Kurt Helin

Start your day with 10 best transition dunks of last NBA season

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It’s an off day for men’s hoops in Rio — which means you should be watching our dominant, amazing women’s team. If you want to still believe in American hoops exceptionalism, the women are your ticket, and they are in the quarterfinals Tuesday.

But the slower news day gives us the chance to take a quick look back, via the fine folks at NBA.com, at the 10 best fast break dunks of last NBA season.

Yes, there are great ones from Zach LaVine, LeBron James, and Aaron Gordon, but for my money I’ll take Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s throwdowns.

 

It may not be via blowouts, but USA still team to beat in hunt for Rio gold

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Team USA is undefeated at 5-0. The Americans have outscored their opponents by an average of 23.4 points a game. As a team the USA is shooting nearly 50 percent in Rio and hitting 39.3 percent from three — both of those numbers considerably better than their opponents. Through five games they have gotten to the free throw line 65 more times and hit 50 more free throws than their opponents. The USA is outrebounding their opponents by 7.2 per game. They have turned the ball over 34 fewer times than the opposition.

Yet, all the talk around the USA men’s basketball team is about what’s wrong, about how vulnerable they are.

The USA has not dominated the completion as we have come to expect. It has been a blow to American exceptionalism in hoops. Their last two wins, over France and Serbia, were three point games, Australia pushed them but eventually fell to the USA by 10.

It’s time to adjust expectations about this USA squad. For one, the idea that they are playing terribly is wrong — they are playing better than any other team in this tournament.

For another, that the USA needs to win every game via blowout.

That’s not happening with this team. But they remain the favorite to win the gold.

It hasn’t been easy. Look what Paul George told Michael Lee of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“I think to start out, personally, I thought we were going to dominate and these games were going to be easy,” said Paul George. “We started playing better competition, I think you see, across the board, these teams are pretty good. The luxury they have is they’ve been together for so long. You really can’t stress that enough. You see it. They just read each other so well. I think that’s the biggest thing that really separates us from them.”

No doubt this USA team has not coalesced the way past American squads have. Part of that comes from the roster itself — remember that the combination of injuries and guys choosing not to come to Brazil for the games robbed Team USA of many Olympic regulars. These are guys who were talented and have a chemistry together: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and the list goes on. Team USA players this year said from the start that their biggest challenge would be coming together as a team.

Offensively, we have seen a team that spends more time than they should in isolation rather than running plays and moving off the ball. The offense is stagnant and can be defended.

The bigger challenge is defensively, where the USA does not communicate well leading to botched pick-and-roll coverages. Beyond that, guys are ball watching and getting destroyed on back-door cuts or just off-the-ball movement in general. There is a lack of focus.

Teams that have coalesced have made things close.

But the USA has still won.

They still have Kevin Durant averaging 16.8 points a game on 60 percent shooting in Rio. Carmelo Anthony is averaging 15.2. Kyrie Irving is averaging 12.6 points and 6 assists per game.

No doubt the Americans will need to play better starting Wednesday when they face Argentina in the first game of the eight-team win-or-go-home tournament that will determine the medals in Rio. While the Americans destroyed Argentina 111-74 in an exhibition, this is a much better version of this Argentinian team as they have played their way into better shape, and gotten back in their old groove as a team that has played together for years. This game will be closer than the last.

But the Americans are still fairly heavy favorites.

Same vs. France or Spain, the next game. Or in the gold medal game after that.

It’s not going to be pretty. After blowout wins (both in the exhibition season at in the first two games in Rio) against weak Chinese and Venezuelan teams we mistakenly started comparing this USA squad to the dominant versions that came before it. Teams that won by an average of 30 or 40 points a game and were barely tested.

This team is not those teams.

But this team may well come home with the gold. And in the end, that has always been the primary goal.

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.