Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Kevin Durant carries Thunder to win

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the games yesterday in NBA action. Or, what you missed while taking a car through a drive-through with an invisible driver

Lakers 113, Cavaliers 93: Dwight Howard was back playing for the Lakers and it showed — he was blocking shots, drawing double teams and generally opening up the Lakers offense. Sure, it was the Cavaliers — the second worst offense in the NBA — but after six straight losses the Lakers will take any win they can get. Brett Pollakoff broke it all down for us in a post.

Knicks 100, Hornets 87: Carmelo Anthony got off to another slow start then admitted he has been fasting for the past 15 days. Turns out a professional athlete not eating doesn’t have a lot of energy. Who knew? He found the energy in the second quarter, went 6-of-7 and the Knicks started to pull away. I detailed it in another post.

Thunder 87, Trail Blazers 83: This was a defensive struggle — the winning team had an offensive rating of just 95.9 (points per 100 possessions). The Thunder took the lead with a 15-4 run in the third quarter behind Kevin Durant, who had the kind of game an MVP has. Durant had 33 points in the game and 22 of the Thunder’s 45 in the second half.

Portland made it close at the end with a 9-0 run that got them within two 85-83, with 8.5 seconds left. Portland went to LaMarcus Aldridge who had been their guy all night — 33 points and 11 rebounds. He got a shot he had hit all night, an 18-foot turnaround and proceeded to airball it. Russell Westbrook was fouled on the rebound and that was the ballgame.

Nets 97, Pacers 86: The Pacers defense looked like it might win them another game as they led 75-69. Then the fourth quarter happened. The Nets shredded the best defense in the league, going on a 17-0 run at one point and scoring 28 points on 57.1 percent shooting for the quarter. Meanwhile the Pacers shot 13.6 percent in the quarter — 3-of-22 shooting. That was the ball game.

David West had 27 points to lead the Pacers. Deron Williams had 22 but needed 18 shots to get there for the Nets.

Nuggets 116, Warriors 105: The Nuggets looked like the team we expected from the start of the season — they pressured the ball, forced turnovers, ran off them and showed real balance scoring. Well, not all game, for a long time the Warriors seemed to get open three look after open three look and they led by eight heading into the fourth. But the Nuggets cranked up the defensive pressure and an 18-2 run to open the fourth quarter helped them pull away for good. Denver got great games out of Danilo Gallinari (21 points) and the point-guard tandem of Ty Lawson (20 points) and Andre Miller (12 points and he was aggressive all night).

Golden State made a run and got it down to three point at one point in the fourth. But a Corey Brewer three changed the momentum back to Denver.

Bucks 107, Raptors 96: The first two quarters were like completely different games. In the first Jose Calderon had 15 points and the hot Raptors were off to a 20-point lead. In the second quarter the Raptors shot 27 percent and had 10 turnovers.

The second half was close until, with just over three minutes left, Larry Sanders blocked DeMar DeRozan and that sparked a 9-0 run that was the ballgame. Brandon Jennings had 19 points and 10 assists, and we had a rookie John Henson sighting with 19 off the Milwaukee bench. DeRozan had 23.

Spurs 106, Timberwolves 88: This is a dozen straight home wins for the Spurs. This one came with runs in the second half, particularly as the Spurs went to some smaller lineups that let them space the floor better. Tony Parker scored 20 points and Tim Duncan had a dozen plus was a defensive anchor.

Slightly worrisome for Spurs fans is Manu Ginobili straining his hamstring, he limped the locker room in the second quarter and didn’t play the second half. A strain is not usually that bad, but we’ll have an eye out for the official diagnosis on Monday.

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.