First guess at who makes Team USA for 2014 World Championships

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The FIBA World Cup – the basketball World Championships coming to Spain next summer — don’t play as big in the United States as the Olympics. It can get overlooked… unless Team USA loses, then newspaper columnists who hadn’t given the thing a sideways glance will pontificate on how this is some kind of disaster.

That said the World Championships do matter. First, it’s at the very least the second most important international basketball tournament in the world (some countries would argue it trumps the Olympics, but it doesn’t play that way here). Second, win event in Spain next summer and you are automatically qualified for the Rio Olympics. Come in second or lower and you need to put together a 2015 Team USA good enough to win the qualification tournament to get into the Olympics. And Mike Krzyzewski would like a summer off.

So who makes our 2014 roster?

We know that Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are both in, and we can guess a number of guys from the USA mini-camp just held in Las Vegas make it.

What follows is my guess, based on past play with past national teams and the recent camp.

But this guess starts with some assumptions: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Andre Iguodala and some other elite stars will not play. That could change, but my guess is 2014 is going to be the league’s young stars, with some of those established guys coming back in 2016.

The roster:

Russell Westbrook
Derrick Rose
Kyrie Irving
Stephen Curry
James Harden
Paul George
Kevin Durant
Kawhi Leonard
Kevin Love
Blake Griffin
Anthony Davis
DeMarcus Cousins

If your first thought is “that’s four point guards” you’re right, although I think in international ball I would use Curry as a two guard off the bench who comes in and starts lighting the scoreboard up with shots from three feet behind the arc. At the 2012 Olympics Team USA carried three points and only four bigs, but it’s easier to do that with LeBron and his versatility on the roster (both LeBron and ‘Melo could play the four). I think Kenneth Faried played his way into a bubble spot on this roster if Griffin or someone does not want to go.

I think Durant is going to play some four. I think Leonard takes over as the defensive glue player. Davis showed in the USA scrimmage last week that he’s improved and his shot will be great in the international game. I think Coach K can’t go wrong starting Westbrook or Irving.

The USA Basketball brain trust is going to watch the first half of next season before making any calls — how do Rose and Love come back from injuries, for example? Plus, it is possible guys like Andre Drummond play their way into a spot.

But I think the Team USA Roster will look pretty similar to that next spring.

Kobe Bryant on race for Podoloff Trophy: “We might see our first co-MVPs this year”

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The race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook for the 2017 NBA MVP has narrowed to a two-man race toward the end of the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder star is averaging at triple-double this year, and the Houston Rockets guard is doing things nobody has ever done on a basketball court before.

It’s a tough decision to decide between them, so much so that even former Los Angeles Lakers great and 2008 NBA MVP Kobe Bryant can’t do it.

Speaking on ESPN on Sunday, Bryant said he thought the league might have to just bite the bullet on Westbrook vs. Harden.

“We might see our first co-MVPs this year,” said Bryant.

That would be a huge step for the league, but I’m not entirely sure they would do it. There have been co-NBA All-Star Game MVPs in years past, but never league MVP.

Still, can you decide between Russ and Harden? The Mamba can’t.

Watch Rockets C Nene lead the break, eurostep past Enes Kanter (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets center Nene is from Brazil, but on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder the South American native went full euro.

On a fastbreak possession, Nene took on Thunder big man Enes Kanter near the rim and absolutely shook him with a nasty eurostep.

The play was so good that it forced Oklahoma City to call a timeout as James Harden and the rest of the Rockets bench met Nene on the court to celebrate.

Kobe Bryant says he didn’t even have NBA League Pass until a month ago (VIDEO)

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What has retired all-time NBA great Kobe Bryant been doing with his time? A little of this, a little of that. Apparently that doesn’t include watching non-national NBA games.

Speaking with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Michael Smith on SC6, Bryant revealed that he went to go watch a little NBA while he was getting a workout in at his house and realized he didn’t have the NBA package hooked up on his cable.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know if I totally buy this. On one hand, Kobe is a busy guy and he did spend two decades living and breathing the NBA night in and night out. I would expect that after all that time he might want some kind of relief.

Then again, to think that Kobe doesn’t have multiple assistants that would have handled that sort of thing already is sort of silly. The only benefit here is Kobe trying to sell that he’s just relaxing and not paying attention to the league too much, which is hilarious.

Kobe, we all know who you are by now. You’re watching the league, man. You’re Kobe. We get it. You didn’t suddenly turn into The Dude.

Let’s just hope Kobe’s League Pass works right off the bat. We all know how much of a hassle it can be.

Damian Lillard dismisses playoff expectations as pressure, says it insults regular people

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The Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season thus far. The team is just 34-38 before their game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and they’re battling it out for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the Denver Nuggets.

This comes as after expectations rose greatly following the 2015-16 campaign which saw the Blazers finish 44-38, good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West.

Portland has looked better after trading Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, but it might be too little too late. Meanwhile, team leader Damian Lillard isn’t bowing to the idea that last season’s good fortune raised the bar so much that it put undue pressure on his team.

Speaking with Sporting News, Lillard said he thinks the idea is really more about pressure vs. challenges.

Via SN:

Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.

Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn’t even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they’re the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times, I’m also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it’s all said and done, it ain’t gonna rock me.

This is interesting to hear an NBA player say out loud. One, because I’m not sure I entirely believe it. You can have pressure without it having to be something that threatens your overall wellbeing.

Then again, maybe we’re arguing linguistics here. There’s definitely a different emotion from, say, trying to make sure you make rent and aren’t evicted to the street vs. trying to make the NBA playoffs. If one emotion is being defined as pressure, it makes sense to call the other a challenge.

It’s also interesting to hear an NBA player speak in those kinds of terms. There are a few guys around the league who seem to be relatively grounded and give out quotes like this from time-to-time. The absurdity of the NBA — playing games, making millions, and having folks worship you — would easily bend reality for most of us.

In any case, the challenge of making the playoffs for Portland is not going to be an easy one to overcome. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, the Trail Blazers are a game behind Denver for the final spot.

Portland will face Denver on Tuesday, March 28 in perhaps their most important game of the season.