol hit a running hook over Tyson Chandler, he spun and dunked around Kevin Love. Gasol had 15 points in the third quarter and finished with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists.

It was 83-82 USA after three quarters. But Spain rested Pau and the USA went on a 12-4 run to stretch out their lead, a lead they never relinquished.

In part because Chris Paul was probably the best player on the floor in the second half. (Even with all the additions he may well be the best player in Los Angeles next year.) He pressured the Spanish guards up high on defense — Spain hit no threes in the second half after 7 in the first half. CP3 controlled the tempo of the game and late hit a three and had a nifty little drive for a bucket. But he controlled the flow, he was the floor general.

Then when Spain would make a push, LeBron pushed back. He hit a three, he played a two-man handoff game with Durant that led to a dunk (their two man handoff pick-and-roll was the USA’s best play through the Olympics). Durant didn’t have a big fourth quarter but because he had been so key earlier Spain focused their defense on him and that opened things up. Then there were good plays by Kobe and others.

It was too much. Spain played well but their problem was they were not the better, deeper, more talented team. They needed the USA’s help to win and the USA’s best players wouldn’t give it to them. They stepped up.

And so for the 14th time since Olympic basketball started, the USA is golden.

J.B. Bickerstaff calls Rockets ‘broken team,’ ‘fragmented bunch’

Houston Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff rubs his head in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Houston. The Wizards won 123-122. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
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Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been unafraid to sharply assess his team.

But after last night’s loss to the Trail Blazers – Houston’s third straight defeat and sixth in eight games – Bickerstaff kicked up the rhetoric even further.

Bickerstaff, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

“We’re broken,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s that simple. We’re a broken team, and we all need to use this break to figure out how we’re going to impact change. If we don’t want to impact change, then we need to be made aware of that, too, and we’ll go in a different direction.

“We can’t continue to go out and play this way. It’s easy to see it’s a fragmented bunch. You can’t win that way.”

This is why Dwight Howard is on the trade block. The Rockets are so incohesive, there’s no simple solution in sight. This increasingly looks like a lost season for Houston, which should emphasize future planning – like dealing Howard, who can become an unrestricted free agent at age 30 this summer.

Yet, the Rockets are just a half game from playoff position. They obviously dreamed much bigger when the season began, but at this point, merely making the postseason should qualify as a success.

It’s Bickerstaff’s job to get them there, no matter how unlikely. He has certainly shown little fear in trying, whether it’s giving these quotes or pulling all five starters simultaneously shortly into a game. He’s trying to put his mark on this team.

The players just aren’t responding, not more than periodically, at least. From James Harden down, nobody plays with the requisite focus and energy.

Nothing in Bickerstaff’s assessment is surprising. It’s just surprising he said it so bluntly publicly.

Then again, that’s nothing compared to what veteran Houston guard Jason Terry said. Eric Ringering of 750 The Game:

https://twitter.com/ringering45/status/697664478993756164

Devin Booker to replace Nerlens Noel in Rising Stars at All-Star Weeekend

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker reacts after hitting a 3-point shot against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
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Sixers big man Nerlens Noel — who has looked much improved this season once Ish Smith was feeding him the rock on offense — sat out the Sixers game Wednesday night due to tendonitis in his right knee. After he missed his rookie season with knee issues, you can understand why the Sixers want him to be cautious.

Noel is going to sit out All-Star Weekend as well — he had been scheduled to play in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, but he is going to sit that out and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns will take his place, the league has announced (Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic broke that story).

Booker has been one of the few bright spots for the Suns this season, averaging 10.6 points a game and shooting 40.3 percent from three.

He will play for the USA in the World vs. USA format of the Rising Stars Challenge (the former rookie/sophomore game, featuring first and second year players).

With Emmanuel Mudiay replacing Patrick Beverley, NBA reveals Skills Challenge bracket

Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverley (2) knocks the ball away from Denver Nuggets' Emmanuel Mudiay (0) in the first half of a NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
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Out: Defending champion Patrick Beverley.

In: Emmanuel Mudiay Emmanuel Mudiay.

The NBA confirmed the Rockets guard would miss the Skills Challenge and that Mudiay would replace him. The league also release the bracket:

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My picks:

Quarterfinals

Semifinals

  • Isaiah Thomas over C.J. McCollum
  • Anthony Davis over Draymond Green

Final

  • Isaiah Thomas over Anthony Davis

NBA suspends Hassan Whiteside for elbowing Boban Marjanovic’s head

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Hassan Whiteside lost his cool and elbowed Boban Marjanovic in the head Tuesday.

The Heat center received a flagrant 2 and an ejection, and now he’s getting the rest of his punishment.

NBA release:

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has been suspended one game without pay for throwing an elbow and making contact with the head of San Antonio Spurs center Boban Marjanovic, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Whiteside was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected, occurred with 9:35 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 119-101 win over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on Feb. 9.

Whiteside will serve his suspension when Miami plays the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 19 at Philips Arena.

The suspension will cost Whiteside $8,921. As a result, the Heat – in line to become the first team in NBA history to pay the repeater luxury-tax rate – trim their impending tax bill by $24,534.

More importantly for Whiteside, this will be a strike against him for teams considering offering him a big contract in free agency this summer.