World Cup preview: No Durant, no problem USA still one of two teams with legit shot to win gold

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Think about at the Team USA wins this summer: By 17 points over the world’s 10th ranked team Brazil; by 43 over the Dominican Republic (world No. 26); by 26 over Puerto Rico (world No. 17); then by 30 over the world’s 13th ranked team Slovenia.

So far the Americans have outscored their opponents by 35.4 points per 100 possessions (via John Schuhmann of NBA.com). A ridiculous number.

Team USA has not seriously been challenged — and most of the FIBA World Cup will look very much like that.

So much of the pre-tournament focus has been on who is not there for the Americans. No Kevin Durant. Or Paul George. And all that came after Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, LaMarcus Aldridge and a host of others said no. Those are big time talents.

Doesn’t matter — the USA is so deep with guys who can ball that coach Mike Krzyzewski can still throw out a long, athletic, sharp-shooting team that will play pressure defense, run, be active, and knock down threes and flat-out overwhelm nearly every opponent. Just as they have pretty much everyone since Team USA last lost a game back in 2006.

Team USA is still loaded — Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond. No other team in the world can match that depth. Not even close The USA’s starters (Irving, Curry, Harden, Faried, Davis) have been fantastic at both ends of the floor in the tune up games (almost doubling the score on its opponents).

The obvious strength of Team USA is the guard spot — Irving and Curry have scored very efficiently, while Harden is the team’s leading scorer so far. Then off the bench the bring the slashing athleticism of Rose and more sharp shooting with Thompson. As for all that size up front, it lets Coach K almost hockey substitute them every couple of minutes to keep the legs fresh and the energy up for their high-intensity style of play.

That group will overwhelm everyone the USA faces when it starts group play Saturday.

First up is Finland, ranked 39th in the world (a team chosen as a wild card over better, more deserving teams because Finland travel well sand FIBA wanted the cash from ticket sales), followed Sunday by a Turkish team that is well behind the USA and is likely second best in Group C. After that it is New Zealand, a Dominican Republic team that the USA already destroyed, then the Ukraine. None of those teams are a threat to a USA squad that gives even half effort (and they will as they try to find themselves).

After group play teams are seeded for a single elimination tournament and again Team USA gets a soft touch — Groups C and D fill out half the bracket and the best team is Lithuania, ranked fourth in the world and they just lost starting point guard Mantas Kalnietis due to a dislocated shoulder. Lithuania is led by the NBA’s Jonas Valanciunas and Dontas Motiejunas, both of whom are nice bigs but a couple of steps behind the USA’s front line. That’s it. No other real threats. The USA has a fairly easy path to the title game.

There is only one real threat to Team USA — Spain. And those two would not meet until said gold medal game if Spain makes it. Playing at home they probably will, but their side of the bracket will have reigning European champion France (without Tony Parker), Brazil, Argentina and Greece. Spain should advance but they have the harder road.

Spain boasts three quality NBA bigs — Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka — plus a back court of Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez. They have fallen to Team USA the last two Olympic gold medal games but played the USA close (Spain was right in it in 2012 in London until Marc Gasol had to leave with foul trouble). On their home court in front of their home fans foul trouble is not going to be an issue for Spain.

Spain poses a legitimate threat, which is why there are four centers on the NBA roster — to match up better with that size. More than that the USA will count on its athleticism and pressure to force mistakes and to make Spain uncomfortable in their offense. The USA will need Curry, Thompson and everyone else to hit their

But that’s it. The only real threat to the USA should be Spain.

It doesn’t matter who didn’t show up for America, the guys who did can flat-out ball and fit the USA’s aggressive, up-tempo style. The USA is rightfully still a gold medal favorite.

It doesn’t matter who showed up, so long as the guys that did are ready to play.

And Team USA looks ready.

Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan: “I’m not looking to trade Kemba” but he’ll listen

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The Charlotte Hornets are having a disappointing season. Projected by many (myself included) to be a playoff team (with an under/over of 42.5 in Las Vegas), Charlotte is 19-26 and four games out of the playoffs in the East.

That has left Charlotte management with a question: Is it time to trade Kemba Walker, work to tear the team down and rebuild, or do they chase the eight seed? Walker doesn’t want to be traded.

Team owner Michael Jordan doesn’t want to trade him, but he’s listening to offers, he told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

“We bred him, we chose him, we groomed him to be a good player for us,” Jordan said of Walker, who the Hornets drafted ninth overall in 2011, to a great extent because Jordan saw traits in Walker that reminded him of his own playing career.

“I’m not looking to trade Kemba, but I would listen to opportunities….

