USA sails past New Zealand for easy 98-71 win behind Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried

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Since a lot of big men stayed away from Team USA this summer — Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge among them — the American squad on paper looked perimeter oriented. It was going to be about the guards in transition and raining threes on opponents.

Through three games at the World Cup, it has been the USA bigs that have stole the show.

Tuesday it was Anthony Davis — 21 points on 13 shots, plus 9 rebounds — and the energy of Kenneth Faried with 15 points and 11 rebounds that anchored an easy Team USA win over New Zealand, 98-71. Team USA shot 51.5 percent for the game to New Zealand’s 40.3 percent in a game that was never in doubt once All Blacks finished their Haka pre-game dance.

The USA is now 3-0 in pool play with a game Wednesday against the Dominican Republic and Thursday against the Ukraine. Both of those also should be comfortable wins for Team USA, which will win the group handily. After that comes the single-elimination knockout stage next week.

On Sunday a veteran Turkey squad laid out a blueprint for how to slow the game down and beat the Americans, but New Zealand just doesn’t have the players to execute that plan. They are without Steven Adams of the Thunder, the one big man who might have been able to match some of the energy and athleticism of Team USA up front. The talent gap was stark in this one and New Zealand could not control the pace (and if you’re going to beat the USA you have to slow the game down).

Faried helps spark that pace for the Americans. Back during training camp Mike Krzyzewski described Faried as an “energy specialist” but one he got thrown into the starting lineup when Durant bolted. Faried has been exactly what the team needed — there are guys on that roster who can coast for stretches (I’m looking at you, James Harden). Faried is the antidote for that — his hustle and effort infects the starting lineup. He brings defense and energy.

That energy had Team USA up early (and by 22 by the half) as they were getting points inside and Stephen Curry was hitting some shots from the outside (he had 12 points on the game, as did fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson). Harden chipped in 13. As teams have to start packing it in on the USA bigs the guards should start to get better looks — if Team USA starts to move the ball better.

Of interest was that Coach K started Derrick Rose over Kyrie Irving for the second half, letting him get some run with the main guys to see how that went. Rose wasn’t terribly impressive, going 1-of-6 shooting for just two points. After the game Krzyzewski said the plan is for Rose to play in both of the next two games.

If you want to pick apart the USA their half court offense is a bit stagnant. They run some high pick-and-roll but basically they have a lot of one-on-one play, something they can get away with against New Zealand but could be an issue if they see Lithuania in the knockout round, and certainly vs. Spain in the gold medal game. On the defensive end of the court the USA tends to look for the aggressive play and lose their guys on back-cuts in system offenses, leading to some easy buckets allowed. Better teams will exploit that.

It’s the kind of thing Krzyzewski needs to show them on film and start to get fixed. It just didn’t matter against New Zealand Tuesday (and will not the next two days of group play, either).

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

Associated Press
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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

Associated Press
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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.