Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis shine in USA Basketball showcase

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LAS VEGAS — The White team beat the Blue team 128-106 in the USA Basketball intra-squad showcase that put a bow on a four-day mini-camp held in Las Vegas this week, but the event was about anything but this game’s final score.

The powers that be were looking for mostly intangibles from players in terms of how hard they worked, how well they adapted to the team dynamic, and how quickly they were able to pick things up and make an impact in the short time they were here.

In Thursday night’s showcase, there were two players’ efforts that stood out above the rest.

Kyrie Irving was the game’s best player, and had no trouble showing why he is one of the top overall talents on the 28-man mini-camp roster. He dazzled from the very start, going head-to-head with Damian Lillard in an entertaining first quarter back-and-forth, before pulling away from Lillard to dominate the rest of the game.

Irving got to the basket from the perimeter seemingly at will, and finished at the rim in traffic on more than one occasion. He finished with a game-high 23 points and seven assists in just 19 minutes of action.

Anthony Davis was the other standout performer, and by all accounts had one of the better showings of any player in the camp’s attendance. Davis was active inside defensively and on the boards, but his mid-range jumper and the high percentage with which he shot it all week long, both in scrimmages and in Thursday’s showcase, were huge signs of improvement in his game.

Davis finished with 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds in his 23 minutes on the floor.

“As good as he was last year, he’s just stepped it up another couple levels,” Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Davis afterward. “And that was exciting to see. He got better throughout the week, and put on a heck of a performance tonight.”

Davis didn’t speak too much about his own game once the event had finished, but instead took the opportunity to talk up the camp and the way the other guys competed — a sign he gets what the USA Basketball message is all about.

“A lot of guys showed up and competed,” Davis said, in recapping the four-day camp. “Usually when you go to camps, not just USAB, but guys just don’t take it as seriously. For guys to show up and actually compete the way they did and make each other better, it was an excellent thing. And you could see it on the floor tonight — guys were playing hard, sharing the ball, weren’t complaining about any fouls, hustling, and playing defense. You don’t see that, especially in the summertime.”

No decisions will be made as to which players will make the official Team USA rosters based off of this week’s camp; Jerry Colangelo made it clear that this was just one step in the process, and that they’ll be monitoring players throughout next season, as well as looking to start a pool from scratch with 25 or so more individuals — a list they’ll hope to finalize sometime after the first of the year.

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A few notes to wrap things up from the showcase here in Las Vegas:

– DeMarcus Cousins got a second chance to impress at this week’s mini-camp, and from an attitude standpoint he seemed to do just fine. He was underwhelming, however, in the glimpses we got of him during scrimmages, and didn’t do much to write home about on Thursday, finishing with six points on 2-of-7 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds in just over 12 minutes of action.

– Damian Lillard started off extremely strongly on Thursday, going toe-to-toe with Irving early in an entertaining first quarter. He had seven points, two assists and no turnovers in the game’s first four minutes, keeping pace with Irving’s eight points and two turnovers in the same amount of time. Except for finishing a two-handed dunk off of a baseline cut in the second half, however, Lillard was unable to sustain his tremendous start. He finished with nine points on 4-of-14 shooting, to go along with three assists in 19 minutes of action.

– The USA Basketball brain trust likely was thinking the same thing I was at one point during Thursday night’s showcase: Why is Dion Waiters here? He did nothing to shake his reputation of being a chucker, getting up 10 shots in just 15 minutes, while making only two. He also committed some silly fouls defensively, and while he’s obviously still young and shooting is at a premium in international play, he’ll need to do a lot better in the future than he showed in this one to be seriously considered for the squad.

– Kenneth Faried had a strong camp, impressing observers all week long with the activity level and athleticism he brings to the floor.  He was active on the boards and got loose for some high-flying dunks in the showcase, finishing with 11 points and seven rebounds in just 12 minutes of action.

