Portland Trail Blazers v Washington Wizards

The streak is dead — Wizards win first game of season. But they made it hard on themselves.

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Break up the Wizards.

Okay, maybe we’re not there yet. But Washington’s 12-game losing streak to start the season came to an end at home with an 84-82 win over Portland. They did it with 19 points from Jordan Crawford off the bench, with Trevor Ariza being efficient (14 points on 6-of-9 shooting) and with some good defense.

But this is the Wizards, they couldn’t make it easy on themselves.

Washington led by 15 early in the fourth quarter thanks to a combination of good defense and bad Trail Blazers shooting — from the start of the second until 2 minutes into the fourth quarter the Wizards scored just 35 points on 27.7 percent shooting. Damian Lillard (who finished with 20) was 2-of-12 in that stretch while Wes Mathews was 0-for-6. Portland scored 16 in each of the second and third quarters. Washington didn’t light the world on fire in there, they just sucked less.

But this is the Wizards, there would be no easy win — the Trail Blazers went on a 15-0 run to tie the score at 79-79 with 3:15 left in the game. The Wizards went nearly 7 minutes without scoring. And we had a ballgame.

Portland briefly took the lead when Nicolas Batum drew a foul on Ariza and hit one of his free throws to put Portland up 80-79.

But on the next trip down the court Nene (who still looks rusty but played better minutes than Washington has been getting off the bench) fumbled the ball in the post, got it back and had the presence of mind to kick out to Crawford for a three, and the Wizards were up 82-80. Next trip down, LaMarcus Aldridge tied it with a jumper.

Then Emeka Okafor made the two plays that won the Wizards the game. First he blocked a J.J. Hickson shot inside (after Aldridge passed up a wide-open 10 footer to dump it to Hickson by the rim, at which point Hickson hesitated and allowed Okafor to recover; it was all very Hickson).

Then at the other end Wizards guard A.J. Price drove, drew the defense, dished to Okafor who was fouled on his shot. He sank two free throws and it was 84-82.

Portland had one last chance but Aldridge picked up his dribble under pressure and his release valve ended up becoming a leaning, contested Batum three that airballed, and while Lillard made a crafty play to get the rebound he got caught in the air and passed to himself. And that was pretty much it, despite what could have been a foul on the last inbound on Nene, but at this point the Wizards deserved a break.

This doesn’t solve all of Washington’s problems. Not by a long shot. This is still an offensive team capable of 7-minute dead stretches, they just got away with it for a night.

But it’s a win, and Washington needed one.

As for Portland… was this even their worst loss of the season? They had a very ugly one to Phoenix earlier that wasn’t this close and didn’t have a comeback. It was a worse performance, although to be fair the Suns are a better team.

The fact that we are debating this tells you all you need to know about how Portland’s season is trending.

Watch Kyle Lowry’s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler in USA win

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There were a lot of ugly things for Team USA in its exhibition win over Venezuela — the 4-of-25 shooting from three comes to mind. There was more, it was not a strong offensive performance from Team USA.

But like usual, we can overwhelm teams with athleticism, and that means wins and highlights. Like Kyle Lowry‘s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler.

Or DeMar DeRozan‘s late-game windmill dunk.

Kyrie Irving helps USA to ugly 80-45 win over Venezuela

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  Kyrie Irving #10 of the United States Men's National Team looks to make a move with the ball against the China Men's National Team during the first half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins powered a dominant performance in the paint, and the United States pulled away from Venezuela for an ugly 80-45 exhibition victory Friday night.

Coming off three straight flashy victories in Las Vegas and California, the United States shot 42.4 percent from the field and committed 13 turnovers in by far its worst offensive performance of its five-city tour in preparation for next week’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. But the Americans used their superior athleticism to limit Venezuela to 24 percent shooting and owned the interior with a 54-29 rebounding advantage.

Returning to Chicago for the first time with the U.S. national team, Bulls star Jimmy Butler was cheered every time he was announced at the United Center. He had four points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes in his first start with Team USA.

Butler had one of the few electric plays for the U.S. when he ran out on the break and dunked Kyle Lowry‘s tip pass in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Jordan also had a vicious dunk off a lob from Kevin Durant, and DeMar DeRozan drew chants of “USA! USA!” with a windmill jam in the final minutes.

Klay Thompson also scored 13 points, and Cousins finished with seven points and 12 rebounds. Durant had nine points of 3-of-9 shooting.

John Cox scored 14 points for Venezuela, which will play the U.S. again on Aug. 8 in the Olympics.

Irving and company were greeted with a round of hearty cheers when they came out for pregame warmups. Fans lined the side of the court where the Americans had their layup line, and Anthony and Durant posed for pictures with a couple of eager boys.

Before Butler’s introduction drew the most applause of the night, former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau received a thunderous ovation when he was announced with the U.S. coaching staff. Thibodeau took a year off after he was fired by the Bulls in May 2015, and then was hired as Minnesota’s coach and president of basketball operations in April.

The star power also extended to the sideline near the U.S. bench, where former Olympians Scottie Pippen and Dwyane Wade watched the action attentively. Wade was joined by his wife, actress Gabriel Union, hours after he held his introductory press conference for his new contract with his hometown Bulls.

Pippen played on the 1992 Dream Team that rolled to gold in Barcelona, and also helped the U.S. win gold in 1996. Wade was on the Americans’ gold medal-winning teams at each of the last two Olympics.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.