After lackluster start, Team USA rallies to blow out Dominican Republic, secure group top spot


Team USA has won the FIBA World Cup Group C.

Which is about as big a surprise as your mother forwarding an email with a cute cat video in it — we all knew that was coming. We’re all still waiting for something more interesting.

The USA grabbed the top spot with a 106-71 thrashing of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, improving to 4-0 in the World Cup. Team USA was not energetic and focused to start the game — they led just 25-22 after one quarter — but went on a 22-0 run late in the third into the fourth, turning a comfortable win into a laugher.

The USA has one group game left, Thursday against the Ukraine (ESPN 2 at 11:30 ET), then they start the knockout round Saturday in Barcelona against an opponent yet to be determined. That’s when things start to get interesting, although it may well be a couple games after that before the USA gets its first real test.

Once again Wednesday it was the energy of Kenneth Faried that led the way for Team USA, he had 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting, plus pulled down six rebounds. He’s the big story right now — and to do it heading into a contract year is a good time to break out. DeMarcus Cousins had 13 points and six steals and brought some passion to the court, Anthony Davis finished with 10 points and five blocks as again it was the inside play of the Americans that anchored them and got them the win.

The Dominican Republic was without Houston Rockets swingman Francisco Garcia — he’s averaged 21 points a game and played 31 minutes a game so far this World Cup — who sat out with a sprained ankle. He tweaked it at the end of Tuesday’s game against Finland and with Thursday’s Dominican Republic game against Turkey determining whether or not they advance to the knockout stage (win and they move on, lose and it could get dicey), the Dominican Republic coaches wisely gave Garcia a game off. A game they weren’t going to win anyway.

Credit the Dominican roster, filled with guys who played college ball in the USA, for playing well early on. They slowed the game down at points, got back on defense in transition, ran a solid zone defense, made smart fouls and drove the lane. The problem was they struggled with the length of Team USA when they tried to finish those drives (DR shot just 39.6 percent on two pointers). The USA had five first quarter blocks and altered many more shots — the USA bigs were cleaning up a lot of messes.

It also was close early because the USA just missed stuff they normally make. Davis missed a couple dunks, Curry clanked a wide open three, and the USA started 2-of-7 from the free throw line. Just not in a rhythm, not playing with energy. USA struggled again against the zone.

The USA got a spark off the bench, particularly some chemistry between Cousins and Derrick Rose. It wasn’t a great statistical game for Rose — six points on five shots, three assist in 13 minutes — but his defense was better than the guys on the floor, he made some smart passes, and bottom line he was out there when the complexion of the game started to change. By the half the USA was up 15, 56-41, and had yet to go on a real run.

In the second half the USA played improved defense (the Dominican Republic scored just 30 points after the half) and with that started to really pull away and make this a rout.

Thursday’s game against Mike Fratello’s Ukranian team likely ends in pretty similar fashion.

Again for the USA there are legit areas of concern. There are the slow starts, we can pick apart the half court defensive decisions at times, not to mention the ball movement vs. too much isolation basketball ratio, but the USA seemed a little better about those things today (well, not the slow starts). It’s not easy to judge until they face a team they can’t just overwhelm, but that likely does not happen until the quarter or semi-finals next week.

Against Spain (or maybe Slovenia or Lithuania) these kinds of sloppy starts and defensive miscues could be real trouble. But the USA knew how this game would end and it’s human nature not to be as focused in those cases.

Thursday likely sees more of the same.

Report: Suns start coaching search now, before season ends

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Unlike last summer, there is going to be a lot of coaching changes this NBA offseason.

There are three teams — Phoenix, Memphis, and Milwaukee — who have interim coaches now and will conduct searches, plus at least a couple more firings are expected (Jeff Hornacek in New York and Frank Vogel in Orlando are both likely to be ousted, according to the buzz around the league, and there could be more). That’s at least five teams looking for a new coach.

The Phoenix Suns — who fired Earl Watson just three games into the season — are not wasting time, they are starting that search now, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Phoenix Suns are beginning their search for a new head coach now, a process that will include interim coach Jay Triano, general manager Ryan McDonough told ESPN…

“This is going to be a competitive marketplace,” McDonough told ESPN. “There are three of us with interim coaches in place, and we want to be able to hit the ground running. We don’t want to have to wait until the end of the regular season for candidates who aren’t with teams now. At the end of the regular season, we’ll be able to talk with coaches on non-playoff teams and we’ll need to work with playoff teams on what their approach will be on contacting (assistant) coaches still in the postseason.”

