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

19 Comments

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.”

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

2 Comments

Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

2 Comments

If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
4 Comments

Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

Rob Carr/Getty Images
5 Comments

John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

image

The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.