USA needs to forget about Nigeria, focus on Lithuania and gold

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Forget about it.

Or, for a New Yorker like Carmelo Anthony, fugeddaboutit.

That is what USA coach Mike Krzyzewski told his Nigerian counterpart to do with the game tape after Team USA’s historic win on Thursday (Coach K actually said “flush it”). But that is exactly what his team needs to do with that epic performance as well. Flush it. Fugeddaboutit about it and move on.

The only team that can beat the USA is the USA. They can trip and fall over their own overconfidence — and there are teams good enough to take advantage of any stumble. Time to put Nigeria and the 71 percent shooting behind them and keep their eye on the goal and the gold. The soft, summer vacation portion of the Olympics is over and from here on out the games harder and more serious for Team USA.

That starts with Lithuania on Saturday — a team that certainly is better than Nigeria and features some NBA talent (Linas Kleiza, Darius Songalia, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Jonas Valanciunas). However, Lithuania’s style of play (they lack foot speed) plays to the USA’s strengths.

The USA needs a win Saturday because they control their own destiny. They are the only undefeated team in Group A. With wins over Lithuania then Monday against Argentina the USA would secure the top spot in their Group A, setting up a very winnable first game of the medal round against likely Australia. (Group B will have Spain and Russia on top, they play Saturday to determine that order, then Brazil third. The Aussies should get the four spot unless they fall to host Great Brittan.)

Lithuania presents a couple challenges for the American. First, Kleiza is a good player who can put up points on the USA’s defense and Jasikevicius is a quality point guard. Actually, Lithuania is deep with guys that can score, they have a 10-man rotation of guys that play at high levels in Europe and can shoot the rock.

But Lithuania’s weaknesses play right into Team USA’s wheelhouse.

For one, Lithuania turns the ball over a lot — something Team USA will turn into flashy, energizing dunks on the other end. The other problem is that Lithuania’s defense in general — and particularly their pick-and-roll defense — has not been very good these Olympics. And that is what the USA likes to run.

The USA is going to put up points — not 156 points, they will not shoot 71 percent again. But it will be too many points for Lithuania to match.

The one Lithuanian I’m most interested in seeing is Valanciunas, the No. 5 pick of the Toronto Raptors last year who will join the NBA next season. Except I don’t know how much we will get to see him — he has averaged just 11 minutes a game so far these Olympics. He has 14 total points on 7-of-11 shooting, with eight rebounds and eight fouls. Not the kinds of numbers Raptors fans were hoping to see.

This should be another comfortable win for Team USA, while with the loss Lithuania appears headed for the four seed in Group B (and a date with Spain or Russia in the first game of the medal round).

That is, it should be a comfortable win if they forget about the last game.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.