Memphis Grizzlies v Phoenix Suns

Goran Dragic’s last-second shot finishes the Grizzlies (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX — The Suns would have taken a win any way it might have come, after losing seven straight and being faced with the task of taking down a Grizzlies team that has gotten off to a strong start this season, and had just beaten this Phoenix team in Memphis a mere seven days ago.

But winning with defense, by holding the Grizzlies to a season-low 34 second-half points while shooting just 38.2 percent from the field, making only 5-of-22 from three-point distance, and still needing a virtual buzzer-beater to get the job done? No one could have predicted that.

That’s how it played out in Phoenix on Wednesday, with the Suns pulling out an 82-80 win over the Grizzlies to get back on the winning track for the first time in more than two weeks.

“We really needed that win, and it feels great,” Goran Dragic said afterward.

Things began in this one the same way they ended up for the Suns in Memphis. Zach Randolph dominated in the first quarter offensively, largely due to the defensive strategy employed by the Suns, which was to play him straight up and make him beat them as opposed to doubling and allowing wide open looks from beyond the three-point arc.

Randolph had 10 first-quarter points, but finished with just 18. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said afterward that they changed the defensive strategy on him mid-game by using a zone defense, and that made all the difference.

“We played a zone some,” Gentry said. “But we just weren’t going to run around and spread our defense out to where they could start making three point shots. So if you go back [and look], they only took 10 of them. We were able to guard the three-point line.

“We tried to limit the three-point shooting by just playing Zach straight up. We did that tonight, but we tried to be a lot more active on him, trying not to let him catch the ball and trying to make him work to get the basketball, where he wasn’t just posting up.”

Stopping Randolph was key on a night where only three Memphis players finished in double figures, with Rudy Gay leading the team in shot attempts but connecting on just 7-of-17 from the field.

Still, the game came down to the last couple of possessions. And the Suns were able to finally get a bucket to fall with the game on the line, after suffering through so many failed attempts in similar situations in games past.

The game was tied at 80 with 7.7 seconds remaining, and the Suns had possession. Dragic had the ball at the top of the arc, and made his move almost immediately. After getting the switch that Phoenix wanted on the pick-and-roll, Dragic was able to maneuver around Marc Gasol and flip in the game-winning hook shot at the rim in the game’s final second.

“The play was zipper up for me, and then play pick and roll and take that last shot,” Dragic said. “I saw the open gap on the right side and tried to get past Gasol. He denied that, and I pump-faked him — I don’t know if he jumped, I didn’t see that — but then I just turned around to see that I had an open, easy layup hook, and I made it.”

Gentry admitted the play might not have been executed perfectly, but the one called was what he wanted all along — a high pick and roll, with plenty of options available for his point guard to choose from.

“We wanted to go a high screen-and-roll, we wanted to try to keep the floor open,” Gentry said. “We had a couple of plays that we initially called — we were going to run a play, but then it was going to be a shot right away, and we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to try to use as much of the clock as we possibly could. So we went high screen-and-roll, and Goran just made a great play.”

It was a big win for a Suns team that was desperate for it, but it certainly wasn’t a blueprint for success moving forward. There was a late scoring drought and more lineup fluctuation for a team that has already endured more than its fair share of that in the early part of the season.

But wins have been in short supply in Phoenix recently, so the Suns will take one any way it comes.

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)
Associated Press
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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.