Game of the night: That Tom Thibodeau guy can coach some defense

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have the league’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant. They have an elite point guard in Russell Westbrook. They have guys who can light it up like Jeff Greed and James Harden. They have a nice bench.

The Chicago Bulls handcuffed the Thunder all night Monday with what was a vintage Tom Thibodeau defense. It was by no means pretty, in the same way the Celtics have made teams and games look ugly for years with physicality, but it works. The Bulls disrupted any rhythm the Thunder tried to establish. They were never allowed to be comfortable. And the result was Thunder shot 35.4 percent and were 4-19 from three. To be fair, some of that was misses on open looks, and maybe it had something to do with the Thunder being on the second night of a back to back. But a lot of it was the Bulls, who won this one 99-90.

The Bulls already have the 9th ranked defense in the NBA for their first-year coach (who came from the Celtics) but they looked better than that against the Thunder. Chicago’s offense is starting to look more comfortable with Carlos Boozer in the middle of it.

Boozer had 29 points and looked good — he is moving well without the ball and getting a lot of chances because of it as Derrick Rose is starting to find him. The rust is off — so is the pad on his hand — and the result is his touch is back. Boozer is also one of the best in the league at getting to his spots on the floor where he knows he can hit. He was doing that from his left wing spot, from the top of the key, elbow and in the lane Monday.

Boozer, as well as scoring, is a good passer. So is Joakim Noah. Combine that with guys moving off the ball, plus guys like Kyle Korver knocking down the threes, and you have something that is showing flashes now and could be spectacular in the future.

The Bulls needed Boozer on offense because Russell Westbrook just took Rose out of his game. Westbook has the speed to hang with Rose and he’s stronger. Rose was 3 of 13 shooting for 13 points but he did drop nine dimes.

Chicago also got offense by pushing the pace, running on a Thunder team with some weary legs after a tough game against Golden State the night before.

With the Thunder struggling to get a rhythm, coach Scott Brooks tried an interesting move he sat Kevin Druant and Jeff Green for the final nine minutes of the third quarter. It didn’t work — Oklahoma City was outscored by 10 the rest of the quarter and that was essentially it. But if you’re trying to find a rhythm I think taking two of your three best scorers off the floor is an odd way to do it.

Nenad Kristic opened with 8 of the Thunder first 10, hitting 4 of 5 shots. He finished with 18.

Not sure this loss says much about the Thunder, it was a tough spot for them. But the fact Chicago is starting to look comfortable and better says a lot about them.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.