Preview: Nigeria next very small bump in the road for USA

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Nigeria — Team USA’s opponent in the late game Thursday — is better than Tunisia, the USA’s last opponent.

Barely.

Nigeria beat Tunisia by four points. Vegas odds makers have the USA as 42 point favorites, which is closer than predicted against Tunisia (it was a 54 points spread, a number the Tunisians covered). The two meet in a game that starts at 5:15 ET (live on the NBC Sports Network).

Nigeria isn’t going to put up much of a test for the Americans, who should run away and hide early. The USA is vastly superior at every position on the floor and this should be another chance for Mike Krzyzewski to get into his bench and give guys a lot of run. As he did the last game. Do look for Kevin Durant — who leads Team USA in scoring (17.5 per game) and rebounding (9.5) to get his, but anyone on the USA roster can put up numbers in this one.

Nigeria has two players that will be familiar to NBA fans. One is former Clippers lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu, who was traded to New Orleans in the Chris Paul deal (and is now teammates with Team USA’s Anthony Davis). Aminu averaged 6 points and 4.7 rebounds a game last season, shot just 41 percent, doesn’t have great handles for a wing and generally shows promise but is not making NBA fans think he will live up to it.

Aminu has averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds through two games in London. Expect the USA to pressure him when he has the ball to get it out of his hands.

The leading scorer and rebounder for Nigeria has been former NBA player Ike Diogu, who has averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds a game. Diogu is an undersized (6’8”) forward who couldn’t get off the Spurs bench last season. He has some tools and is using the Olympics as a showcase to get a new NBA contract. That said, he is not a guy who can really exploit the “undersized” USA inside. Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love should have their way with him.

Look for the USA to experiment with lineups and throw a lot of lobs to Anthony Davis. There isn’t a lot else to do.

This should be another game that is only close if the USA doesn’t take it seriously. Things will get more challenging with Lithuania then Argentina next on the schedule, but for today this should be a stroll through Hyde Park for Team USA.

Caris LeVert suffers injury so horrific, it brings teammates to tears and opponents to prayer (video)

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Caris LeVert has been one of the Nets’ biggest bright spots. The hard-working 24-year-old was a Most Improved Player candidate, and he seems well-liked throughout the organization. He’s even already hit a couple gamewinners this season.

But LeVert’s breakout campaign hit a devastating snag tonight, as he injured his leg.

The reactions of both his Brooklyn teammates and the Timberwolves say everything. This is a tough one.

Markelle Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice:

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.

Dwyane Wade: Making Carmelo Anthony ‘fall guy’ doesn’t address the ‘real problem’

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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul – the banana-boat buddies – comprise the NBA’s most famous friendship group.

With Anthony nearing his end with the Rockets, that puts Houston teammate Paul in an awkward place. But Wade and LeBron are speaking up. So are the Trail Blazers’ Evan Turner and Damian Lillard.

Wade:

LeBron:

Evan Turner:

Damian Lillard:

It’s unclear whether Wade is scolding the Rockets or fans/media. That comment is far more loaded if he’s referring directly to the organization. I wonder what he sees at the “real problem” in Houston.

A struggling team waiving a minimum-salary player is rarely viewed as making that player the scapegoat. But Anthony has an outsized reputation due to his long, star-level career. With that in mind, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tried to defend Anthony.

But Anthony is a part of Houston’s problems. He’s awful defensively and shooting poorly. There is mounting evidence he’s washed up. Downgrading his role, whether or not that includes waiving him, is a step in the right direction for the Rockets.

It won’t solve everything, and Anthony – after all that he has done in the NBA – should be treated with respect. But there’s no way around his substandard current level of play.