Kurt Helin

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With Curry, Aldridge, Chris Paul, others out, who is in for Team USA this summer?


Injuries — and in some cases combined with concerns about Zika virus and malaria outbreaks in Brazil — are taking some of the biggest NBA names off the table for the 2016 Rio Olympics: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, John Wall, and today both Stephen Curry and LaMarcus Aldridge pulled their names from consideration.

So who is left?

Plenty. More than enough to field two teams that would win gold and silver in the Olympics. That’s how deep the USA’s talent pool is — and shows how powers like Spain and France have taken a step back.

Already on Monday, Kevin Durant has told Royce Young of ESPN that he plans to play in Rio. Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green of the Warriors have said they are still in for Rio if asked. Want a big man in the paint? DeMarcus Cousins still wants to play.

And LeBron James has said he would not decide until the Finals are over.

How about this 12-man roster of guys still available (and for fun we’ll leave LeBron off, but he would be a lock if he wants in):

Russell Westbrook
Kyrie Irving
Mike Conley
Klay Thompson
James Harden
Jimmy Butler
Kawhi Leonard
Paul George
Carmelo Anthony
Kevin Durant
Draymond Green
DeMarcus Cousins

Go ahead and tweak that if you want — Andre Drummond can be added as a center if you want to drop a forward, you can add shooting with Bradley Beal or Gordon Hayward, you can add defense with Andre Iguodala. This is just an off the top of my head list.

Guys need to make the best decisions for them and their families, and nobody should question them or their patriotism (don’t go comparing playing a sport and fighting overseas in the military, that is a silly comparison between entertainment and things that matter).

But Team USA will be just fine.

Stephen Curry makes it official: He will not play in Rio Olympics

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Injuries have taken their toll on Team USA’s point guard rotation for the Rio Olympics. Both Chris Paul and John Wall have pulled their names out of consideration so they can recover over the summer.

Add Stephen Curry to the list.

Days after saying he wanted to wait until after the NBA Finals to make a decision, the two-time MVP’s hand was forced when word leaked he was not going to play for USA Basketball this summer. Now he has made it official.

Injuries are certainly part of the picture. But concerns about Zika virus and malaria outbreaks in Brazil are factoring into decisions as well — strong family men like CP3 and Curry (and now also LaMarcus Aldridge), who would bring their families down to Brazil, are more hesitant. Spain’s Pau Gasol expressed the same concerns.

This likely means the USA backcourt will be led by Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving, still the two best guards in the entire Olympic tournament, with players such as Kevin Durant and Draymond Green expected to play as well. Team USA’s talent pool is so deep compared to the rest of the world that even these high-profile defections will not diminish the USA’s likelihood of another gold medal.

Tough road through Oklahoma City to Finals has Golden State playing on higher level


OAKLAND — There is no doubt Golden State is playing on a higher level than Cleveland through the first two games of the NBA Finals, having gone up 2-0 and winning by a combined 48 points.

There also is no doubt the Warriors faced a tougher path to the Finals — Oklahoma City challenged Golden State like no team had in two seasons. The Thunder led 3-1 in that series and pushed the Warriors to the brink, forcing Golden State to start executing at a much higher level just to have a chance. Cleveland rolled to a 12-2 record through a soft East, only dropping games when their focus went away for entire nights.

The Warriors are the sharper team because of it, and they are now carving up Cleveland.

“I think the Oklahoma City series definitely made us stronger,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It wasn’t a whole lot of fun, and we barely escaped. But I think we were able to sort of capitalize on the momentum that we built during that series, and by winning those three in a row, we’ve been able to carry it over to this series so far.”

The Thunder defense — with the length and size of Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams — forced Golden State to be more crisp on offense. And not just the stars, everyone had to play better. That has resulted in wins in the Finals led by Shaun Livingston and Draymond Green, not the Splash Brothers.

The Thunder’s athletic, attacking players also forced the Warriors to defend at a much higher level, something they carried over to this series. Kyrie Irving is just 12-of-36 shooting and 1-of-7 from three shooting through two games, with just five assists. LeBron James is facing a wall of switching defenders — and help defenders — and can’t knock down a jumper to make them pay.

“I think just last series really helped us with their isolation players, guarding [Russell] Westbrook and [Kevin] Durant,” Harrison Barnes said. “We had to have all five guys on the floor to get ready in a stance and play. I think coming into this series we were much more equipped for that.”

It’s also about knowing your opponents personnel.

“I mean, Kyrie and LeBron are two different players than Russell and K.D., but they all have, obviously, amazing strengths which have put them in the category they are,” Stephen Curry said. “So there’s no real comparison. It’s just you know what their strengths are and what our game plan is to attack them, and we’ve done a good job of just staying consistent with it in our game plan this series. That’s all you can ask for is try to make them take contested shots, tough shots, make them work to get open, and you live with the results.”

So far, the results are excellent. If the Warriors can continue this level of focus and execution in Cleveland, this feels like it will be a very short series.

Klay Thompson jokingly pokes fun at his father, says Warriors better than Showtime Lakers


OAKLAND — Draymond Green was not going to get sucked into this trap. Much as he had avoided Cavaliers defenders all night, he avoided trying to answer the question about whether these Warriors — closing in on back-to-back titles and with 73 wins during the season — are one of the all-time great teams.

