USA v Ukraine

Uninterested USA still beats Ukraine, now on to knockout round against Mexico

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Thursday’s game against the Ukraine literally didn’t mean a thing to the USA, they had already secured the top seed in Group C, their spot in the 16-team knockout round already was locked. This was basically another exhibition game for the Americans.

And it showed.

Once again Team USA came out slow, acting exactly like it was their third game in three days. Which it was. Combine that with a vintage Mike Fratello strategy (the former NBA head man coaches the Ukrainians) of bottling up the paint, slowing the game down and just making it ugly and you got the USA in a little trouble early. The Ukrainians were driving the lane, the Americans were not moving the ball and Team USA trailed 19-14 after one quarter.

Then things returned to normal. With the middle bottled up the USA guards started to knock down shots — James Harden led the way with 17, Stephen Curry had 14 including three three-pointers. Eventually the onslaught came (a 17-5 run to end the first half) and the USA eventually pulled away.

The final score was 95-71 USA.

The USA got a scare at the end of the game, when Kyrie Irving fell on his hip after going up for a shot with less than two minutes to go in the game. There was no twisting of a body part, but it was a hard landing. He limped back straight to the locker room. We are awaiting an update.

Next up for the USA is Mexico to start the round of 16, Saturday at 10 am ET (on ESPN 2). Mexico boasts a couple NBA players — Jorge Gutierrez, Gustavo Ayon — their level of talent is on the lower end of the teams the USA has faced so far. This should be another blowout win for the Americans.

When it gets down to the final 8 teams, things could get a little more challenging for the USA. (But really Spain in the gold medal game should be the only game Team USA could lose.)

If you’re looking for bright spots, the USA was out and running in the second half again and had six players in double digits — Harden and Curry we mentioned, plus Anthony Davis had a dozen and ran the floor well, Irving and DeMarcus Cousins each had 11, and Kenneth Faried had 10 points and 8 rebounds.

Derrick Rose moved well and made some nice plays (four assists) in his third game in three days. He seemed as fresh as the rest of the team. That said he still has not found his shot, going 2-of-9 for four points.

We could pick apart how the Ukrainians had success getting the ball inside early and scoring that way, plus keeping the Americans out of transition for stretches. But really it’s hard to judge a USA team just coasting to wins against opponents it can overwhelm. Maybe a team like Lithuania could give the Americans trouble by exploiting the lack of defensive focus and offensive ball movement. Maybe.

But really, as we head to the knockout round, all signs point to USA vs. Spain in the gold medal game in Madrid — and that one the Americans legitimately could lose. We’ll see how Team USA tightens up in the knockout round starting Saturday in Barcelona.

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.