After lackluster start, Team USA rallies to blow out Dominican Republic, secure group top spot

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Team USA has won the FIBA World Cup Group C.

Which is about as big a surprise as your mother forwarding an email with a cute cat video in it — we all knew that was coming. We’re all still waiting for something more interesting.

The USA grabbed the top spot with a 106-71 thrashing of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, improving to 4-0 in the World Cup. Team USA was not energetic and focused to start the game — they led just 25-22 after one quarter — but went on a 22-0 run late in the third into the fourth, turning a comfortable win into a laugher.

The USA has one group game left, Thursday against the Ukraine (ESPN 2 at 11:30 ET), then they start the knockout round Saturday in Barcelona against an opponent yet to be determined. That’s when things start to get interesting, although it may well be a couple games after that before the USA gets its first real test.

Once again Wednesday it was the energy of Kenneth Faried that led the way for Team USA, he had 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting, plus pulled down six rebounds. He’s the big story right now — and to do it heading into a contract year is a good time to break out. DeMarcus Cousins had 13 points and six steals and brought some passion to the court, Anthony Davis finished with 10 points and five blocks as again it was the inside play of the Americans that anchored them and got them the win.

The Dominican Republic was without Houston Rockets swingman Francisco Garcia — he’s averaged 21 points a game and played 31 minutes a game so far this World Cup — who sat out with a sprained ankle. He tweaked it at the end of Tuesday’s game against Finland and with Thursday’s Dominican Republic game against Turkey determining whether or not they advance to the knockout stage (win and they move on, lose and it could get dicey), the Dominican Republic coaches wisely gave Garcia a game off. A game they weren’t going to win anyway.

Credit the Dominican roster, filled with guys who played college ball in the USA, for playing well early on. They slowed the game down at points, got back on defense in transition, ran a solid zone defense, made smart fouls and drove the lane. The problem was they struggled with the length of Team USA when they tried to finish those drives (DR shot just 39.6 percent on two pointers). The USA had five first quarter blocks and altered many more shots — the USA bigs were cleaning up a lot of messes.

It also was close early because the USA just missed stuff they normally make. Davis missed a couple dunks, Curry clanked a wide open three, and the USA started 2-of-7 from the free throw line. Just not in a rhythm, not playing with energy. USA struggled again against the zone.

The USA got a spark off the bench, particularly some chemistry between Cousins and Derrick Rose. It wasn’t a great statistical game for Rose — six points on five shots, three assist in 13 minutes — but his defense was better than the guys on the floor, he made some smart passes, and bottom line he was out there when the complexion of the game started to change. By the half the USA was up 15, 56-41, and had yet to go on a real run.

In the second half the USA played improved defense (the Dominican Republic scored just 30 points after the half) and with that started to really pull away and make this a rout.

Thursday’s game against Mike Fratello’s Ukranian team likely ends in pretty similar fashion.

Again for the USA there are legit areas of concern. There are the slow starts, we can pick apart the half court defensive decisions at times, not to mention the ball movement vs. too much isolation basketball ratio, but the USA seemed a little better about those things today (well, not the slow starts). It’s not easy to judge until they face a team they can’t just overwhelm, but that likely does not happen until the quarter or semi-finals next week.

Against Spain (or maybe Slovenia or Lithuania) these kinds of sloppy starts and defensive miscues could be real trouble. But the USA knew how this game would end and it’s human nature not to be as focused in those cases.

Thursday likely sees more of the same.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t believe in the NBA 2K cover curse

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Milwaukee Bucks superstar at Giannis Antetokounmpo will bless this year’s cover of NBA 2K19. It’s a big deal for the Greek Freak, who has come a long way since be a heralded prospect after being drafted in 2013.

Antetokounmpo is also apparently aware of the noted curse from the 2K franchise. That is, that former players who have been on the cover in years past have notoriously ended up in different jerseys shortly after getting selected for the honor.

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, and Kevin Durant all left their respective teams shortly after being featured on the cover.

Antetokounmpo signed a contract extension in 2016 that runs through the 2020-2021 season. Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s no reason to think that he will be gone anytime soon.

But is the cover curse real? People certainly seem to think the Madden one is.

Lakers fan paints another LeBron James mural in Los Angeles (PHOTO)

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There was already one LeBron James mural in Los Angeles. Several people decided to attack it with paint, ruining a nice gesture by a local artist in Venice and proving how annoying (presumed) Kobe Bryant fans can be.

Now, there is another mural in LA and this time it paid a little more attention to former Lakers legends. Hopefully this time around the subject matter will help stave off would-be vandals.

