Lithuania gives USA a real test, but LeBron passes it in 99-94 win

48 Comments

There is a script for beating the USA, we talked about it before the Olympics: Pack the paint on defense and hope they miss threes, play good transition defense, don’t turn the ball over, and have a hot shooting night yourself.

Lithuania did almost all of that, playing their best game of the Olympics by far.

But there is no script for stopping LeBron James.

With the USA down USA 84-82 in the fourth, LeBron scored 9 of the USA’s final 17 points to lead the USA to a hard-fought 99-94 win. A win that keeps them undefeated (4-0) in Group A play and headed to the medal round.

For three and a half games LeBron had been a facilitator, a guy doing all the little things for Team USA. But when it was on the line for real LeBron reminded everyone he was the best player on the face of the earth. In the final minutes he hit a key three, threw down a dunk in transition, backed his man down in the paint and put up a pretty spin move — seven key, fast points that changed the tide of the game. He was clutch. He was everything his detractors said he wasn’t a year ago.

The USA coaching staff and players will spin this game as “it was good for us to be tested in group play, it helps us going forward.” I’m not totally on board with that. It might remind them they need to be focused every game, but Lithuania (and every team the USA plays from here on out) is good and if you let them get a foot in the door they will make it a game. A real game. The playground of the Nigeria game is long gone.

It was close because Lithuania played smart, played to the script and flat out executed against the USA better than they have all tournament.

On defense they switched every pick then the big man would slide back a step and dare the USA ball handler to shoot the three. The USA took the bait, especially in the first half, turning that big-on-small into isolation basketball and then settling for jumpers. In the first half the USA was 6-of-19 from three (31.7 percent) and shot 47.6 percent overall.

For the game, the USA was 10-of-33 from three (30.3 percent) and for the game shot 44.3 percent.

When the shots weren’t falling they adjusted in the second half and worked hard, making the extra pass and attacking the paint. It worked, the Americans drew fouls, but the USA was just 19-of-31 from the free throw line (61.3 percent). Kevin Love could not find his stroke, he was 3-of-8 from the stripe.

The USA is supposed to cover its off offensive nights with good defense, but they didn’t for much of this contest.

The USA did a terrible job on transition defense, allowing a slower Lithuanian team to get good looks pushing the ball. The USA also did a poor job switching — or whatever it was they were trying to do — on the pick and roll, allowing former NBA point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius to carve them up. Linas Kleiza had 25 points and outplayed the USA in the paint for much of the game.

And it was a game. Lithuania’s Achilles heel turned out to be turnovers — they had 23 of them. They struggled to enter the ball into the post late in the game, they made some unwise passes that led to USA fast breaks. It was a key difference.

LeBron James had 20 points for Team USA, along with Carmelo Anthony who also had 20. Kevin Durant had 16.

So the USA will spin this as “a wake up call” or some such thing, but in a short Olympic tournament (8 games at most) you shouldn’t need one.

What this shows is that when the outside shots are not falling, and when their pressure defense takes a night off or doesn’t work on experienced guards, the USA is vulnerable.

But despite all that the Americans may still win, because at the end of the day they still have the best player in the world on their team. And probably the next five or six on that list as well.

After climbing into striking distance of first-round, Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie staying in draft

AP Photo/Danny Karnik
Leave a comment

Georgia Tech sophomore shooting guard Josh Okogie nailed the combine. He aced his athletic testing, posting some of the best quickness numbers in the event’s history, and impressed even more with his 5-on-5 play.

Now, it’s time to capitalize.

Okogie:

Okogie appears to be a borderline first-round pick. NBA teams covet versatile wings like him.

Just 19 until September, Okogie is younger than freshmen like DeAndre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba and Michael Porter Jr. So, Okogie looks better on the aging curve than the typical sophomore.

At 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan, he can defend three – maybe four – positions. He freelances a little too much defensively, but at least he’s active.

Okogie was probably miscast as a go-to offensive player at Georgia Tech. NBA teams won’t similarly lean on his deficient areas – court vision, ball-handling and finishing. He’ll probably be more efficient just spotting up and cutting.

The biggest variable in Okogie’s game is 3-point shooting. Will he reliably make NBA 3s? His form offers reason to believe, but not reason to be convinced.