This is not going to be a fast process in Phoenix. For example, interim coach Jay Triano — who has done a respectable job since being thrown into the big chair — will get the chance to interview, but he reportedly (and understandably) wants a little time after the season ends to put together his pitch.

However, there are guys available now to interview — David Fizdale, for example — so why not get the early jump? This is going to be a wide-ranging search, for example, Jay Wright — still busy right now coaching Villanova in the NCAA Tournament — has been linked to this job. Again, never hurts to start early.

The Suns have one cornerstone player in Devin Booker and some other guys with potential to be part of the future there. The new coach needs to establish a culture and system that maximize that talent. Then McDonough needs to get a lot more quality players in to make this all work — he’s made some questionable decisions in the past (drafting Alex Len then giving a massive contract to Tyson Chandler is just the latest), now we’ll see if he can get this rebuild moving a little faster.

Three Things to Know: Protest keeps all but a couple thousand from Hawks/Kings game

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Hawks, Kings play to near empty building after police shooting protest blocks entrance to Sacramento’s home arena. Despite an ugly season on the court, the Kings sell out their building nightly — 17,553 average attendance, 100 percent capacity every game. A passionate fan base and an impressive new building will do that.

Thursday night, there were only a couple thousand people in the arena. The reason is a protest over the Sacramento police shooting of Stephon Clark, 23 and a father of two. Sacramento Police allege Clark had been breaking into cars, and that he ran when confronted by police — he was confronted by police in the backyard of his grandmother’s house where he was living. When two police officers approached him Clark had a cellphone in his hand, which the officers reportedly said they mistook for a gun, and they shot Clark 20 times. The shooting has sparked outrage in the city (while some video of the incident was released, the police body cam footage of the confrontation and shooting has not been yet).

The Black Lives Matter peaceful protest (there were no fights or arrests out of the night), which had shut down a Sacramento freeway earlier, moved over to the Golden 1 Center and worked to block entrance to that building. The game itself started 20 minutes late. In an effort to avoid confrontations, police kept people with tickets away from the protest, so only about 2,000 people (who had been there early when the doors opened) got in.

The Kings, to their credit, handled the situation well. Owner Vivek Ranadivé addressed the crowd after the game, surrounded by the team:

“On Sunday we had a horrific, horrific tragedy in our community. On behalf of the players, executives, ownership and the entire Kings family — first of all, we wanted to express our deepest sympathies to the family. What happened was absolutely horrific, and we are so very sorry, so very sorry for your loss. I also wanted to say that we at the Kings recognize people’s ability to protest peacefully and we respect that. We here at the Kings recognize we have a big platform — it’s a privilege but it’s also a responsibility — a responsibility we take very seriously. And we stand here before you — old, young, black, white, brown — and we are all united in our commitment. We recognize that it’s not just business as usual, and we are going to work really hard to bring everybody together to make the world a better place starting with our own community, and we’re going to work really hard to prevent this kind of a tragedy from happening again. Thank you all for your patience and have a good night.”

The Kings also will be offering refunds to people with tickets who could not get in.

On a far less important note than that tragic shooting, the Kings won the game 105-90.

2) Kemba Walker scores 35 points in the first half, Hornets beat tanktastick Grizzlies by 61. The Memphis Grizzlies have reached the figurative “sitting on the bench, their knees have ice packs taped to them” portion of the season. They are still playing games, but the team has checked out. The focus is on the draft, the upcoming coaching search, the question of who will own this team by the start of next season, and are they going to tear it down and rebuild or think if healthy they could make the playoffs next season.

The Charlotte Hornets have Kemba Walker — he always plays hard.

The result was Walker dropping 35 points in the first half and 46 for the game — on 18 shot attempts, and knocking down 10 threes — before he literally sitting on the bench, his knees with ice packs taped to them in what went on to be a historic blowout, a 61-point win for Charlotte 140-79.

It’s going to be an interesting offseason in both Charlotte and Memphis. The Hornets are already in the midst of a search for a new general manager — Gersson Rosas of the Rockets and Mitch Kupchak formerly of the Lakers are reportedly the frontrunners — but whoever gets that job will have to answer the #freeKemba question: Do the capped out and missed the playoffs Hornets trade Walker and start a rebuild, or do they run it back and try to make the postseason next year? Is Steve Clifford still coaching this team next season?