– Paul George was largely “meh” in the showcase, but his overall skill set and the way he performed throughout the four-day camp is still likely to land him a spot on the roster for the Worlds if he’s interested.

– Pistons big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond played on opposite teams, but each showed some signs on both ends of the floor during the limited minutes they saw.  Drummond finished with 11 points and six rebounds in just nine minutes, and Monroe had 10 and six in 14 minutes.

– Overall the showcase was something that those who watched the Lakers closely last season could completely relate to, in that there was a ton of talent on the floor that simply had no idea how to play together. Chemistry is real on the basketball court, and in a game like this, there’s a reason that essentially all the guards shined a bit — from Irving and Lillard to Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, and Mike Conley. Guys with the ball in their hands have the advantage when no one is quite sure what the plan is, and that was certainly the case in more than one of the half-court sets we saw guys attempt to run through in this one.

USA Basketball Showcase – Final Box Score

USA’s 78-game international win streak ends at hands of Australia, Patty Mills, 98-94

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Gregg Popovich wanted his USA team to face some adversity. For them to be challenged and see how they’d respond.

He got his wish on a Saturday afternoon in Australia and has to be disturbed by the result.

Australia, behind a red-hot Patty Mills who finished 30 points and drained seemingly every big bucket down the stretch, tore up the USA defense and outplayed the Americans when it mattered most, beating Team USA 98-94 in an exhibition match in front of a raucous 52,000 people in Melbourne.

Team USA had won 78 consecutive games — including both friendlies and in international tournaments — before this loss. The last USA exhibition game loss was in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics (when the Americans took home the bronze).

The USA opens FIBA World Cup play in just more than a week, facing the Czech Republic in their first game on Sept. 1. The Americans enter that tournament as the favorites, but the combination of improved international play and a lot of elite American talent staying home has made the USA’s margin for error very slim. Teams such as Serbia have to see this result and gain confidence.

This loss comes just two days after

“They wanted it more than us tonight,” Kemba Walker said after the game. “Lesson learned for us.”

Those lessons include needing to clean up a defense that still has communication issues, and to find more consistent shot creation outside of pick-and-rolls with Kemba Walker or Donovan Mitchell.

Walker, who came off the bench to score 22, was clearly America’s best player. His ability to penetrate was the only thing all night that either forced the Aussie defense to collapse, or it allowed him to get space for a good shot. Donovan Mitchell, who finished with a dozen points including seven straight late in the game, was able to provide a little shot creation, but the Americans lacked much ball or player movement in this one. Harrison Barnes finished with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Popovich is clearly still experimenting with lineups and combinations, and that is the silver lining of this USA loss. This was not the American’s best foot forward.

But don’t take anything away from Australia, which played a physical and feisty game all afternoon. They put the ball more in the hands of Utah’s Joe Ingles and he responded with 15 points, seven assists, and he and Andrew Bogut set up the offense and were smart with their passes. Bogut finished with 15 points.

Team USA takes on Canada in a final exhibition game in a couple of days, before heading to China for the World Cup.

Report: Dwight Howard gave back $2.6 million in buyout with Memphis, what he will make in L.A.

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Dwight Howard will get his money, the full $5.6 million he opted into this summer. The man is getting paid.

The checks are just coming from two different teams.

To facilitate a move to the Lakers, Howard is giving back $2.6 million in a buyout with the Grizzlies — exactly how much he makes on a minimum contract with Los Angeles. From Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks of ESPN:

My guess is the Grizzlies will just take the cap hit this season to get Howard off the books.

This is exactly how this was expected to go down financially if Howard came to Los Angeles. The risk for Howard is he will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers — they can waive him for whatever reason, pay a small buyout fee, and Howard loses out on the $2.6 million.

That’s motivation for him to follow through on what he promised the team.

 

Former NBA, ABA coach Tom Nissalke dead at 87

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tom Nissalke, who won coach of the year honors in the NBA and ABA, has died. He was 87.

