Team USA going small ball, but how many bigs do they keep on the bench?

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LAS VEGAS — Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis.

For the second day in a row coach Mike Krzyzewski rolled out that five-some out as a unit for scrimmages at the end of the Team USA practice and it looked like the starting group. Behind that guys like Klay Thompson, James Harden, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Bradley Beal and a number of other guards and wing players seem to be getting long, hard looks. Chandler Parsons got run as a stretch four on Monday.

Team USA is going small. Three guard lineups with what would be an NBA three serving as an athletic stretch four.

“Everyone talks about match-ups (with big teams such as Spain), people have to match-up against us, too,” Krzyzewski said. “What you have to do is put your best 12 together and then make adjustments with the best 12. Obviously we’re not going to have 12 guards, but that’s what we’ve done. You try to get eight or nine guys that are going to be the core, then three or four guys who complement them. We’ll see how that works out.”

That small ball has worked out well the last four years with gold medals at the 2010 World Championships and the 2012 London Olympics. Remember on that London team LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were the primary power forwards, and they overwhelmed teams with athleticism and defensive pressure. Yet a lot of talk around Team USA seems to be about the guys not here, such as Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.

“The big men we lost are not centers. We’ve never really had… well in Beijing (2008 Olympics) we did, we had Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh (back when Bosh played more in the post),” Krzyzewski said. “But since then we had Tyson (Chandler) but he didn’t play large minutes. At both the World Championships and in London (2012 Olympics) we had LeBron, Carmelo, Kevin (Love), they were the four/fives. Actually in Istanbul (2010) it was Lamar Odom, who played great, Kevin (Durant), Rudy Gay, Tyson, Kevin Love as a young guy, as a 21 year old. We’re accustomed to (playing small).”

What Team USA is trying to figure out now is who the main rotation guys will be, USA Basketball President Jerry Colangelo told ProBasketballTalk. But at some point they need to think about the bigs.

“We talk about having a core group of players, and that number could vary depending on the people you’re working with, could be eight, could be nine, and then looking for individuals who are specialists, if you will,” Colangelo said. “High energy people, three point specialists, defenders, and that will really be determined by who ends up in our core of eight or nine players.

“This is a very deep roster. We don’t have a lot of bigs, we have a lot of perimeter players, terrific guards for sure. That structure, in our case, may be you carry an extra big or two, just because of our strengths — which will be wings, and the point and the two guard — but you need to protect yourself with a couple of bigs.”

DeMarcus Cousins seems to be getting a lot of run with the main units, but Andre Drummond is making plays and getting a lot of praise from Krzyzewski. The question is fit.

“DeMarcus brings a different big man than Anthony (Davis),” Krzyzewski said. “Just like (Andre) Drummond does. And we have to see how we might incorporate that into what we’re doing.”

What team USA wants is versatility — and that includes their big men, which is why Anthony Davis is a lock.

“What you would hope to have is a roster that would be adaptable and can play against whomever the opposition would be,” Colangelo said.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.