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Bench play from Kyle Lowry, Paul George, rest of bench crucial to USA gold in Rio

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It had happened before throughout the Rio Olympics — a team that was not of the USA’s class was hanging around early against the starters.

Sunday it was Serbia’s turn. The USA trailed 14-12 in as it was getting late in the first quarter and the USA offense was a sloppy, stagnant mess…

Then everything flipped — the USA went on a 40-15 run and pulled away to lead 52-29 at the half. The competitive portion of the game was over at that point; there were just 20 minutes of garbage time left.

What changed?

The USA bench came in.

As they had every step of the way to the USA’s gold medal, the bench changed the dynamic of the game when they entered. They came in and defended, got some gritty buckets, moved the ball on offense, attacked the rim, and opened up the floor. It was the way they played the game Sunday against Serbia opened up opportunities for Kevin Durant, who in turn responded by nailing threes and attacking the rim on his way to 30 points.

This was not an isolated incident. The USA’s gold came because of their defense, and often started with the bench.

Deserving the most credit was the combination of Kyle Lowry at the point and Paul George at the wing — they changed games. Plural. Lowry is a better, more tenacious on-ball defender than Kyrie Irving. Paul George can guard multiple positions and was the best individual defender on Team USA. Often Jimmy Butler, another good defender, would be part of that mix. DeMarcus Cousins grew into that role throughout the games. When they came in the USA was a tougher team who could grind out a win.

Look at it this way, against Argentina in the quarterfinals the lineup of Lowry, Butler, George, Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins was +20 in 12 minutes, the rest of the team was +7 for the remainder of the game.

The USA’s depth — a bench of NBA All-Stars and All-NBA players — was always crucial to their success. No other country could match it. But what Lowry, George, Butler and the rest of the bench brought more than skill was a feisty attitude and toughness. The USA could falter sometimes trying to be too pretty when what they needed to be was tough. The bench adopted the tough attitude.

It showed up against Spain in the semi-finals, when the USA didn’t win pretty but they won.

“We fought,” Carmelo Anthony said after winning the gold. “It wasn’t always pretty, but we came together July 17 and we all committed for this one reason, right now.”

Anthony with three golds deserves to be a storyline. Durant, with his ridiculous offensive explosion, deserves to be a story line. Mike Krzyzewski and his era as coach of USA Basketball deserves to be a story.

But the USA doesn’t have gold without Lowry, George and the rest of Team USA’s bench.

Phil Jackson to miss Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement Monday

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For one last night, Staples Center will belong to Kobe Bryant on Monday.

Sure, the Warriors are in town to take on the Lakers, but Monday night the Lakers are retiring Kobe Bryant’s numbers — both 8 and 24 — in a halftime ceremony. It’s been the hottest ticket in Los Angeles, with celebrities, luminaries, and regular Lakers fans shelling out a lot of cash to see the Laker legend be honored.

Except, Phil Jackson will not be there, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Jackson has been in touch with Bryant in advance of the ceremony to congratulate him, sources said. But he was unable to travel from his Montana home for the ceremony in Los Angeles.

No reason was given (nor does one need to be made public, that’s between Kobe and Jackson).

Jackson coached Kobe to all five of his NBA titles, and while their relationship had its ups and downs — remember Jackson called out Kobe as almost uncoachable in one of his books — they remain close.

 

Three Things to Know: LeBron James racks up third straight triple-double

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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. Here’s what you missed on Sunday while practicing your ax throwing in Paris

1) LeBron James has third straight triple-double… and sends equality message. Back in the 2008-09 season, LeBron James strung together three consecutive games of triple-doubles, the season he went on to win his first MVP award. Despite 61 career triple-doubles, he hasn’t had a string like that since.

Until now. LeBron put together three again this week, the most recent coming at the expense of the Washington Wizards on Sunday, a team that had no answer for his playmaking skills. James finished the game with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists. It wasn’t the most efficient LeBron scoring performance of his career (8-of-23 shooting overall, 2-of-7 from three, his legs looked a little tired on the back-to-back) and he was playing too much in isolation (nearly twice as many possessions as in pick-and-roll). However, down the stretch he was a fantastic playmaker, finding teammates — such as finding the cutting Jeff Green and Kyle Korver — and doing what it took to lift his team to the 106-99 win (Cleveland’s has won five straight and 18-of-19).

LeBron was also sending a message while playing in our nation’s capital: He wore one black and one white of the LeBron 15s, with the word “Equality” on the back of both of them. Good on LeBron, I love that he has found a voice and is comfortable using it.

2) Cavaliers sticking to plan even if he seems ready: Isaiah Thomas should join Cavaliers after the first of the year. Patience. It’s a virtue. Cleveland’s end game is to have another elite playmaker and scorer on the floor in late May and (hopefully) June, not for Christmas Day (no matter who is on the schedule).

Meaning that despite the face Isaiah Thomas is working out and says he and his injured hip feel ready to return, it will be 2018 before he officially pulls on a Cavaliers jersey and takes the court.

This is the smart play by the Cavaliers, who have racked up enough wins not to need to push him. That said, LeBron is carrying a heavy load — he’s played more minutes than anyone in the league so far, and this is his 15th NBA season — and the Cavaliers need to get him some help and rest so he is fresh for the postseason.

3) Detroit ties a franchise record with 17 made threes in win over Orlando. The Pistons are not exactly a great three-point shooting team: They average a middle-of-the-pack 29.3 attempts per game (31.6 percent of their attempts), but at least hit them at a healthy 38.3 percent clip. Detroit does a good job at least of getting corner threes up and knocking them down.

Sunday they were knocking everything down, hitting 17-of-34 threes to tie a franchise record for the most made threes in a game. Anthony Tolliver led the way (5-of-7 from deep) with Reggie Bullock pitching in 4-of-5.

The Pistons have snapped out of their seven-game losing streak to win three in a row now, including a quality win over the Pacers on the second night of a back-to-back.

Heat forward James Johnson expected to miss 7 to 10 days

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MIAMI (AP) The Miami Heat will be without starting forward James Johnson for at least two games and probably more after bursitis was found in his right ankle.

Johnson left Miami’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday with ankle pain, and an MRI performed Sunday led to the bursitis diagnosis. Johnson is not traveling with the team for its trip for games at Atlanta on Monday and Boston on Wednesday.

The team says Johnson could miss seven to 10 days, which would also mean his status for home games against Dallas on Dec. 22, New Orleans on Dec. 23 and Orlando on Dec. 26 is in some doubt.

Johnson is averaging 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Heat this season.

LeBron James wears one black, one white LeBron 15 shoes with “Equality” on back (VIDEO)

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LeBron James notched his third-straight triple-double on Sunday, this one coming against the Washington Wizards. But before the game, the story was all about how James was voicing a silent protest — in Washington D.C., no less — by wearing a special version of his shoes.

LeBron took to the floor wearing his LeBron 15s, but this player edition had the word “Equality” on the back of them. James wore one black shoe and one white shoe.

James wore the black versions of this shoe in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ opener to start the season.

Via Twitter:

LeBron finished the game with 20 points, 15 assists, and 12 rebounds. The Cavaliers beat the Wizards, 106-99.