Derrick Rose returns, Anthony Davis shines in USA Basketball’s exhibition win over Brazil

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CHICAGO — Derrick Rose played his first game at the United Center in almost nine months on Saturday, when the USA Basketball team took on the squad from Brazil in an exhibition contest.

Team USA cruised to a 95-78 victory, and while getting the win was nice, the focal point of the evening was Rose’s return, at least initially.

The building was legitimately sold out, and the fans seemed to be there for none other reason than to cheer their hometown hero. But they were also treated to a series of dazzling highlights from his teammates.

Rose did look a bit rusty; whether it was due to the nerves of being back on his home floor for the first time in so long, or simply the excitement brought by his first real competition over that same span, he definitely didn’t dominate the way he’s capable of. He did, however, manage to give the fans what they wanted on two separate occasions.

Even if Rose has changed his game as he recently proclaimed, his signature speed was as prominent as ever. He went the length of the floor in the blink of an eye and finished with a floater off the glass to beat the halftime buzzer, and then midway through the third, he used a devastating crossover that was followed by a hard-charging burst, which allowed him to convert an acrobatic finish at the basket.

Those are the types of plays that we know Rose is capable of, and the other ones, which included a missed breakaway dunk in the second quarter and at least a few errant passes, should become less frequent as time goes on.

“He’s shaking some rust off,” USA Basketball assistant and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said afterward. “But his explosiveness was back.”

With the game well out of hand and just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the fans began a loud chant of “We want Rose!” Mike Krzyzewski complied almost immediately, and when Rose bounced up and jogged to the scorers table, the place went nuts.

“I didn’t react to the crowd,” Krzyzewski said with a smile. “I would never do that.”

While all eyes were on Rose in Chicago as expected, Anthony Davis made it impossible not to notice just how dominant he can be against the far less athletic international competition.

Davis flew around the basket for several highlight-worthy slam dunks, and flew into the stands head over heels trying to save a loose ball. He finished with a game-high 20 points, and you can just see how his being on the floor should be a complete game-changer for the USA team once tournament play begins for real in a few short weeks.

“Ant played great man,” Rose said afterward. “That’s what we need — blocking shots, rebounding, diving for the ball out of bounds. We didn’t know how he was going to play with the bigs they have because he’s kind of smaller than they are weight-wise. But he came out here and hooped.”

James Harden finished with 18 points, and his personal highlights included a step-back three off the dribble over a defender, and of course, scoring more than once on slashing drives to the basket. Stephen Curry hit some shots early, the most impressive of which involved some extremely nifty ball-handling to shake his defender before he effortlessly splashed a long three home.

Team USA started a lineup that consisted of Rose, Curry, Davis, Harden and Kenneth Faried, whose activity and effort remained consistent; his chances continue to improve as far as making the final roster. DeMarcus Cousins didn’t play due to injury, and DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond and Gordon Hayward received the always-dreaded DNP-CDs.

Getting the victory was nice, and it was one successful step on this summer’s travels for Team USA. But for Rose, his initial experience returning to his home floor was far more important, and an achievement all by itself — even if he downplayed it after the night was finished.

“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Rose said. “If this was a couple of weeks ago, I probably would’ve been emotional. But right now, it feels great. We won the game.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.