Via Twitter:

This LeBron piece was done by another Venice muralist, Gustavo Zermeño Jr., who posted photos of his work. In it, LeBron is seen looking up at Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

No doubt that should satisfy some Lakers purists around the area, at least enough to keep them from throwing white paint all over it and ruining and impressive piece of artwork that took the artist a long time to create.

Lakers fan should just be happy that LeBron is in their state.

Clippers sign free agent Luc Mbah a Moute for second stint

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LOS ANGELES — Luc Mbah a Moute is back with the Los Angeles Clippers, signing a free-agent deal.

The 31-year-old forward averaged 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.18 steals in 61 games for Houston last season.

Mbah a Moute played two seasons for the Clippers from 2015-17, averaging 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 155 games, including 137 starts.

He was selected 37th overall by Milwaukee in 2008 after three seasons at UCLA. Besides the Clippers and Rockets, Mbah a Moute has played 10 seasons with Milwaukee, Sacramento, Minnesota and Philadelphia.

Terms of the deal announced Thursday were not announced.

DeMarcus Cousins relishing fresh start in Golden State

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins spent his first eight seasons in the NBA chasing two things – peace and the playoffs.

After signing with Golden State as a free agent, the four-time All-Star center has no doubts he’ll finally find both, and that those will help dispel the notion that he’s a bad teammate.

“Just a chance to play for a winning culture,” Cousins said Thursday. “I also have a chance to play with some of the most talented players of this era. Those two things alone, that pretty much sums it up.”

Looking relaxed while sitting on a stage next to Warriors general manager Bob Myers, Cousins was at ease during a news conference at the team’s practice facility.

Golden State’s fiery big man seems content in his new surroundings and wants the hardware to show for it.

“Every guy said let’s go get another championship,” Cousins said. “They are a well-established team and they could have easily been like, `No, we don’t need him.’ But they were excited like a team that’s never accomplished anything.”

While his signing in Golden State drew mostly groans from around the NBA, Cousins didn’t need much persuading to join the two-time defending champions. He has never played in the postseason, is coming off Achilles surgery in January and didn’t attract much attention in free agency until signing a $5.3 million, one-year contract with Golden State.

From the Warriors’ side, it’s a case of the rich getting richer. They’ve won the championship three of the past four seasons with an attack heavy on perimeter shooting and defense. In the 6-foot-7-inch, 270-pound Cousins, they now have a dominant presence on the low block as well.

“It’s a different dimension,” Myers said. “It’s not something that we’ve ever had as far as a low-post threat since I’ve been here. I’m excited. I hope he’s excited.”

Cousins averaged 25.2 points and career highs in rebounds (12.9), assists (5.4) and minutes (36.2) with New Orleans before getting hurt. He has been frustrated by the tediousness of rehab but is being cautious in his approach.

“I’m progressing weekly, which is a positive,” Cousins said. “As far as a timetable . to be determined. I have to be smart about it. I’m in a unique situation as well where I’m not needed right away. Time is kind of on my side so I have a chance to get to 100 percent.

“Making it to the playoffs won’t be an issue for this team obviously. Once the basketball part comes, everything else will take care of itself.”

A throng of media attended the news conference, flanked by 150 young fans who were taking part in a basketball camp held by Warriors. Cousins answered questions from two of the youngsters who were eager to know who his favorite players were growing up.

The 27-year-old with a quick temper and a history of piling up technical fouls at a rapid rate showed a playful side when he joked about the possibility of fighting with new teammates Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, two players with whom he’s had on-court issues in the past.

“Might as well,” Cousins said as the crowd laughed.

Cousins turned serious at one point when asked about reports that he had been offered a new contract by New Orleans before signing with Golden State.

“Only me and (Pelicans general manager) Dale Demps know what was said on the phone that night,” Cousins said. “We both know the truth and I’ll leave it at that.”

As for his new team, Cousins has assimilated quickly. He played with several members of the Warriors while winning a gold medal as part of Team USA during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“Me and Draymond clicked right away,” Cousins said. “We’re two goofballs that like to joke around a lot. Same with KD and same thing with Steph (Curry). It’s a great group. I think we’ll mesh well.”

Until he is medically cleared to play, Cousins will continue to rehab and learn coach Steve Kerr’s system. He’ll also reach out to the Oakland community, something he made a quiet habit of while in Sacramento playing for the Kings.

“I get out in the `hoods,” Cousins said. “I want to go to the worst, the grimiest places. That’s where I want to be. Those are usually the kids or the communities that kind of get left behind or forgotten about. I feel like I was in that situation at one point. That’s where my mindset is and that’s what I stand for.”