Kurt Helin

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Report: NBA’s Christmas Day schedule highlighted by Warriors vs. Cavaliers Finals rematch


Christmas Day is the NBA’s biggest regular-season showcase β€” the league has the sports calendar largely to itself, and the league breaks out its brightest stars and best teams. So you had to know this was coming:

Golden State and Cleveland will face off in the prime time spot Christmas Day.

That according to Mark Stein of ESPN.

Sources say the centerpiece of the league’s annual Christmas Day schedule, meanwhile, is a rematch of the NBA Finals and a repeat of the Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers showdown from last Christmas.

But this Dec. 25 meeting, sources say, is scheduled to happen in Cleveland, allowing the reigning champion Cavaliers to spend the holiday at home. Last Christmas, Golden State was the home team as defending champion.

These are the two biggest draws in the NBA β€” they have faced off in the last two Finals with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and now Kevin Durant. The difference now is a lot of fans will be rooting against Durant and the Warriors, no matter what Steve Kerr thinks.

This was the obvious call, what will be interesting is to see what other teams will be playing on Christmas. I would expect the Spurs, Clippers, maybe the Raptors, but after that the league can go in a lot of different directions.

Also, Durant will head back to Oklahoma City Feb. 11.

Argentina beats Nigeria 94-66 in Olympic men’s basketball

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Manu Ginobili got his fourth Olympics started with 12 points and an easy victory, as Argentina beat Nigeria 94-66 on Sunday in the final Olympic men’s basketball game of the night.

Facundo Campazzo led Argentina with 19 points, while flag bearer Luis Scola had 18 for the 2004 gold medalists. Patricio Garino finished with 15 in front of a crowd filled with flag-waving Argentina fans who sang and chanted for much of the night.

After tight finishes in the first two games of the day, this one wasn’t close in the second half thanks to a balanced scoring effort by Argentina, which put five players in double figures. Andres Nocioni chipped in 10 points.

Ike Diogu scored 15 for Nigeria, the African champion.

On guard: US team locking down on defense for Rio gold

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) β€” “Go get him!”

Tom Thibodeau’s booming, baritone voice knifed through the air inside sold out Carioca Arena on Saturday as the U.S. team dropped back to play defense early in its Olympic tournament opener against China.

“Stay home!” he barked. “Back, back!” “Get up!” “By yourself!”

Thibodeau didn’t stop, and his commands could even be heard by fans sitting in top rows of the upper deck.

From the opening tip to the final horn in the 119-62 blowout, Thibodeau, a hard-driving, hoops lifer who prides himself on teaching the old-school way, screamed instructions at the American players. They have quickly learned that their Team USA assistant coach – and the new head man with the Minnesota Timberwolves – is demanding when it comes to defense.

“I’m used to Thibs, man,” U.S. center DeMarcus Cousins said with a laugh. “That’s Thibs in walkthrough, so we’re used to it.”

And the rest of the world better get used to this U.S. team playing lock-down defense. Armed with unmatched offensive firepower, the Americans, seeking their third straight gold medal, are creating an identity with their backs to the basket.

“We get after it on that side of the ball,” said forward Draymond Green.

They got after China from the outset. Warriors forward Klay Thompson, one of the game’s elite perimeter defenders, made a steal on China’s first possession and the U.S. finished with 15 steals, forced 24 turnovers and held China to 30 percent shooting.

With another roster of NBA stars, there is a continuous red-white-and-blue wave of players flooding in from coach Mike Krzyzewski’s bench. When the U.S. starters needed a break against China, Krzyzewski sent in a fresh group and Thibodeau made sure they knew what they were doing defensively from the moment they stepped on the floor.

From his seat next to Coach K’s, Thibodeau pointed like a traffic cop at a busy intersection, and of course, made certain his demands were heard.

