Notes from Team USA Camp in Las Vegas: Nobody is a fan of the FIBA balls

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LAS VEGAS — After a couple days of Team USA training camp I had a few things in my notebook, things that didn’t fit in stories, so I’ve slid them in here.

• For the practices Team USA is using the FIBA-issue balls and nobody is a fan. From Kevin Durant on down guys shake their heads when you ask about the balls and getting used to them, it’s the most animated a few guys got. These balls are much more slick and slippery than your standard NBA ball. It led to a few issues on the first day of practice and has been an adjustment for the shooters and ball handlers.

“They’re brand new and really slippery, and a lot of guys sweat a lot so a lot of sweat gets on the ball, it makes it hard to handle and shoot,” Anthony Davis said. “Once they get broken in they’ll be fine.”

For the record, pretty much everyone finished their comments with “that’s just part of the game.” But don’t confuse that with liking these balls.

• The other adjustment is the more physical style of play — referees let a lot more contact go in international ball. A few guys have driven the lane trying to draw calls that did not come. There has been a lot of staring at the refs… so like a regular NBA game.

• I mentioned this before but it is worth repeating: For two straight days now Mike Krzyzewski has ended practice with a lineup of Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis on the floor, and that is likely the USA’s starting five.

• With all the talent in the room guys are bringing the effort. “You can sense it,” Damian Lillard said. “Guys that don’t have a reputation for playing hard defense are picking up full court. You’ll see guys doing stuff that basically shows you they will sell themselves out for the greater good of the team.”

• Derrick Rose says he expects some down days on his road back: “I think physically, just seeing if I can hold up (with high level practices every day), just seeing if I can hold up. I know I can but just seeing how my body feels.” He added that Bulls officials are calling and texting him daily to keep tabs and see how he’s feeling (plus Tom Thibodeau is one of the Team USA assistant coaches).

• Kevin Durant on Rose: “It’s is confidence man. That’s what it’s about in this league. You experience things and you go through and you gain confidence.”

• Former Bull Kyle Korver talking about new Bull Doug McDermott: “All the expectations on him and he handled it with such class. A lot of the learning curve when you come into the NBA is learning emotionally how to deal with everything going on. He has to learn how to deal with Thibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) every day, that’s a lot.”

• Durant on if he was disappointed Blake Griffin and Kevin Love dropped out of Team USA this summer: “No. As a player you know exactly what those guys are going through. We understand. As players we understand.” I’ll add that a number of players were asked that question and responded with some variant of “we just have to go with the guys in the room.”

• Gordon Hayward on the upcoming season in Utah where they have a lot of young talent: “We’re going to learn a lot. We’re going to take our lumps but I think it will be a good, exciting year. Hopefully we can get better from last year.”

• Coach Mike Krzyzewski on whether he knew when he was recruiting Kyrie Irving to Duke if he could turn out to be this kind of special player: “Oh definitely. I kew that in high school. That’s one of the thinks I did know — there were things I didn’t know, but I knew he was destined to be a great player because he has not only ability but he has character and great intelligence.”

• DeMar DeRozan took an elbow from Klay Thompson that ended with DeRozan on the floor with a bloody nose. DeRozan was up on Thompson pressuring him out high, Thompson tried to swing his arms through holding the ball to create space and caught him clean with the elbow. There was blood on the floor, but DeRozan was fine.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Kyle Korver’s playing time: Brad Stevens ‘threw us for a loop’ by not playing Semi Ojeleye

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James is obviously the Cavaliers’ best player. Cleveland’s second-best player? Usually Kevin Love, but Kyle Korver has made a case lately.

So, how did Korver play just 19 minutes, including none in the first quarter, in the Cavs’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night? That was his playoff low, besides Game 1 against the Pacers, when he was still recovering from injury.

Blame Boston coach Brad Stevens removing Semi Ojeleye from his rotation.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue:

Well, initially, he’s been putting [Semi] Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game. He didn’t play him tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop.

This won’t slow the talk of Stevens being a genius. He neutralized one of Cleveland’s best players simply by not using a limited rookie.

Still, Lue’s strategy held some merit. Korver is a defensive liability, but Ojeleye’s offensive limitations make it hard to take advantage. Ojeleye’s biggest strength, his physical strength, is of limited utility in trying to stick tight to Korver on the perimeter.

In Games 1-4, Cavaliers with Korver on and…

Ojeleye on:

  • Offensive rating: 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 102.1
  • Net rating: +9.9

Ojeleye off:

  • Offensive rating: 97.0
  • Defensive rating: 109.5
  • Net rating: -12.5

That said, Korver is too good to plant on the bench. Other perimeter options – J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green (who actually played fine last night) – are just so unreliable. Lue shouldn’t just wait for the perfect matchup to use Korver.

But will Lue get it, anyway?

Stevens:

We believe in Semi and we think he’s a big, huge part of our team. It would not be a shock if he plays a ton for us in Game 6.

Lue better develop a plan for using Korver in Game 6 Friday, with contingencies based on Stevens using or not using Ojeleye. I wouldn’t trust Stevens’ declaration one bit, and Lue doesn’t want to get thrown for a loop again.

PBT Extra: Rockets showed defense, resilience, can Warriors show same in Game 5?

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Game 4 was an epic game, and the Houston Rockets proved they are a serious threat to knock the Warriors off the top of the mountain. They took Golden State’s big punch to start the game (a 12-0 run) and Stephen Curry haymaker in the third, cranked up their defense, got a great game from Chris Paul, and evened the series at 2-2.

Heading back to Houston, we can expect more of the same out of the Rockets Thursday night — they know a win in Game 5 puts them in a very dominant position in the series.

The question is, do the Warriors have another gear? That’s one of the topics I get into in this PBT Extra. For a few seasons now, the Warriors have been able to play lockdown defense and hit tough shots in the clutch, with Kevin Durant making them especially hard to stop, but in Game 4 when it got tight they looked tired and slow. Houston’s ball pressure threw Golden State off its game, and fatigue had set in for the Warriors. Can they not only go on big runs but slow down Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets’ attack?

Thursday night is going to be interesting.

LeBron James recalls six turnovers with striking precision (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James showed off his memory after the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics, detailing every play of the beginning of the fourth quarter:

He was at it again after Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

Asked about his six turnovers, LeBron perfectly described six turnovers:

The turnover LeBron very noticeably said went off Jeff Green‘s hands was actually assigned to Green. So, that meant LeBron omitted one of his own:

Still, this was incredibly impressive. It was also maybe a little passive-aggressive, the way LeBron notes the ball going off Green’s and J.R. Smith‘s hands.

So, it was quintessential LeBron.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.