Team USA’s starting frontcourt wound up bigger than most expected.
And the Americans didn’t hesitate to show off its advantages Tuesday.
Anthony Davis (18 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and three steals) and Kenneth Faried (14 points and eight rebounds) dominated Slovenia in a 101-71 exhibition win. Though many expected Team USA to use a stretch four next to Davis – and maybe it would have if Kevin Love, Kevin Durant or Paul George remained on the team – the Davis-Faried combo proved to be a real force.
That should continue against Finland on Saturday, when the Americans begin World Cup competition. They went 4-0 in pre-tournament tune-ups.
Team USA also features bigger-than-expected reserves, but DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee didn’t do much off the bench.
Another reserve who struggled Tuesday: Derrick Rose, who missed all three of his shots and had three turnovers to one assists. Rose’s uneven play leaves the door open for Kyrie Irving to remain the starting point guard.
Though the Americans were probably too talented for Slovenia in any case, Goran Dragic shot just 3-for-11, essentially closing any chance for an upset. His brother, Zoran Dragic, led the Slovenians with 16 points.
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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.
However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.
“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”
This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.
Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.
Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s
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.
“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.
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