USA uses "Big Ds" — Durant and defense — to beat Turkey, win gold

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Thumbnail image for durant_usa_fun.jpgThink back a couple weeks ago to the start of the FIBA World Championships, to all those concerns about Team USA — they were not big enough, they lacked international experience, they were too young.

You can get caught up in what a team can’t do and ignore what it can. And this version of Team USA had two things going for it:

Tenacious defense and Kevin Durant.

And those two things were enough to get the USA the gold medal, beating host Turkey in front of a loud crowd, 81-64. The win qualifies the USA for the 2012 Olympics in London, meaning all the top players can take next summer off from USA basketball and focus on the coming lockout.

Durant finished with 28 points but in the first half he carried the USA. Turkey went to its aggressive match up zone and the USA took a while to adjust, with 9 points on the 14 possessions after they started it.

But Durant kept the USA alive — Durant shot 7-12 in the first half, everyone else on Team USA was 6-26 (23 percent). From three, Durant was 5-9, the rest of Team USA was 1 of 13.

Durant was named Tournament MVP.

But maybe bigger than Durant Sunday — and all tournament — was the USA’s aggressive defense. They pressured the ball and tried to use their athleticism all over the court, and that more than compensated for the lack of size on this team.

The USA’s defense forced a veteran Turkey squad into four shot clock violations. In the first half, while the USA’s offense was sluggish, the defense held Turkey to 34 percent shooting with 10 turnovers.

In the third, again with some baskets by Durant leading the way, the USA started to pull away from Turkey, stretching the lead to 20. You could see the defeat start to creep into the body language of Turkish players — they defended Durant well, doubled him and he hit a turnaround fadeaway over them in the lane, and Turkish shoulders just slumped. Soon the transition baskets that Turkey had kept the USA from getting all game started to come as Turkey just succumbed.

Lamar Odom may be unfocused at times, but he brings it in big games and had 15 points and 11 boards in this one, doing it against a very big Turkey front line. Russell Westbrook added 13 points. Hedo Turkoglu had 16 points to lead Turkey on 5 of 8 shooting and 4 of 4 from three.

It was a well earned gold medal for Team USA, a tournament where the star that is Durant really started to break through, and where USA basketball showed a commitment to defense it not always has. When teams this talented are committed on defense, they don’t lose.

Joel Embiid out with left knee soreness for Game 3 vs. Nets

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The Philadelphia 76ers will be without Joel Embiid on Thursday night as they take on the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of their first round series.

Embiid is battling left knee soreness and although he had a statistically-important performance as the Sixers took Game 2, it was obvious he was in some kind of reduced state of ability.

Veteran center Greg Monroe will start in Embiid’s place, but it will be hard for the Sixers to match Embiid’s production. The Cameroonian star is Philadelphia’s best player, and the 76ers are a hot and cold team.

Not having Embiid on the floor will seriously alter how they respond to the spunky Nets, who already took Game 1 from the higher-seeded Sixers.

The fact that Embiid needs to rest is also drawing some ire from folks on social media. The question is why Embiid did not rest earlier in the series — or even the end of the regular season when he was in and out of the lineup — and prepare for the coming playoff run?

However things go on Thursday, folks around the league will have their eyes glued to the injury report to see updates on Embiid’s status.

Grizzlies’ Kyle Anderson undergoes thoracic outlet decompression surgery

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Kyle Anderson was playing a solid role off the bench for the Grizzlies this season, 8 points and 5.8 rebounds a game, serving as a secondary ball handler and shot creator. Slo-mo was doing his thing.

However, by the end of January, the pain radiating from his shoulder — something he now says he had been playing through for a couple of years — got to be too much. He never played another game after Jan. 30.

Thursday he had thoracic outlet decompression surgery to relieve the problem. Anderson is expected to make a full recovery and be ready to go next training camp.

For comparison, this is the same surgery the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had.

Anderson is on a very reasonable contract, three years and $28 million remaining. He can be part of what is going to be built in Memphis going forward, but if they are tearing down and rebuilding — meaning a summer trade of Mike Conley — he could bring back assets in a trade.

Either way, he should be healthy and ready to go next summer.

Jerry West on NBA draft: ‘I don’t know how you could pass Zion Williamson’

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A rumor started buzzing around NBA Twitter last week, a second-hand report that NBA legend and Clippers’ consultant Jerry West was praising Murray State guard Ja Morant, saying he would take him in front of the presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson.

The source of that rumor: comedian Jeff Garlin, saying it on the Dan Patrick Show.

Jerry West himself went on the Dan Patrick show Thursday and shot that down saying “it Would Be Like Passing Jordan in the draft.”

Two players were picked in front Jordan in the 1984 Draft. The Houston Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwon, and while Jordan went on to be Jordan nobody can fault the Rockets for how this picked turned out — two titles and a Hall of Fame big man in your organization is an amazing draft.

The one everyone talks about was Portland at No. 2, when executive Stu Inman and coach Jack Ramsey decided they were set on the wing in Clyde Drexler and needed a big man, so they selected Sam Bowie out of Kentucky. Bowie might have had an excellent NBA career if injuries had not plagued him, but he was no Jordan. It’s the ultimate NBA cautionary tale — draft the best player on the board, not according to need.

Williamson is projected by teams as the best player on the board. By far. Even the Morant fans have him a clear second. Plus, Williamson comes in hugely popular and a brand unto himself — he will sell tickets and sponsorships. Not drafting him would be a stupid business decision, not to mention a basketball one.

Whoever lands second in next month’s draft lottery will do well with Morant. Whoever is third will likely get R.J. Barrett out of Duke and… let’s just say that’s where it gets interesting.

Likely top-10 pick Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech declares for NBA draft

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We all knew this was coming, but on Thursday he made it official:

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver is declaring for the NBA Draft, where he is expected to be a top-10 pick. He made the announcement at a rally on the Tech campus Thursday, then took his message to social media.

Culver, a 6’6” wing player, passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he can shoot from the outside (he only hit 30.4 percent from three this season, but it was 38 percent the season before and his stroke looks good), he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he may have the best feel for the game of any wing prospect in this draft. The only question is athleticism — he’s not a classically explosive, and the NBA is loaded with freak athletes on the wing.

Still, Culvert looks like a rotation wing player with the potential to be more, and that should land him comfortably in the top 10 in this draft (likely 5-8).