Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis shine in USA Basketball showcase

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LAS VEGAS — The White team beat the Blue team 128-106 in the USA Basketball intra-squad showcase that put a bow on a four-day mini-camp held in Las Vegas this week, but the event was about anything but this game’s final score.

The powers that be were looking for mostly intangibles from players in terms of how hard they worked, how well they adapted to the team dynamic, and how quickly they were able to pick things up and make an impact in the short time they were here.

In Thursday night’s showcase, there were two players’ efforts that stood out above the rest.

Kyrie Irving was the game’s best player, and had no trouble showing why he is one of the top overall talents on the 28-man mini-camp roster. He dazzled from the very start, going head-to-head with Damian Lillard in an entertaining first quarter back-and-forth, before pulling away from Lillard to dominate the rest of the game.

Irving got to the basket from the perimeter seemingly at will, and finished at the rim in traffic on more than one occasion. He finished with a game-high 23 points and seven assists in just 19 minutes of action.

Anthony Davis was the other standout performer, and by all accounts had one of the better showings of any player in the camp’s attendance. Davis was active inside defensively and on the boards, but his mid-range jumper and the high percentage with which he shot it all week long, both in scrimmages and in Thursday’s showcase, were huge signs of improvement in his game.

Davis finished with 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds in his 23 minutes on the floor.

“As good as he was last year, he’s just stepped it up another couple levels,” Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Davis afterward. “And that was exciting to see. He got better throughout the week, and put on a heck of a performance tonight.”

Davis didn’t speak too much about his own game once the event had finished, but instead took the opportunity to talk up the camp and the way the other guys competed — a sign he gets what the USA Basketball message is all about.

“A lot of guys showed up and competed,” Davis said, in recapping the four-day camp. “Usually when you go to camps, not just USAB, but guys just don’t take it as seriously. For guys to show up and actually compete the way they did and make each other better, it was an excellent thing. And you could see it on the floor tonight — guys were playing hard, sharing the ball, weren’t complaining about any fouls, hustling, and playing defense. You don’t see that, especially in the summertime.”

No decisions will be made as to which players will make the official Team USA rosters based off of this week’s camp; Jerry Colangelo made it clear that this was just one step in the process, and that they’ll be monitoring players throughout next season, as well as looking to start a pool from scratch with 25 or so more individuals — a list they’ll hope to finalize sometime after the first of the year.

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A few notes to wrap things up from the showcase here in Las Vegas:

– DeMarcus Cousins got a second chance to impress at this week’s mini-camp, and from an attitude standpoint he seemed to do just fine. He was underwhelming, however, in the glimpses we got of him during scrimmages, and didn’t do much to write home about on Thursday, finishing with six points on 2-of-7 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds in just over 12 minutes of action.

– Damian Lillard started off extremely strongly on Thursday, going toe-to-toe with Irving early in an entertaining first quarter. He had seven points, two assists and no turnovers in the game’s first four minutes, keeping pace with Irving’s eight points and two turnovers in the same amount of time. Except for finishing a two-handed dunk off of a baseline cut in the second half, however, Lillard was unable to sustain his tremendous start. He finished with nine points on 4-of-14 shooting, to go along with three assists in 19 minutes of action.

– The USA Basketball brain trust likely was thinking the same thing I was at one point during Thursday night’s showcase: Why is Dion Waiters here? He did nothing to shake his reputation of being a chucker, getting up 10 shots in just 15 minutes, while making only two. He also committed some silly fouls defensively, and while he’s obviously still young and shooting is at a premium in international play, he’ll need to do a lot better in the future than he showed in this one to be seriously considered for the squad.

– Kenneth Faried had a strong camp, impressing observers all week long with the activity level and athleticism he brings to the floor.  He was active on the boards and got loose for some high-flying dunks in the showcase, finishing with 11 points and seven rebounds in just 12 minutes of action.

– Paul George was largely “meh” in the showcase, but his overall skill set and the way he performed throughout the four-day camp is still likely to land him a spot on the roster for the Worlds if he’s interested.

– Pistons big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond played on opposite teams, but each showed some signs on both ends of the floor during the limited minutes they saw.  Drummond finished with 11 points and six rebounds in just nine minutes, and Monroe had 10 and six in 14 minutes.

– Overall the showcase was something that those who watched the Lakers closely last season could completely relate to, in that there was a ton of talent on the floor that simply had no idea how to play together. Chemistry is real on the basketball court, and in a game like this, there’s a reason that essentially all the guards shined a bit — from Irving and Lillard to Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, and Mike Conley. Guys with the ball in their hands have the advantage when no one is quite sure what the plan is, and that was certainly the case in more than one of the half-court sets we saw guys attempt to run through in this one.

USA Basketball Showcase – Final Box Score

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

Meek Mill gets out of jail, takes helicopter to 76ers-Heat, rings bell pregame

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Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid had been one of the most notable NBA players leading the charge for the #FreeMeekMill movement. The rapper Meek Mill, a Philadelphia native and Sixers fan, has been incarcerated for violating the terms of his probation multiple times.

At the heart of the movement to free Meek Mill is the idea of comparative justice, that he has been unfairly targeted because of his race as an absorber of punishment from the penal system despite it being a decade since he committed his crime. People from Embiid to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft have made their voices heard on the subject.

Today, Meek Mill was released from prison and was sent a special gift: the opportunity to fly via helicopter, provided by 76ers minority owner Michael Rubin, to Game 5 between the Sixers and Miami Heat.

When he arrived at the game, the rapper rung the ceremonial bell before tip-off.

Not a couple of hours fresh out of the joint.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.