“Thibs is going to lose his voice by the time this is over with,” four-time Olympian Carmelo Anthony said. “I think everybody in the world can hear Thibs on the sideline. It’s motivation for us, to know that we have somebody on the sideline that’s in tune to it. He’s pushing us and he’s keeping us uplifted.”

The U.S. plays its next game on Monday against Venezuela, a team it beat by 35 last week despite a poor shooting performance.

Thibodeau, fired in May by the Chicago Bulls after five solid seasons, is relishing his role as the U.S. squad’s minister of defense. This is what he lives for, and the chance to mesh a group this talented to play team defense is as good as it gets.

And it’s already apparent that Thibodeau’s message has gotten across as the U.S. players, some of whom are not exactly known for their defensive skills, are being more vocal on the floor. During the win over China, the Americans were calling out screens, switching and looking to help each other whenever possible. They’ve clearly bought in.

During the first quarter against China, Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving poked the ball away before diving headfirst on the floor trying to come up with the steal. As he laid face down, Thibodeau clapped in approval.

Floor burns are a badge of honor to Thibodeau, who feels the U.S. team is embracing his principles.

“The strength is our versatility,” he said. “We have 12 guys who play hard and play for each other and they are committed to doing that. It started the first day and there’s no let up so when we go to our bench there’s is no drop off. Every one of these guys is a great player and is s starter, so when we sub that pressure is going to remain and we’re going to keep coming for 40 minutes.”

Kevin Durant, who along with Anthony is the only returning player from the 2012 London team, said he and his teammates know that when the shots aren’t falling, they can always fall back on their defense.

“Defensively, we’re pretty good,” he said. “When we put Draymond out there and just start switching everything, that makes us even better and then we got two guys that are different rim protectors in Marcus, who takes charges and covers the paint, and DJ (DeAndre Jordan) who blocks shots at the rim. We just got every area covered. And we got long defenders on the wing and great point guards that use their hands, so we got to continue to lean on that.”

Thibodeau will make sure of it.

Croatia upsets Spain 72-70 as Dario Saric blocks Pau Gasol’s last shot

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) β€” Dario Saric blocked Pau Gasol‘s shot just before time expired, preserving Croatia’s 72-70 upset of Spain in an Olympic men’s basketball Sunday night.

Croatia scored seven straight points to take the lead down the stretch, then held on when Saric, who was still limping a bit after banging his leg on a pick shortly before the play, rose high to block Gasol’s shot under the basket.

Bojan Bogdanovic of the Brooklyn Nets scored 23 points for the Croatians, who got the tiebreaking basket from Krunoslav Simon with about 1 1/2 minutes left. Saric, the former lottery pick bound for the Philadelphia 76ers, have five points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Gasol had 26 points for Spain, the silver medalists in the last two Olympics, while Nikola Mirotic added 19.

Kyle Lowry’s ode of appreciation for DeMar DeRozan

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As part of the recent players’ union awards, Kyle Lowry was voted best teammate on the Raptors.

Now you can see why. He is in Rio with fellow Raptor DeMar DeRozan and posted this on Instagram.

This is a real friendship , this is a real bother, this is us forreal!!! Words can only explain so much to what this dude means to me so it's not going even matter what i say because words can't explain how important our friendship is to me. Thank you for being you at all time no matter what from DAY1( even though you ain't pass me the ball back when I 1st got to the teamπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚jk) but we've grown as men, fathers , sons, and everything else in the last 4 years and most importantly we've done it TOGETHER!! I could go on and on but I ain't because you soft and might cry when you read it so imma stop now πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚. I love you bro that's real talk, no matter what happens ever in life we still gone be brothers!! Happy life day !!!! #youknowyoustillmylilbro #dinneronmebecasueitsyourbirthday #1-3equals4broπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ #SIKE#ineedthemostexpensivemeal #hadtocropoutcuzbigassheadlol #youstilldontpassmetheballenoughlol #brothers#lovebro#COMP10 #donewiththismushystufflol

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That friendship is only going to get stronger with the bond of a gold medal as members of Team USA.