It’s the same question in Memphis — GM Chris Wallace has made it clear so far there are no plans to trade Marc Gasol, they will get Mike Conley back from injury, and with that the Grizzlies believe they can make the playoffs next season. They are trying to hang on to the grit ’n grind era a little longer. Memphis will be in the market for a new coach, too, but the bigger question for the franchise — both in terms of on-the-court direction and off-the-court challenges — is who will own the team? Robert Pera is the controlling owner right now, but due to an odd ownership arrangement he has to buy out Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus (for about $300 million) or they can buy Pera out. It’s being negotiated, but the outcome of all this is unclear, and teams with a muddled ownership rarely do well on the court.

3) Another night, another 33 points and nine rebound night from Anthony Davis. The Lakers are maybe the ultimate spoiler in the West right now — a non-playoff team that has come together, is playing well, and is not in tank mode (they don’t have their own pick this year). That has led to wins over teams such as the Cavaliers, Spurs, and Heat this month.

The Pelicans could not afford that kind of loss — even on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back — so Anthony Davis took over. Again. He dropped 33 points with nine rebounds and a couple of blocks on the Lakers in a 128-125 Pelicans win.

With the victory, the Pelicans are currently the 4/5 seed in the West, tied with Oklahoma City.

Kemba Walker scores 46, including 10 threes, as Hornets rout Grizzlies by 61 (VIDEO)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kemba Walker scored 46 points and made 10 3-pointers, and the Charlotte Hornets rolled to the most lopsided victory in franchise history by beating the Memphis Grizzlies 140-79 on Thursday night.

Walker had the ninth 40-point game of his career as the Hornets easily overcame the absence of the suspended Dwight Howard. The All-Star guard hit 13 of 18 shots overall, including 10 of 14 on 3-pointers, and was 10 of 10 on free throws in 28 minutes.

He scored 17 points in the first quarter, 18 in the second quarter and 11 in the third before he was replaced for the final time with 1:48 left in the period.

It came one night after Howard’s 32-point, 30-rebound performance that helped Charlotte rally from a 23-point deficit for a 111-105 victory at Brooklyn. But in the process, Howard was whistled for his 16th technical foul of the season, meaning he had to serve a one-game suspension on Thursday night.

It didn’t matter as the Hornets roared ahead 12-2 in the first 4 1/2 minutes, were ahead 37-14 after one quarter, 75-42 at halftime and by a game-high 65 points (137-72) with 1:45 left before taking the 61-point win.

Charlotte’s largest previous win in franchise history came by 52 points (136-84) at home against Philadelphia on Feb. 27, 1992.

It was the third-highest scoring game of Walker’s career. The 6-foot-1 point guard had a career-high 52 points against Utah in a 124-119 double-overtime win in January 2016, and had 47 points in a 123-120 loss at Chicago in November 2017.

Marvin Williams and Dwayne Bacon added 15 points apiece for Charlotte. Wayne Selden had 18 for Memphis.


Grizzlies: Memphis interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was on the Charlotte coaching staff when the city returned to the NBA in 2004 and nicknamed Bobcats. Then a 25-year-old assistant coach to his father Bernie Bickerstaff, J.B. Bickerstaff was the youngest coach in the NBA at that time.

Hornets: On Wednesday, Howard became one of only three players in the last 20 years (Andrew Bynum on April 11, 2012, and Kevin Love on Nov. 12, 2010) to get 30 rebounds in a game.


Grizzlies: Host Lakers on Saturday night.

Hornets: Visit Mavericks on Saturday night.

Kings game delayed, fans blocked by protest of Stephon Clark shooting


The game between the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks had a late start on Thursday. As fans arrived at Golden 1 Center for the matchup between the two potential lottery teams, they were blocked and most were eventually turned away as a group protested the shooting death of Stephon Clark.

Clark, 23, was killed by the Sacramento Police Department in his grandparents’ backyard. According to KCRA in Sacramento, police claim Clark was seen breaking into cars in the area. When police responded to the scene, police shouted at the unarmed Clark to stop and show his hands. When Clark ran, the officers shot at Clark 20 times. He was pronounced dead on the scene.

Video and audio of the shooting, including police bodycam footage, was released on Wednesday. That sparked protests in the city, including the one at the Golden 1 Center, where people gathered and spoke about Clark’s death.

Via Twitter:

While some fans did find their way inside the arena, the Kings eventually released a statement saying that, “Due to law enforcement being unable to ensure ticketed fans could safely enter the arena, the arena remains closed and we ask fans outside to travel home.”

For their part, the Kings organization, including owner Vivek Ranadive, stood up and spoke to the crowd about the tragedy. In his statement, Ranadive said he was sorry for Clark’s family’s loss, and that he recognized their right to protest peacefully.

The team also said that fans would be hearing from the Kings about a refund for their tickets in the near future.