Nissalke passed away at his home in Salt Lake City on Thursday after facing a “series of health-related problems” in recent years, according to the Deseret News.

He was the first coach of the Utah Jazz after the franchise relocated from New Orleans in 1979.

Nissalke was also an NBA head coach in Seattle, Houston, and Cleveland.

Nissalke got his start in the pro ranks as an assistant with Milwaukee and helped guide a team featuring Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to an NBA title in 1971. His work with the Bucks landed him a head coaching gig with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals. He led them to a 42-42 record in his first season and was named the league’s top coach.

He was hired the next season in Seattle but was fired after a 13-32 start. Nissalke then coached the Utah Stars and San Antonio before returning to the NBA with the Rockets. He won 124 games in three seasons with Houston, twice taking the team to the playoffs and the 1977 Eastern Conference finals.

Nissalke was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year after going 49-33 in 1976-77.

After retiring, he was active with the YMCA and worked as a radio analyst.

Nissalke is survived by a daughter, Holly, son Thomas Jr, and two grandchildren. His wife, Nancy, died in 2006.

 

How Dwight Howard convinced the Lakers to take a chance on him

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Laker fans Friday sounded like your friends after an ugly relationship and breakup, when you suddenly consider taking that person back. Laker nation took to Twitter screaming “ARE YOU SERIOUS? What are you thinking? Are you even thinking?”

The Lakers, however, are entering a second relationship with Dwight Howard with their eyes wide open — he will sign a non-guaranteed contract to be the team’s center (sharing duties with Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee). Howard will have to prove himself, on and off the court. The Lakers have leverage and can waive Howard and move on to Joakim Noah or someone else quickly if things do not pan out.

But how did it even get to this point? How did Howard — who did his annual summer media tour saying “I have changed, I am taking the game and my conditioning seriously, I just want a chance” and league observers shrugged because they have heard the same thing for years — convince the Lakers to roll the dice on him again? Shams Charania of The Athletic laid it all out.

Howard’s message to [Laker assistant coach Jason] Kidd and the Lakers was the same one he delivered to The Athletic in July from NBA summer league: He’s learned from the past several seasons, learned that, at age 33, he is simply one of the guys now. Howard believes he can contribute at a high level for any NBA team, but the eight-time All-Star also understands he has to focus on rebounding, defense, blocking shots, finishing around the rim and simply playing whenever he is asked… Kidd became convinced about Howard’s newfound awakening…

The Lakers then began setting workouts for free agents, and Howard traveled from Atlanta to Los Angeles on Wednesday. His meeting and workout with the Lakers was set for Thursday, but Howard went to the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon for his own training session. The Lakers were surprised to see him, sources said, and many key decision makers were in attendance…

League sources said Howard had a convincing and emotional meeting with the players and Lakers officials, explaining how he had reached rock bottom a season ago and needed to find a new mindset in his life. On and off the floor. He was not the teammate he needed to be in playing for three teams in the past three years. He did not take the game seriously enough, he did not understand what was needed to turn the corner.

Howard has said all that before. Multiple times. To multiple teams and teammates. Maybe this time he has genuinely figured things out, but whatever he did and said was enough to convince the Lakers to buy in…

To a point.

One could argue — and I would make the case — that Noah would be a better fit on the court for the Lakers’ needs in terms of passing and defense, but he comes with plenty of risks as well (health, getting along with LeBron James, and how much he liked the nightlife as a Knick in New York and what that would mean in L.A.). At least with Howard, the Lakers mitigated that risk with the non-guaranteed contract. If Howard will not accept his role and is disruptive (as he has been in recent stops), if he is still eating candy like a bingeing 10-year-old on Halloween night, if he can’t stay healthy, the Lakers can waive Howard and move on. If the Lakers brought in Noah, they would have been smart to have the same non-guaranteed contract (if Noah would have signed that kind of deal).

For now the Lakers have their man, but he’s basically on probation. Howard has to prove in deeds everything he has said in words.