USA vs. Mexico World Cup preview: USA has flaws but Mexico can’t exploit them

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As we enter the win-or-go-home, 16-team knockout stage of the FIBA world Cup starting Saturday, we need to be clear:

Team USA has serious flaws.

Ones that could keep it from the gold medal. Don’t let the 5-0 record with a 33.4 average margin of victory in group play fool you, that’s more about the weak competition, there are holes in Team USA. Their perimeter defenders get lost in the half court if you run their man off multiple screens, leading to wide open looks often close to the rim. The USA’s half-court offense is stagnant and often just a high-pick-and-roll with everyone else standing around. The USA’s ball movement has not been great at all. It hasn’t mattered so far because the USA’s athleticism just overwhelmed the lower-level opponents they have seen, turning the games into transition track meets and dunking exhibitions.

However those flaws could cost the USA in the knockout rounds…

Just not Saturday.

Mexico is first up for Team USA in the round of 16 (10 am ET Saturday, ESPN 2) and they do not have the tools to pick apart the USA’s flaws. If this were soccer I would be pumped for a good match, but on the basketball court is going to look like every other American game so far. A rout.

(Maybe no team can exploit the American’s flaws until the Gold Medal game Sept. 14 — so far Spain has looked like the best team in the tournament. Better than the USA.)

Mexico is led by Gustavo Ayon, the free agent NBA big man who played last season with the Hawks. He is averaging a team high 15.8 points a game on 62.5 percent shooting, plus has a team best 7.5 rebounds a game. He can make a few plays. Forward Hector Hernandez pitches in 11 points a game and is hitting 44 percent from three serving as a stretch four.

Neither of them is a match for USA big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, who have been the best American players — Davis averages a team-high 15.8 points a game on 62 percent shooting, while Faried averages 13.8 points a game on 79 percent shooting, plus is grabbing 7.8 rebounds a night.

At the guard spot Mexico is led by Francisco Cruz, who averages 13.4 points and 3 assists a game, along with the Nets’ Jorge Gutierrez (9.6 points a game).

Both of them will be overwhelmed by the pressure of the USA. The Americans are once again just wildly more athletic than their Mexican opponents. Like every other USA game it could be tight for a stretch (the USA does the slow starts thing) but will eventually go on a run that will stretch the lead out to about 20, and then they will coast in.

For the USA, the guards to watch are Kyrie Irving, who will play after a nasty fall on his hip in the last game. He went through the full USA practice Friday and will start Saturday. Irving says he is good to go but we’ll keep an eye on him. That could mean more minutes for Derrick Rose, who has played in five games in six days for Team USA but still looks rusty with his shot (25 percent so far). There are flashes of the explosion we remember, but he’s just not finishing consistently like he did a couple of years ago. Which is to be expected at this point but can be a concern down the line.

Making it to the knockout round is a great result for Mexico basketball — you can argue they were the best team with a losing record in the tournament — and this is the first time the USA has played Mexico in the Olympics or World Cup since 1967. That is a nice bit of history.

But the game isn’t going to tell us if the USA has started to fix its flaws and bad habits. This will be another American blowout win.

Next week team USA starts to get real tests.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.

Report: Knicks to interview Kenny Smith for head-coaching job

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The Knicks are casting a wide net in their coaching search.

It’ll apparently include a familiar, though surprising, name.

ESPN:

TNT analyst Kenny Smith will interview for the New York Knicks’ head-coaching job on Friday, a source told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.

A quality organization, the Rockets, interviewed Smith (in 2016, before hiring Mike D’Antoni). So, this isn’t proof of the Knicks’ oddball thinking. (There are plenty of better examples, if you wish).

Steve Kerr opened the door for former players to go straight from TV to being an NBA head coach without having any coaching experience. He’s been a smash hit with the Warriors.

But Kerr was also the Suns’ general manager before Golden State hired him. Smith has no front-office experience.

So, it’s tough to judge Smith, whose role on television is more to entertain than inform (though he does both). He’ll have to really wow in his interview to get the job.

But at least he has that opportunity.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan slips and falls while arguing call (video)

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Nate McMillan slipped up in his handling of Victor Oladipo‘s early fouls during the Pacers’ Game 2 loss to the Cavaliers last night.

Then, the Indiana coach literally slipped while arguing that LeBron James should have been called for offensively fouling Lance Stephenson.