Preview USA vs. Lithuanians: Now we see how far the youngsters have come

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Thumbnail image for andre_iguodala_team_usa.pngBack in August, the USA got together to take on Lithuania in a “friendly” — and the young Americans got punched in the mouth for a half. Don’t believe me, this is what Coach K told John Schuhmann of NBA.com.

“They were playing the international game and we were still playing a U.S. game that night,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said Friday. “And they knocked us back. We did enough to win the exhibition, but we’re going to have to play a lot better than that to win on Saturday.”

They have to because Lithuania is playing better, more confident than they did in that meeting. That and this the World Championship semi-finals, one-and-done. Lithuania is 7-0 so far and have knocked off Argentina and Spain in this tournament. Lithuania is capable of shooting lights out for long stretches (59 percent in the first half against Argentina when they took the game by the throat early).

This is a measuring stick game for the USA — they are better, more talented than Lithuania, but if the Americans have not progressed as a team since the last meeting it will not matter.

Here’s what you really need to know about Lithuania — they will fight. Not in the Greece/Serbia sense, in the way every coach in every sport in every country wants their team to fight and scrap. They are the definition of gutty and physical. They were down double digits to Spain, France, China and Canada and came back to win every game. The USA cannot take their foot off the gas in this one.

Lithuania spreads the floor on offense and will run a lot of pick-and-rolls, a classic European offense in that there always movement off the ball, plenty of cutting to the basket. Pretty much everyone on the Lithuanian roster will drive the lane, save Simas Jasaitis who just stands out there and knocks down threes. They like to run, although how much they push the pace against a more athletic USA team remains to be seen.

We already told you all about Linas Kleiza, who is leading the team in scoring at 19 a game. He brings a more complete and more confident game to this game than NBA fans will remember from his days in Denver. The USA will likely counter him with Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, but Kleiza’s physicality will be a challenge for either of them.

The USA is the better team, the deeper team. But Lithuania is playing about as well as it can right now, and it will fight for this one. They know that in a best of seven they are toast, but one game… anything can happen. Unless the USA comes in focused and on its game, then this is decided.

Hall of Famer Paul Westphal diagnosed with brain cancer

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Paul Westphal, the Hall of Fame guard who played at the peak of his career with the Phoenix Suns (and earlier won a championship with the Boston Celtics) has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Longtime sportswriter Mike Lupica made the announcement.

Glioblastoma is a particularly aggressive and difficult form of cancer to treat.

Westphal was born and raised in the South Bay area of greater Los Angeles and went on to play his college ball at USC. He was the No. 10 pick of the Boston Celtics in the 1972 NBA Draft and went on to play three seasons with the Celtics, winning a title with them in 1974.

After that he went on to Phoenix, where he was an All-Star player and was named to the All-NBA team four times. Westphal also played for the Knicks and Sonics during his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame last September.

After playing he became a coach, spending at least part of seven seasons as the Suns head coach, plus he coached the Kings for three seasons.

One of the best-liked people in NBA circles, there are a lot of people in Westphal’s corner today and going forward.

 

Draymond Green fined $50,000 for tampering with Devin Booker

Draymond Green fined
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“It’s great to see Book playing well and Phoenix playing well, but get my man out of Phoenix It’s not good for him, it’s not good for his career. Sorry Chuck, but they’ve gotta get Book out of Phoenix. I need my man to go somewhere that he can play great basketball all of the time and win, because he’s that kind of player.”

That was the Warriors’ always outspoken Draymond Green on Inside the NBA on TNT Thursday, talking about the play of Devin Booker and the fast start of the Suns in the bubble.

The second he said it, Ernie Johnson asked, “Are you tampering?” Green said, “maybe.”

The NBA said yes and has fined Green $50,000 for “violating the league’s anti-tampering rule.”

In past years the NBA has mostly ignored player-to-player tampering, but after complaints from owners last season the league is cracking down on — at the very least — public tampering by players. Going on a popular national show to say Booker should leave Phoenix qualifies.

Just a reminder for fans of a team desperate for a star and suddenly looking at Phoenix, Booker has four years left (after this one) on his max contract extension. The Suns are building around him and Deandre Ayton — and right now it looks like it’s working (coach Monty Williams should get a lot of credit for that). The Suns aren’t looking to trade, Booker isn’t looking to leave (and has no leverage anyway), and the Suns seem to be building something real down in the Valley of the Sun.

 

Watch Luka Doncic post 36-19-14 with just dazzling passing (video)

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The Bucks’ have one of the best defenses in NBA history, allowing 7.9 fewer points per 100 possessions than league average. The Mavericks have the highest offensive rating (116.5) in league history.

Something had to give.

And it was Luka Doncic – to teammate after teammate after teammate.

Doncic had 36 points, 19 assists and 14 rebounds in Dallas’ 136-132 overtime win over Milwaukee yesterday. He was in complete control as a scorer and passer, showing just how far he has come.

The Bucks already secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. But they played hard, forcing overtime. Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like the MVP with 34 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.

Doncic was just better.

Report: NBA could play next season at multiple regional bubbles

Warriors star Stephen Curry
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Other than waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to subside – a possibility – the NBA faces MAJOR challenges next season.

The bubble is working for finishing this season. But that’s with just 22 teams rather than the full 30. And this is just for a few months, not a full season. Players are already bristling about how long they’re separated from their families.

Yet, what’s the alternative to a bubble? It looks like the only safe way to play professional sports.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated

We’re a ways off from next season, but league sources have told me that the NBA is looking at options that include creating regional bubbles, should the COVID-19 pandemic still prevent normal business in the fall. Teams would report to a bubble for short stints—around a month—which would be followed by 1-2 weeks off.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Orlando is a consideration, and Las Vegas — a finalist for this summer’s restart — would reemerge as a possible site too, sources said.

This is an interesting possibility.

Smaller bubbles would reduce the odds of a coronavirus outbreak that undermines the whole league. But what happens if one bubble has coronavirus issues? Teams’ schedules could get significantly unbalanced quickly.

The shorter bubble lengths would allow players to spend time with family more frequently. But how many players would contract coronavirus while between bubbles? Look how many players got coronavirus during this last layoff.

There are no easy solutions amid this pandemic. This is one of many imperfect ideas that should at least be considered.