Rudy Gay

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.

Popovich to Aldridge: “Welcome to the Spurs. Go sit” out practice.

LaMarcus Aldridge
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Gregg Popovich’s habit of resting key players at times has become the norm around the league as more and more studies have shown it helps players perform at higher levels plus helps reduce injury risk. Still, Popovich is the poster child.

New Spur LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t used to this but got introduced to it in a very Popovich way, reports Jeff McDonald at the Express-News.

LaMarcus Aldridge missed his first workout of training camp today with leg tightness. Or rather, the Spurs — being the Spurs — held him out for precautionary reasons.

“We sat him out,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He didn’t want to do it. I said, ‘Welcome to the Spurs. Go sit.’”

He might as well have added “get used to this.” Aldridge is going to get some rest this season. Not as many as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, but he’s going to get some nights off.

Remember, Aldridge is a guy who played through a torn ligament in his thumb last season because he thought the Blazers could make noise in the playoffs (and they might have had Wesley Matthews not gotten hurt). He’s not a guy used to being told to sit and rest.

It’s his “Welcome to the Spurs” moment.

Ben Gordon goes vegan for a stint, notices improved energy

Orlando Magic v Golden State Warriors
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Ben Gordon ate avocados any time of day for their healthy fat, and also fueled his workouts with oatmeal and different juices or nutrient-rich smoothies.

Gordon went the vegan route – no dairy or meat – for a stretch a few months back.

“With that diet you have to kind of be creative,” the new Golden State guard said. “At that time I had a chef so it was a little bit easier.”

Gordon is back to a more “normal” diet as the season gets underway and he looks to play a part on the defending NBA champions.

He is eating meat again to gain back some of the weight he lost as a vegan for about the final six weeks of the season last spring and several weeks of the offseason. He needed a bit more strength to handle the rigors of an NBA schedule, yet his energy increased on the diet and he felt “a lot lighter and faster.”

The 6-foot-2 Gordon got down to his high school weight of 185, but noticed he wasn’t quite as strong and built himself back up to his typical playing weight at around 200 pounds.

“I experimented with that this summer and throughout the end of last season,” he said. “As you get older you try to see different things that work for you. I’m not doing it right now but I kind of use it functionally depending how my body feels. But with all the running, protein is hard to come by sometimes when you’re doing the vegan thing. I just like to mix it up.”

The 32-year-old Gordon, a London native and the third overall pick by Chicago out of Connecticut in 2004, averaged 6.2 points last season with Orlando. He enters his 12th NBA season looking to give Golden State another reliable shooter coming off the bench – something the Warriors have wanted.

Gordon wanted to be part of a winning situation, and he got that all right.

“You always have to prove yourself,” he said. “With this team, they won a championship so for me it’s just trying to mesh with the guys and not try to do too much. The league is so much about being in the right situation, being with the right group of guys that mesh with your talents and skills. This team here, the style of play is just a lot of ball movement and unselfish play, and they’re not shy about shooting so I think that’s right up my alley. They don’t have a guy on the bench who shoots a high arc from the 3-point line.”

Sure, committing to be a role player might be considered a risk for a guy who has long been a starter, yet Gordon is confident he will find his place on the defending champions and, he hopes, help the Warriors make another special postseason run.

“He’s been around a long time but he’s still got gas in the tank,” coach Steve Kerr said prior to taking a leave of absence last week to fully recover from back surgery. “He’s a good shooter, good scorer. You don’t have to have a traditional point guard in that role because Shaun (Livingston) and Andre (Iguodala) off the bench handle the ball. So he would be a good fit.”

Gordon played all 82 games in four different seasons, including three times in his initial five years with Chicago and again for Detroit in 2010-11. Yet Gordon has played as many as 75 games just once since with Charlotte in 2012-13 and averaged only 14.1 minutes last season with the Magic.

Not that anybody’s counting.

“I think he’s going to use this year to get another long deal,” said swingman and Finals MVP Iguodala, who made his pitch to Gordon to join Golden State while in Las Vegas this summer.

With the Warriors’ up-tempo style, Gordon plans to be patient and knows shots will find him given the way Golden State moves the ball.

“The last few years for me have been tough, but I think I fit in well here,” he said. “I’m taking my chances here. I’m not shy about this opportunity. It’s a great one.”

Oh, and he can’t wait to engage in some regular shooting competitions with NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

“It’s great to be out there with another great shooter,” Gordon said. “Just to see the way he works, how hungry he is. Even though I’m a vet, a few years older, I’m still picking up things and learning as I’m going along.”