“It’s not like we are shopping him. We would not just give him up. I love Kemba Walker. I would not trade him for anything but an All-Star player.”

Charlotte with Walker is in the same place as the Clippers with DeAndre Jordan — moving him would mean a dramatic shift for the organization going forward, so they are only going to do it with a quality offer in return. It’s going to take some combination of good young players and picks that can jumpstart a rebuild, and in the Hornets case they want to attach one of their bad contracts (such as Marvin Williams).

So far, those offers have not come for either team. The trade market has been tight, in part because a lot of teams are in the playoff hunt (such as the Hornets) and don’t want to move quality players, and in part because teams spent a lot of money in 2016 and are pushing the luxury tax (such as the Hornets) and they can’t take on salary (and with that are finding it hard to move bad contracts).

Come Feb. 9, expect Walker to still be wearing the team uniforms of Charlotte as no deal is found. But also expect Michael Jordan to feel cans for another day.

Watch DeMarcus Cousins’ historic 44/24/10 night

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The last time somebody did this — scored more than 40 points, had more than 20 rebounds, and dished out more than 10 assists in a game — “Poseidon Adventure” was in the theaters and Elton John had just released “Rocket Man.” It was Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he was still playing in Milwaukee.

Monday night, DeMarcus Cousins did it.

Cousins scored 44 points, had 24 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists in the Pelicans’ double OT win against Chicago. These were not meaningless points, Cousins picked up seven of them in the second overtime.

Cousins has had a monster first half of the season and earned his first All-Star Game start this year.

Report: Kevin Love called out in emotional Cavaliers team meeting

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Having lost 8-of-11, a Cavaliers team meeting where the players got to vent seemed inevitable. There isn’t one person in that Cavaliers locker room that doesn’t deserve some blame for how things have turned.

However, Kevin Love apparently became the whipping boy.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Cleveland Cavaliers held a fiery team meeting in the practice facility locker room prior to Monday’s practice, during which several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love’s illness that led him to leave Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City early and miss Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.

The more things change, the more things are always Kevin Love’s fault.

According to the report, the majority of the team seemed to accept Love’s explanation. Love left the Cavaliers ugly, nationally televised blowout at the hands of the Thunder in the first half and did not return due to what was described only as an illness. He did not stay around for the end of the game. I’m not about to speculate on how ill he was or was not, what matters is that his teammates were not buying it. When a team is losing finger-pointing is almost inevitable, and Love has gotten more than his fair share of it in Cleveland. At least he stood up for himself.

Team meetings may allow a pressure release in a locker room, but they almost never result in any kind of meaningful change. We’ll see what if anything changes in Cleveland.

Bucks GM on Jason Kidd firing: “This is a performance-based thing”

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Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six.

This season, expectations were high. Before the season there was talk from the team of a 50-win team (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the under/over at 47.5) that would finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference, hosting a playoff round. There was hope that the defense would improve, and with that the Bucks would look like a young team figuring it out.

They haven’t looked like that at all — they are 23-22 (with the point differential of a 20-25 team), and their defense is 25th in the NBA. Currently, they have just a one-game cushion for the final playoff slot in the East.

That cost coach Jason Kidd his job, first-year Bucks GM Jon Horst said Monday night at a press conference, as reported by Matt Velazquez at the Journal-Sentinel.

“At the end, this is a performance-based thing,” Horst said. “We believe in this team, we believe in our players and in the talents that they have. We’re looking forward at making playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade and hopefully winning a first-round series for the first time in over a decade. So we felt like at this time, this is the right decision to help this team get there.”

Around the league the move was not a total surprise, but the timing caught people off guard. Horst said it happened “relatively quickly” and explained:

“A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ I think we came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise and this was the time.”

Come this summer this will be the hottest coaching job available because of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potential of this roster. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams have been mentioned, but the ultimate list will be longer. Honestly, a few coaches with jobs might rather have the Bucks job (although the challenges between the two owners there can make things uncomfortable at times).

“We have another game on Friday and between that time we have a plan that we’ll put in place that we’ll kind of layout for the rest of the season,” Horst said. “We’ll go into the summer and have an extensive coaching search with an opportunity to hopefully find a great coach for this organization of which (interim coach) Joe Prunty has every opportunity to be a part of based on what happens going forward.”

This is going to a rough adjustment for Antetokounmpo and some of the players, who respected and trusted Kidd. There’s a lot of pressure on Horst with this hire.

That doesn’t make it the wrong move — Horst did the right thing here. The Bucks were going to be moving on, they just did it sooner rather than later.