Anthony Davis

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).

Stephen Curry says he will try to return faster than two weeks

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry watches while standing on the bench during the first half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Houston Rockets Monday, April 18, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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So far, the Golden State Warriors have looked just fine — thank you very much — without one Stephen Curry in the lineup. And as Dan Feldman and I discussed in the latest PBT podcast, they likely will be able to handle the Portland Trail Blazers without him as well. They don’t need to rush him back.

But Curry is rushing himself back and wants to beat the two-week timeline for his strained MCL that the doctors put out there, reports Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com.

Coach Steve Kerr said Curry looked good in treatment but did not do any work on the court.

Athletes are the worst people to ask about their own recovery timelines; they don’t get to top levels of their sport without supreme confidence and a certain feeling of invulnerability. They are always sure they can bounce back faster than the doctors say — sometimes that’s true, but not often.

So long as the Warriors are not pressured by Portland (sorry Clipper fans, you’re not advancing without CP3 and Griffin), they are under no pressure to rush him back. That second round series is expected to start Sunday in the Bay Area, if the Warriors can hold serve through the first two games then they can keep Curry on the sidelines for a couple of weeks, let the knee rest completely, and bring him back on their own terms.

The Warriors will need him back for the Conference Finals and beyond, but more than that this is a Golden State team set up to be a contender for the next four or five years, you don’t want to create a bigger problem for future years pushing too hard for a title this season if he’s not right.

PBT Podcast: Thunder/Spurs, Hawks/Cavs, and Game 6s talk with Dan Feldman

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - OCTOBER 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder tries to block Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of a NBA game at the Chesapeake Energy Center on October 28, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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Friday night sees some big Game 6s across the NBA playoffs — Indiana has the best chance of forcing a Game 7 — but everyone is looking ahead to Oklahoma vs. San Antonio in the next round.

That includes Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBCSports.com, who in this latest podcast discuss that series and the Atlanta and Cleveland series that tips off next week. Also they talk about the Friday night Game 6 matchups, and if Portland could beat Golden State if the Warriors do not get Stephen Curry back.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Report: Celtics believe they’ll get meeting with Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant (35) looks to move on Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart (36) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. The Thunder won 130-109. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
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The Celtics will chase Kevin Durant this summer.

Will it work?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

Ainge will be aggressive in free agency, team sources told The Vertical, and yes, that means a run at Kevin Durant. The Celtics believe Durant will meet with them this summer, but they know that meeting won’t accomplish much unless there are significant moves leading into it.

The Celtics are optimistic about meeting with Durant. The Warriors are optimistic about signing Durant.

That might just speak to different mindsets within the organizations – why shouldn’t Golden State be confident about everything? – but it also might handicap the odds of Durant’s next team. The Warriors definitely appear more likely than the Celtics.

Boston has plenty going for it: Brad Stevens, a solid young roster, extra draft picks (including the Nets’ first-rounder this year) and cap flexibility. But Durant wants to win now, so those more youthful assets mean only so much. It’s on Danny Ainge to prove he can turn that cap space into another helpful player, deal a Brooklyn pick or two for a veteran. That would become much easier if the Celtics win the lottery.

There’s a lot happening at once. If Durant isn’t coming, Boston might prefer to keep its draft picks and build slowly. Other free agents might not come. But if Durant is on board, that makes trades preferable and other free agents landable.

Of course, Durant should be the top option.

It appears the Celtics at least have their foot in the door.

Playoff preview: Four key questions about San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant, center, scores against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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Between 2011 and 2014, the Spurs and Thunder combined for six Western Conferences Finals appearances with at least one reaching it each year. Last season featured Warriors vs. Rockets. This year, one – but only one – of San Antonio and Oklahoma City will return.

1. Are these Kevin Durant‘s final games with the Thunder?

Let’s get this out of the way. Durant, as you well know, will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. At this point, the best thing Oklahoma City can do to keep him is win. He knows the city. He knows the franchise. He knows the roster (which would likely return in similar form if he re-signs). Whether the Thunder send him into free agency with a good taste in his mouth is the biggest variable.

Will Durant leave just because Oklahoma City loses to the Spurs? Of course not. Will Durant stay just because Oklahoma City beats the Spurs? Of course not.

But this is a big opportunity for the Thunder to accentuate their positives – and the Spurs, another team in the Durant hunt, to do the same.

2. Who wins the Kevin Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard matchup?

More directly on the court… Durant is involved in what might be the best individual matchup of the 2016 playoffs

Durant and Leonard should both finish top five in MVP voting. If they do, it’d be the first time two players top five in MVP voting who play the same position met in the playoffs since 2012, when LeBron James and Durant faced off in the Finals.

The matchup should be fun on both ends of the court, but it’ll be particularly intriguing when Oklahoma City has the ball. Durant is one of the NBA’s best offensive players, Leonard the best defender. I can’t wait to watch them go at it.

3. How do the Spurs handle Oklahoma City’s athleticism?

In his last 20 games against San Antonio, Serge Ibaka is 15-5. Ibaka embodies the athletic advantage the Thunder hold over the Spurs. At his best, Ibaka attacks with hops and speed the Spurs’ bigs can’t match. Ibaka looked old throughout much of the regular season, but he appeared rejuvenated in the first round against the Mavericks. If he was just saving his energy for the playoffs, following the Dwight Howard model in previous years, Ibaka could play a major role.

Ditto Russell Westbrook, who will challenge Tony Parker to keep up. San Antonio could cross match with Danny Green, but that presents complications in transition.

The Spurs are collectively more skilled, but the Thunder have done a better job than most at neutralizing that advantage.

4. Has Billy Donovan found a rotation that narrows the gap?

Billy Donovan passed his first playoff test against Rick Carlisle. Now the challenge grows even greater against Gregg Popovich.

One thing Donovan did right: Putting Nick Collison, not Kyle Singler, in the playoff rotation. Collison’s minutes could be key against a Spurs team that often plays two slower bigs. I guesses Singler rather than Collison would play regularly, which lowered Oklahoma City’s adjusted net rating by a few points per 100 possessions when projecting using only players in the playoff rotation.

I’ll again use nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s postseason rotation, once the first round ends. But for now, here are San Antonio’s and Oklahoma City’s ratings, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the playoff rotation:

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 110.0
  • Defensive rating: 99.4 to 96.1
  • Net rating: +11.1 to +13.9

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 113.6 to 117.3
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.6
  • Net rating: +7.6 to +12.7

Both teams — already strong by this measure — benefited from beating up on their first-round competition, and the Thunder got a bump for using Collison over Singler. Oklahoma City still trails the Spurs, but the gap is much closer than overall regular-season results would suggest.

Prediction: Spurs in 7