“I don’t really look at are you the best team of all time, are we the best team of all time?” Green asked. “Because I think it’s all subjective. To say we’re better than the Showtime Lakers, how can you say that? We never played them.”

“We are better than the Showtime Lakers,” Klay Thompson interjected while smiling, cracking up the room.

Klay’s father Mychael Thompson was a member of those Showtime Lakers. It was a family joke.

Of course, Green is right. Who is the best team of all time is subjective, and an argument you and your buddies can have over a nice Stone Brewing IPA.

But after the Warriors close out these Finals, after the two-year run they have had, they have injected themselves into that conversation. Which is an amazing feat in and of itself.


LeBron James struggles to solve puzzle of Golden State


OAKLAND — Every time LeBron James would look down at the stat sheet in front of him, he would shake his head. It was involuntary.

LeBron and his Cavaliers had just been thrashed by the Golden State Warriors by 33, getting beat in every aspect of the game. The stat sheet was ugly — the 35.4 percent shooting by the entire Cavaliers team, the 17 turnovers (seven by him), the 33-point deficit in the score.

LeBron had seemed frustrated during the third quarter. He pounded the ball into the ground with his dribbles. He’s usually the guy figuring the other team out, exploiting weaknesses, and making them pay. Through two games he has been unable to find answers to anything the Warriors were doing. Golden State is quick to bring help defenders to him when he drives, trying to make LeBron a jump shooter and he is not that anymore — he was 6-of-8 in the restricted area in Game 2, 1-of-9 from everywhere else. Plus, LeBron is getting little help from the finally healthy Cavaliers — Richard Jefferson was Cleveland’s second-best player in Game 2.

After the game, LeBron the PR guy was at the podium saying all the right things, he just couldn’t help but shake his head when he looked down.

“I’m not disappointed in our guys or frustrated,” LeBron said. “We’ve just got to do a better job. We’ve got to be better at all facets of the game both offensively and defensively, both physically and mentally. They just beat us at every — we didn’t win anything. No points of the game did we beat them in anything. Even when we had an early lead, they beat us to 50-50 balls, they got extra possessions, they got extra tip-ins. They beat us pretty good tonight.”

They’ve beaten them pretty good for two games, winning by a combined 48 points. That is without Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson having a breakout game yet.

Part of the Warriors’ success has been keeping LeBron in relative check. The Warriors contested 11 of LeBron’s 17 shots, and he shot just 36.4 percent with a hand in his face. He shot 1-of-6 outside the paint.

“You just try to make everything tough,” Draymond Green said of defending LeBron. “Some of the shots LeBron missed, I mean, you’ve got to give a little credit to our defense. But some of them he missed, he just missed. It happens like that sometimes in the game of basketball. That’s why none of us is perfect. But I think we’ve got a good game plan that we’ve stuck to and that we have to continue to do throughout the rest of this series.”

“I’ve got to be better,” LeBron said, shouldering the blame, as he tends to do after losses. “I’ve got to be better with the ball. You know, trying to play make for myself and play make for my teammates at the same time, I’ve just got to be more solid.”

LeBron is struggling against the Warriors’ defense, but he also isn’t getting much help. Kyrie Irving is shooting 12-of-36 overall and 1-of-7 from three, with just five assists, through two games. Kevin Love has been a virtual non-factor and now may miss at least the next game due to a concussion.

It will lead to calls from some for LeBron to revert to his Finals form from last year and take over the offense. To run everything through himself as he did in last year’s Game 2 win by the Cavaliers (39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists). To be more selfish.

“Selfish is probably the wrong term,” LeBron said. “I got myself in a lot of trouble tonight personally. Turned the ball over way too much. And I said after Game 1 we just can’t turn the ball over against a great team and expect to win, and I had basically half of the turnovers.”

The problem is even when LeBron does take on more of the offense, the Cavaliers still lose to the Warriors. For reference, check out how last year’s Finals ended. Basketball remains a team game and the Warriors are the better team right now. The deeper team. The higher IQ team. The more locked in team. And they are focused on defending LeBron.

“We just tried to be as active as possible,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We have a lot of speed on our team and like-sized players who we can kind of help and recover and switch. And it’s a very difficult job because LeBron is so smart that he sees everything before it happens, and sometimes if you switch, he’ll read that and find somebody for a lay-up or he’ll attack at the exact right time to expose our defense. And I just thought our guys did as good a job as we possibly could in terms of trying to cover him in penetration and stay with shooters at the same time….

“We’re not comfortable playing against LeBron, to be honest with you…. And I would say we’re confident that we can beat anybody. But we’re definitely not comfortable playing against LeBron. He’s obviously one of the great players in the history of this game, and we’ve had success the first two games, but there’s a lot of basketball left.”

What can LeBron and Cleveland do differently? LeBron’s not completely sure of the answers. Which is part of what frustrates him.

“We’ve got to get back to the film and we all have to figure out ways we can help the team be successful….” LeBron said. “Internally we have to figure out how we can be better. We have to figure out how we can help one another. We definitely have to figure out how we can get more guys involved. Fifteen assists, it’s not winning basketball, especially versus this team. We’ve just got to figure it out.”

They need to figure it out fast or this series will be over.didn’t