David West, Roy Hibbert

Surprisingly it’s Pacers offense that is too much for Knicks in Game 1

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A lot of the focus in the Indiana vs. New York series was strength on strength — could the very good Pacers defense slow the very good Knicks offense? And they did slow it, they frustrated Carmelo Anthony, but the Knicks still got their points.

However, it was the other end of the court that was key for Game 1 — the Knicks could not stop the Pacers offense. Indiana worked the ball inside-out, worked it from the strong-side to the weak with good passing, and New York couldn’t catch up and contest shots.

Indiana shot the ball better, got to the free throw line more, and grabbed more offensive rebounds on their way to a 102-95 Game 1 win in in New York. The Pacers lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for Tuesday night in New York.

The concern for the Knicks is that the Pacers are in some key structural ways a better version of the Boston Celtics — a defense-first team that can be limited on offense. But the Pacers have better athletes (Paul George) as well as big men who can score (David West had 20 points, Roy Hibbert 14) than Boston did. The Pacers are not going to take the long offensive siestas the Celtics did in the first round. The Knicks are going to have to play better at both ends than they did much of Game 1.

New York got some good looks early running side pick-and roll action so the game was close through the first quarter. But the Knicks got away from that in the second quarter and the Pacers started to find their groove — Indiana shot 68.8 percent in the quarter, went on a 10-2 run late and won the second 30-19. Indy led by six at the half.

The Pacers got an unexpected offensive bump in the game from D.J. Augustin, who had 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting including 4-of-5 from three on the game.

The Pacers pulled away in the third and a lot of that had to do with Hibbert — he outplayed Tyson Chandler all night. The Knicks need to do something to pull him out of the paint because when he gets set up back there he blocks and alters everything around the rim. The Knicks struggled with that, or containing him on offense (Chandler eventually fouled out of the game.

The Knicks tried to exploit mismatches like David West on Carmelo Anthony at points, but Melo finished with 28 points but on 27 shots.

Melo’s advantage against West is speed, need to run him off screens/make him the screener to get West moving before Melo attacks.

In the third quarter the Pacers started to pull away, extending the lead up to 16. The Knicks made a push late in the fourth but could get it no lower than 5.

The Pacers are going to defend like this all series — Paul George did a good job limiting Anthony and J.R. Smith (who had 17 points on 4-of-15 shooting on the night). The Knicks will have better offensive games, but it’s not going to be easy against the size and length of the Pacers. New York needs more Raymond Felton side, pick-and-roll, they need plays that force Hibbert out and away from where he can protect the rim.

But the Knicks will score points. The issue is the other end, where the Pacers had an offensive rating of 110.3 (points per 100 possessions), well above their 101.6 average from the regular season.

Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony need to have a better defensive night — Indiana’s front line of Hibbert, West and George had 53 points and 14 rebounds. The Pacers won the points in the paint battle 46-32.

New York is going to have to change that to win this series, one in which they have now given up home court advantage.

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.