USA starts pretty blah, Kobe and LeBron help them run away from Aussies late

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There are certain boxers and MMA fighters that nobody looks fighting good against. Even the fighters with all the style get sucked into an ugly grappling contest, nobody looks pretty in the ring/octagon against these guys.

That is Australian basketball.

For three quarters against Team USA the Aussies were physical, they mucked up the game, they made sure it wasn’t pretty and they hit a few threes. Australia played well and exactly how they wanted. They kept it close. But behind a triple-double from LeBron James (11 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists) and some hot shooting from Kobe Bryant, the Americans pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 119-86.

Next up is a third game in three weeks against a good Argentina side. The Olympic semifinal is at 4 p.m. Eastern Friday. Win that and the Americans will play for the gold on Sunday.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves because Argentina likes to grind out the game like Australia, the South Americans just do it better and have more skill.

And the Aussies gave the USA some trouble. Just like they did four years ago in the Beijing Olympics — Australia plays physical and can be tough to play against. There was not a great flow to the game but the USA was up 28-21 after one and you kept waiting for the big run in the second. But it never came, it was more ugly, more grinding. The USA still kept playing a little better and was up 14 at the break.

Then Australia opened second half on an 11-0 run, bringing it down to 56-53 lead for the USA. The USA needed a spark.

They got a one from the guy getting shredded on twitter. Kobe Bryant was 0-5 shooting with three turnovers by a few minutes into the third quarter, and after guarding Aussie star Patty Mills in the first half he was switched off him (Chris Paul took over). He was having a bad half. Anyone who has seen Kobe struggle over the years knows what is next — he is going to shoot his way out of it.

He did. And it worked. Kobe hit back-to-back threes in the third — one catch-and-shoot, then made a steal and knocked down a transition three — and that sparked a little run by the USA that got it back up to 14. In the fourth Kobe couldn’t miss from three as he racked up 20 second half points.

In the fourth, the USA picked up their defensive pressure and Australia just did not have the depth of talent to hang with it. The USA was back to putting on a show with Kobe threes (six total in the second half), LeBron passes and even an impressive James Harden dunk. They ran away and hid.

Deron Williams had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17 for the United States. Mills (the former St. Mary star who played for the Blazers and Spurs) led the Aussies with 26.

It was a win and in the end that’s all that matters for the USA. But now they will have to beat a good Argentinian team who has played them very well for five of the eight quarters when the two teams have met in recent weeks. They have Manu Ginobili playing very well and good guys around him like Carlos Delfino and Luis Scola. The USA will have to play better.

In the two meetings thus far Argentina has not been able to keep up with the runs of the USA and that has been the difference. But for the USA to do it a third time they will need a better game, a more consistent defensive effort than we saw against Australia.

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.