Kurt Helin

Will USA show improvement in first Olympic elimination game vs. Argentina?

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The biggest concern for Team USA in Rio is not the tight 10-point win against Australia, where the Americans struggled to defend good guard play, were pushed around, and where the offense was stagnant. A wake-up call game can happen for a team.

No, the real concern is that they showed no improvement in those areas against Serbia, a three-point USA win. Then against France the offense looked a little better, but the defense was still a mess.

The Americans are not getting better as the Olympics have moved along.

Now the Olympics move into an eight-team tournament where it’s win or go home. Will the USA show that improvement against Argentina in their quarterfinal game (5:45 Eastern on NBC SportsNetwork)? They need to start soon.

The USA likely can beat Argentina without much improvement, but if they don’t start to show it now it’s hard to imagine them flipping the switch when they take on Spain or France in the semifinals Friday.

The USA overwhelmed Argentina in an exhibition in Las Vegas last month, beating them 111-74. However the Argentinians have improved since then — their conditioning is better, and they have found the cohesion and unity of play the Americans are still searching for. Wednesday’s game is going to be closer than the one a month ago.

Argentina is playing for the final time with the core of its “Golden Generation” — Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino, and Andres Nocioni. That group won gold in 2004. Argentina has been getting good play from the guys around that core, particularly Facundo Campazzo who has averaged 16.4 points per game and is a real threat from three.

Argentina has the guard play to bother the USA, and their veteran bigs still know how to score the basketball. However, they lack the depth or size to likely win the game, or really threaten the USA late (probably). Expect a big game out of Kevin Durant (16.8 points per game) and Carmelo Anthony (15.2).

However, the two medal-round games after this the USA will see teams that can threaten them — they need to show more focus and cohesion on defense starting Wednesday. The book on how to beat the USA is out there — primarily draw the American bigs into high pick-and-roll actions where the communication has faltered, and have shooters in the corners make backdoor cuts to the basket when American off-ball defenders get caught ball watching. Will the USA show improvement?

If not, this game Wednesday could serve as a warning for what would come Friday against a more talented European squad.

Not that the USA should need another wake-up call at this point.



Report: Lakers in “advanced discussions” to bring Yi Jianlian back to NBA


If you watched Team USA destroy China this summer — both in two exhibition games, then in the Rio Olympics — you saw former NBA player Yi Jianlian put up a few buckets. The one-time Buck/Net/Wizard/Maverick big man has averaged 20.4 points on 16.4 shots per game during the Rio Olympics. He got to the line 6.2 times per game. He was the best player on one of the worst teams in the tournament.

One of those USA/China exhibitions was in Los Angeles at Staples Center, where the Lakers brass got a first-hand look at Jianlian. Apparently they like what they saw, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.

Jianlian was last in the NBA in 2012, when at age 24 he was a below-average NBA big man. He relied far too heavily on the long two (his last season in the NBA, in Dallas, 56 percent of his shots were 16 feet out to the arc) and never developed consistent three-point range. He was a decent rebounder but turned the ball over a little too much. He’s not a great rim protector.

The Lakers have only 13 guaranteed deals for next season — and they probably will waive and stretch Nick Young — so they will have the roster space.

Jianlian is a 7’0″ power forward, a spot the Lakers likely will rotate a number of good young players through — Julius Randle is the incumbent, with both Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance also able to play there. Jianlian could fight for minutes in that spot.

It’s hard to picture him as part of the future in Los Angeles, but he may be part of the short term.

Report: Paul Pierce coming back to Clippers for one more season. Probably.


It’s not the money. For a guy that has made $193.5 million over the course of his career, another $3.5 million isn’t going to motivate him.

It’s not minutes or points: The future Hall of Famer averaged a career-low 18.1 minutes and 6.1 points per game last season.

But something is motivating him, because after a summer away from the game Paul Pierce is going to come back to the Clippers. Probably. So reports Dan Woike of Los Angeles Daily News.

Pierce, an 18-season veteran in the NBA, is planning to return to the Los Angeles Clippers for his 19th season in the league according to multiple league sources.

Pierce has wavered with his decision for most of the summer, and another change in plans wouldn’t be shocking.

Pierce has a guaranteed contract for this season, so the ball was in his court: Does it want to come back at age 39 (by the time the season starts). Apparently, he’s leaning yes.

But there is not a lot of run for him. He is best now as a small ball four, and the Clippers start Blake Griffin at that slot and give him a lot of minutes. And there’s a lot of competition.

If Pierce is going to contribute as a small-ball power forward, he’ll be competing for minutes with traditional options like Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, and first-round pick Brice Johnson.

Bearded Kobe Bryant says Lakers will be fine, Team USA will be fine, he’s not coming back


Kobe Bryant has a beard.

That shouldn’t be the main takeaway from his swinging by Time Warner Sportsnet (the Lakers cable station in Los Angeles) where the Mamba spoke with reporter Mike Bresnahan, but it’s the first thing you notice. Kobe gave his opinion on everything.

• No, he’s not coming back. He didn’t leave the door open. I get it, from a distance Kobe is the most competitive guy of his generation, and those kinds of people have a hard time walking away, but if you were around Kobe the past season (remember I’m in Los Angeles) it was clear he meant it. He is done. He doesn’t want to go through everything it takes to get his body ready to compete at a high level again. He’s not changing his mind. He said that again.

• He says the young Lakers will be fine. He said the Lakers just need time playing together, that Luke Walton will teach them to “play the right way” and avoid isolation ball. Yes, that does seem ironic, but Kobe always knew isolation ball was not the path to a ring. It’s just, when he looked at his choices between shooting over a triple team or passing to Smush Parker, he fired away.

Kobe had particular praise for Brandon Ingram.

“He has great tempo, great pace. I like his length, his ball handling ability is very good… I think defensively he has the potential to be fantastic as well.”

• Kobe says Team USA will be fine. In one breath he says basketball is a global game now and it will not be easy, in the next the two-time gold medalist says that the Americans will be fine. Maybe, but they need less of the isolation ball Kobe talked about above.

Finally healthy Jrue Holiday helping organize Pelicans team workouts in Los Angeles

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‘Tis the season when players join with teammates in voluntary workouts, trying to develop some chemistry and get in shape before training camp starts. For example, the LeBron James is organizing those kinds of workouts for the Cavaliers next month.

Jrue Holiday is doing the same for the Pelicans right now (along with Anthony Davis and Quincy Pondexter). The good news, Holiday told the Pelicans’ official Web site, is that he is finally healthy and not restricted entering the season.

“There has been a major difference,” he said. “I haven’t had to key in on one injury. I haven’t had a major injury, so that I had to take most of my time and worry about that. This summer has been more like the summers before I was injured or had the stress reaction (in his right leg), where I can (now) do a lot of explosive things (athletically). It’s been great, feeling like I can do things with no restrictions, but at the same time being smart with the stuff I’m doing.”

Holiday averaged 16.8 points per game last season and had a PER of 19.3 — he was efficient and when the core was healthy he helped the Pelicans look dangerous. New Orleans just wasn’t healthy much. Holiday needs to stay healthy this season because while Norris Cole and Langston Galloway are behind as potential backups they don’t have anyone of the quality of a healthy Holiday.