Kurt Helin

USA finally faces stiff test Wednesday in form of Australia

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So far, through the exhibition run up and into the first two games of the Rio Olympics, Team USA has played just four teams: China three times, Venezuela twice, Nigeria and Argentina once. If you did a power ranking of the 12 Olympic teams, only Argentina might be in the top six. Maybe. There’s a reason the USA has thrashed these teams, beyond the USA’s vastly superior talent level.

All of which is to say the USA has not been tested yet. The Select Team — of USA rookies and rising stars — in Vegas was the best team they have faced.

That changes Wednesday in the form of Australia.

The Boomers have five NBA players — Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Aaron Baynes, and Joe Ingles — and four of them have championship rings. That has shown through the first two games of the Rio games, where Australia upset both France and Argentina.

Venezuela laid out the blueprint to beat the USA — slow the game down, don’t turn the ball over, get to the line, be as physical inside as the officials will allow. The problem for Venezuela is it lacked the talent to execute it.

Australia comes much closer.

They have an NBA-level backcourt — Mills had 26 points, while Dellavedova had 23 points and 13 assists in the win over Serbia. They are guys that can handle the defensive pressure of the USA better than maybe any other team in the games. Inside, they have good defenders and high IQ players with Bogut and Baynes. Ingles both can move the ball and hit threes.

Make no mistake, the USA should win this game. Handily. They are more talented at every position, and if they can get out run — taking advantage of their superior athleticism — there is nothing Australia can do.

But this is the first team that can give the USA a real test. The Americans knew it, speaking to the press before practice Tuesday (via the Associated Press):

“We know Australia is going to be a tough one for us, just based on how physical they are,” Carmelo Anthony said.

Beyond this one game, Australia seems destined for second place in the group, win or lose to the USA. The Boomers remaining two games after Wednesday are against China and Venezuela, which should be two comfortable wins. That should give them a good shot at getting in position for a medal.

But first they are going to take their shot at the world’s best and give them a real test. If the USA starts as slow and sloppy as they did against Venezuela, this game is going to get very interesting very fast.

Horace Grant gets great spot with Draymond Green in new Foot Locker ad (Michelle Williams, too)

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Foot Locker is making some of the best ads going, particularly with NBA players. Kyrie Irving just had a good one with Kids Foot Locker.

The latest one has Draymond Green, a fun spot with Horace Grant, and a funny cameo with Michelle Williams. If you just asked “who is Michelle Williams?” you really need to watch the ad.

Larry Bird on new-look Pacers: “I’d like to score 105 points a game or maybe 106”

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Last season the Pacers averaged 102.2 points per game, about the middle of the NBA pack. They played at a just above average pace.

Larry Bird wanted his team to play faster and score more — and he made moves this summer to make sure that happens. Gone is Frank Vogel; in is Nate McMillan (whose team’s in the past were not particularly fast, but it’s a change). In are Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, to go with Paul George, Monta Ellis, and the improving Myles Turner.

Bird was clear in laying out his goals for this team, speaking with Reggie Miller (who was filling in as host for the Dan Patrick Show while Patrick vacations on the beach works in Rio during the Olympics (via Pacers.com).

“We want a style where we can score,” Bird said. “I’d like to score 105 points a game or maybe 106, but still defend the way we have.

“Nate’s got over 900 games that he’s coached in the NBA and he’s got a style…I think he’s going to do an excellent job for us.”

There may be a few bumps early as they figure things out, but I have the Pacers as the fourth best team in the East, and one that could come together and get to the conference finals in the playoffs if things break the right way. With Turner’s growth, the Pacers should score more, Bird will get his wish. But they will go as far as their defense will take them.

Sam Perkins: Bobby Knight made Michael Jordan cry at 1984 Olympics

Associated Press
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Michael Jordan is going to deny this.

And if you think he hates the crying Jordan meme…

But Sam Perkins — a stretch big before stretch bigs were a thing — was in the room as a member of the 1984 USA gold medal team at the Los Angeles Olympics. Perkins and Jordan were teammates at North Carolina and on Team USA that summer, a team coached by Bobby Knight.

The USA ran into a tough test in the quarterfinals, with a Detlef Schrempf-led West German team keeping things close before the Americans pulled away a little for a 78-67 win. Perkins was on SiriusXM NBA Radio today with Tina Cervasio and Tim Legler, and he recounted this story from after that game.

“Bobby Knight, he got after us. One story real quick. He told Michael that’s the worst he ever played. Now, Michael’s going to deny this but he cried, he cried after the game because of the fact that Bobby Knight told him, ‘You should apologize to everybody in here.’ … Leon Wood was his boy at the time so Leon Wood went over there to pat him on his back and say, ‘It’ll be alright, it’ll be alright.’ But the thing about it, Bobby Knight was just trying to instill some, you know, even though we didn’t play that bad, it’s the fact that he just wanted us to wake up for the next game because anything could happen. But that’s the way Bobby Knight coached.”

That 1984 team may have been made up of college stars, but it was loaded with Dream Team level talent — Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin were on the team, but guys like Charles Barkley (Knight didn’t like his defense), Karl Malone and John Stockton were cut. However, we’re talking young college players, ones who could be pushed — bullied? — by the strong personality of Knight. Young players feeling the pressure of the USA on their chest.

But Jordan cried?

He’ll never admit it if he did.

Stephen Jackson says Butler, Rondo recruiting him to Bulls; also would fit well with Knicks

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Stephen Jackson wants back in the NBA. This season.

The question is where?

As you might imagine, the loquacious Jackson has some ideas on the matter, something he talked about in an interview with Hoopshype.com.

For example, there’s the Knicks.

“The Knicks are a great team too. Anytime you can play with a great player like Carmelo Anthony and a young, up-and-coming star like Kristaps Porzingis… Also they have Joakim Noah. They are going in the right direction. I want to be part of a team that wants to win. Guys that are trusting each other, guys that don’t mind playing hard. There’s a lot of guys in the NBA right now that are making money but they really don’t care if they win or lose as long as they are getting the paycheck and I’ve never been like that.”

Also, he says Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo want him on the Bulls.

“Well, actually not a lot of people know that Jimmy has been calling me. We’ve been talking for like three months now. Even [Rajon] Rondo has been calling me, they really want me on the Bulls team. I’ve been talking to a lot of guys, because guys know what I bring.”

The question is “bring” or “brought?” Jackson has a long and impressive NBA career that includes a title with the Spurs. However, the last time we saw him on an NBA court was two seasons ago when he played just nine games for the Clippers.

The other question: Do the Knicks and Bulls want to get older? With those rosters?

The Bulls do have a roster spot available if they are willing to cut someone like Spencer Dinwiddie, but they are over the cap and can only offer the minimum. The Knicks are in the same boat, they could make room for Jackson by cutting people like J.P. Tokoto, but all they can offer is a minimum deal.

Maybe one of these teams will give Jackson a make-good training camp contract, but it’s hard to imagine anything more after a couple of seasons away from the league.