After seeing video, Milwaukee mayor expressing concern about police conduct in arrest of Bucks guard Sterling Brown

Elsa/Getty Images
1 Comment

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee’s mayor is expressing concern about police conduct in the stun-gun arrest of Bucks guard Sterling Brown in January.

Mayor Tom Barrett says he’s viewed police video of Brown’s arrest over an alleged parking violation. He did not offer details but has said he has questions about how police acted. The video might be released this week.

Police have shown the body-camera footage to some local officials, including a closed session of a Common Council committee.

Brown was arrested in a Walgreens parking lot about 2 a.m. Jan. 26. Officers had been checking on a vehicle parked across two handicap spaces. Brown was not charged.

The Bucks signed the 6-foot-6 guard from SMU last summer in a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Report: Teams trying to trade for Karl-Anthony Towns amid his perceived disconnect with Timberwolves

Zhong Zhi/Getty Images
3 Comments

The Clippers took what appeared to be a stab in the dark by offering Blake Griffin to the Timberwolves for Karl-Anthony Towns before trading Griffin to the Pistons.

But maybe it wasn’t completely a stab in the dark.

Appearing on ESPN, Brian Windhorst elaborated on talk of tension between Towns and Minnesota:

Let’s just put it this way: I didn’t make this up. People in the league have been saying, “You know, maybe we should call and take a look and see what’s going on with Karl Towns.” Now, he and Tom Thibodeau did not have the greatest season together. I think that’s far to say.

They recently fired Vince Legarza, who’s his strength-and-conditioning coach or he’s actually his workout coach with the Wolves and, according to The Athletic, didn’t tell him about it. He found out when everybody else did.

I don’t think that the Wolves are looking to trade him, but teams are definitely sniffing around as if maybe there’s something here.

They’ve already taken some calls on him. This is not new. Blake Griffin, the Clippers called and offered Blake Griffin for him. They’re going to, I believe, get more calls on this, especially the way there seems to be a disconnect between Karl and the franchise.

Maybe these calling teams know the Timberwolves-Town relationship is broken beyond repair. I doubt it, mostly because I doubt the relationship is broken beyond repair.

But teams don’t need to know he and Minnesota are done with each other to propose a trade. Those teams just need to know Thibodeau’s phone number.

There’s no downside to asking the Timberwolves about Towns’ availability. The upside is landing a 22-year-old star with generational offensive talent and the tools to defend exceptionally well.

So, it’s easy to see how a minor issue could be perceived as something bigger.

Of course, this doesn’t preclude this being a major issue already.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows players to receive super-max salaries in their ninth and 10th seasons only if they get it from their original team or changed teams only during their first four seasons via trade. A potential unintended consequence? Unhappy young players – like Towns? – push for trades sooner rather than ride it out longer. If Towns wants to leave the door open for a designated-veteran-player contract outside Minnesota, he must get traded in the next year.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Timberwolves will trade him. For all the reasons other teams want him, Minnesota wants to keep him. If he and Thibodeau truly reach a breaking point, I doubt ownership would side with Thibodeau. Star players usually win those battles.

The Timberwolves can offer Towns a contract extension this summer worth a projected $157 over five years. They could even include a clause that would lift Towns’ compensation by 20% (to a projected $188 million over five years) if he makes an All-NBA team next season.

That could pave over many problems, but it wouldn’t necessarily signify a complete resolution. Towns would still be trade-eligible, and the clock would still be ticking on his ability to get a designated-veteran-player deal elsewhere later. A max rookie-scale extension wouldn’t lower Towns’ trade value. Any team trying for him surely expects to give him the same extension itself.

Still, Minnesota would probably want to know Towns is content there before offering him so much money. This sets up more weird meetings before the Timberwolves offer someone a max rookie-scale extension.

Do you like when Stephen Curry swears because it’s out of character for him? Kevin Durant: ‘F— yeah’

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
2 Comments

Stephen Curry has cultivated such a wholesome image, it became a story when he yelled “This is my f—ing house” during the Warriors’ Game 3 win over the Rockets:

His mom scolded him, but Kevin Durant liked it:

Uh oh, if Durant isn’t careful he might just come across as likable.