Kurt Helin

USA to face Argentina Wednesday in Olympic quarterfinals

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Now things get serious — lose and you go home.

The eight-team knockout tournament of men’s basketball at the Rio Olympics tips off Wednesday. After a day of games in Group B, we learned who the undefeated Americans take on first:

Manu Ginobili and Argentina (at 5:45 Eastern).

This is Argentina’s golden generation of players making one last run at a medal (the core won the gold in 2004).

Win that one and in the semifinals the USA will face the winner of France vs. Spain — the two most talented teams in Rio on paper (outside the USA), but teams who have not played consistently through the group stage. The USA beat France by 3 just a day ago.

A win there would advance the USA to the gold medal game against whatever team comes out of the other side of the bracket. Those games are Croatia vs. Serbia, and Australia vs. Lithuania. This is a balanced foursome where any of those teams might advance.

The USA has been good enough to be undefeated, but they have not been dominant, and they need to get in a better groove defensively against Argentina if they are going to claim gold.

The USA crushed Argentina 111-74 in an exhibition game in Las Vegas back in July, however, expect Wednesday’s game to be closer. This Argentinian team — with Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, Carlos Delfino, Ginobili and some talented international players — has gotten in much better shape and is playing much more as a team than they did the last time the USA met them. Argentina has the solid guard play (not panicking under pressure) and ball movement that has given the American defense fits in recent games.

That said, this is a game the USA should win, one that could help them find a rhythm before they face stiffer competition in the next couple rounds.

Spain beats Argentina 92-73 in men’s basketball to advance to knockout stage

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) The Spanish men’s basketball avoided elimination with a 92-73 win against Argentina on Monday, climbing out of a 0-2 hole to start the Olympics and advance to the quarterfinal round of the Rio Games.

The two-time defending silver medalists (3-2) are the No. 2 seed in Group B and faces Group A No. 3 France (3-2). With Spain’s win, Brazil was eliminated.

Spain fell behind 8-0 to start the game, but regrouped to take a 22-11 first-quarter lead that it never gave up. Rudy Fernandez score 10 straight during the 22-3 scoring run and finished with 23 points.

The Argentines (3-2) seemed to play with a sense of urgency only in spurts and never got within 10 points in the second half.

Argentina already had a quarterfinal berth in hand. Nicolas Laprovittola paced Argentina with 21.

Rumor: J.R. Smith tries to wait Cavaliers out of more money, not looking elsewhere

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J.R. Smith wants to get PAID. The Cavaliers are willing to pay him, but not quite in the all caps kind of way. Smith reportedly wants $15 million a year; the Cavaliers are thinking more like $10 million — either way that could buy a lot of shirts. Years could also be an issue in the talks, as the Cavaliers will be tax payers again this season (once Smith signs) and that means they are up for the repeater tax next season, so the front office likely wants flexibility.

But Smith is not trying to leverage the Cavaliers by flirting with other teams, according to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders.

I’m not even sure where the leverage would come from. While Smith has developed into a solid catch-and-shoot option for the Cavaliers, the teams out there with the cap space to pay him at least the Cavaliers are offering are either teams that would have no interest in him, or where he would have no interest in them. Here are the teams that still have $10 million in cap space, according to Basketball Insiders:

Brooklyn
Denver
Minnesota
Philadelphia
Phoenix
Utah

Everyone is going to sit around, and somewhere close to camp Smith will sign a deal and we can move on.

Russell Westbrook is betting favorite for MVP

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Following traditional voting patterns, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook to be voted the NBA’s MVP. The award (voted on by selected media members) is almost exclusively reserved for players on teams that win 55 or more games and finish in the top three in their conference, two things unlikely to happen for the Thunder this season.

But maybe this will be an untraditional year. It is not difficult for anyone to imagine Westbrook putting up monster numbers for the Thunder now that Kevin Durant is in the Bay Area. Will that be enough?

That’s what betters seem to think, something reflected in the latest MVP odds posted by Bovada.

1) Russell Westbrook 2/1
2) Stephen Curry 4/1
3) LeBron James 5/1
4) Kevin Durant 12/1
5) Anthony Davis 16/1
5) James Harden 16/1
5) Kawhi Leonard 16/1
8) Paul George 22/1
8) Blake Griffin 22/1
10) Damien Lillard 28/1
11) Giannis Antetokounmpo 33/1
11) Carmelo Anthony 33/1
11) DeMarcus Cousins 33/1
11) Kyrie Irving 33/1
11) Chris Paul 33/1

This year’s race is a challenge to handicap. If I were betting I’d put my money on LeBron, but he has dialed it back a little in recent regular seasons, not putting up the raw numbers and saving something for the playoffs. Curry and Durant will be fantastic, but both will make sacrifices for the team and may not have the numbers some voters want. Will the teams of Davis and Harden win enough games? Kawhi Leonard is an interesting bet, but will he have the numbers? Could Paul George pull it off thanks to an improved Pacers team?

It’s going to be an interesting season.

Nick Young on D’Angelo Russell: “We’ll be able to work it out”

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It was the most TMZ-friendly story in the NBA last season: Lakers’ rookie D'Angelo Russell posted a video of Nick Young talking about how he got women and cheated on his fiancee Iggy Azalea. It was one of the dominoes that led to the end of the relationship between the rapper and NBA journeyman. Meanwhile, it led to a lot of tension in the Laker locker room, led to veterans denouncing the rookie, and it was a humbling and maturing moment for Russell (whose ego had been an issue with former coach Byron Scott).

There’s long been a sense the Lakers would not keep Young and Russell both on the roster this coming season — if they couldn’t move Young as part of a trade, they would waive him and stretch the contract. That could still happen.

But Young says he is ready to move on, and that he and Russell coexist in the same locker room just fine. Young spoke to Mark Medina of the Daily News about it outside the Drew League recently (where Young has played well).

“We’re teammates,” Young told the Southern California News Group. “It’s been so long, so it’s kind of old. We’ll be able to work it out. We’ve already been working it out. It is what it is. I can’t be mad forever.”

Young has two years and $11 million left on his contract. Young and old-school coach Scott clashed, but Young also said he is excited to play in a more up-tempo style for new coach Luke Walton. That said, Young shot 33.9 percent overall last season and 32.5 percent from three, poor numbers even for a guy never known as an efficient scorer. Young had a PER of 9.1. Maybe he can improve those numbers, but the question is will the Lakers give him a chance?