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.

‘One Piece’ fans are trying to get Steven Adams into the All-Star Game

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There’s been a lot of clever NBA All-Star marketing over the years. Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum did a “Napoleon Dynamite”-themed video for his buddy Damian Lillard this season. The Toronto Raptors made a faux-vintage action figure ad for Kawhi Leonard.

Now it appears that anime website Crunchyroll is trying to get “One Piece” fans to vote for Oklahoma City Thunder big man Steven Adams.

Adams is a fan of anime, and has professed his admiration for the show “One Piece” before. Adams made mention about how he was watching the show instead of Kevin Durant‘s debut with the Golden State Warriors a while back. In turn, Crunchyroll — a streaming site — made a video trying to get people to vote for Adams in the NBA fan vote.

Via Twitter:

That’s pretty good, but will it be enough? We know the fan vote gets wild, especially with favorites who are sort of undeserving (Derrick Rose and Luka Doncic come to mind). Could a big push from the anime crowd help Adams, who is an excellent player but who has never been an All-Star, notch his first bid?

Luka Doncic got ejected for kicking a ball into the stands (VIDEO)

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Luka Doncic is a young man, still just 19 years old. The Dallas Mavericks forward has been a pro for some time now, but he still has things to learn.

For example, in the NBA you can’t kick a basketball and expect not to get a technical foul just because you’re a star.

Doncic was standing near the ball during the fourth quarter when he decided to get it a little boot, sending it into the stands. That earned Doncic his second technical of the night, earning him an ejection.

Via Twitter:

You can’t kick a basketball, my son.

Spurs expect DeMar DeRozan back Sunday vs. Clippers

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The San Antonio Spurs hope to be at or near full strength when they host the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. The Clippers can’t even hope to be that fortunate on the injury front.

The Spurs head home after sweeping a two-game road trip, in Dallas and Minneapolis, with the latest win a 116-113 nail-biter against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.

Marco Belinelli canned a pair of crucial free throws with 4.2 seconds the play to cement the win while LaMarcus Aldridge poured in 25 points in a contest that was close throughout, with 27 lead changes and 17 ties through the middle of the fourth quarter.

Rudy Gay scored 22 points for the Spurs, while Belinelli racked up 19 points, Derrick White added 15, and Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes poured in 11 and 10 points, respectively.

“We got through some stuff, and it’s always good to win on the road,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said afterward. “It’s always difficult to do, but when you do it feels pretty good.”

The Spurs have now won 16 of their past 18 games against Minnesota. The victory was accomplished even though San Antonio played without leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, who aggravated a left ankle injury in pregame warmups and was ruled out just prior to tipoff.

Popovich said DeRozan likely will return against the Clippers.

“He has a lot of bumps and bruises,” Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News or DeRozan. “He came in stiff on Friday. His thigh has been hurting and his ankle. He has been playing a lot of minutes, more than most people, and it seemed better to let his body recover.”

Popovich garnered his 520th career win on the road, tying Pat Riley for the most in NBA history.

The Clippers travel to south Texas on the heels of a 112-94 home loss to Golden State on Friday. It was Los Angeles’ season-worst fifth straight defeat.

Tobias Harris led the Clippers with 28 points while rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander matched his career high with 24. No other Los Angeles player scored more than seven points.

“We didn’t have a lot of scoring out on the floor tonight,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers said afterward.

The Clippers played without injured sixth man Lou Williams, who is battling a sore right hamstring. Rivers also said that Williams, who suffered his injury Wednesday against the Utah Jazz, is likely to miss the next couple of games.

“It was tough on me because in the third quarter, second half, we needed that extra scoring threat,” Harris told the Los Angeles Times. “We need other guys to pick up the load and just be ready to play. That’s our mentality and we’ll be ready for it.”

To make matters worse, Los Angeles forward Danilo Gallinari was forced from the game after eight minutes with lower back spasms and didn’t return.

“He got hit in the game early and you could see his movement was wrong,” Rivers said of the decision to pull Gallinari. “I asked him early, and he said he got hit in the back, said he wanted to go a little bit more. Then I saw him moving and I was like, ‘Time to go home.'”

The Clippers will monitor Gallinari’s back as they head out on a four-game road trip that begins in San Antonio.

The Spurs have taken two of the three games with Los Angeles this season and own a 72-13 edge at home in the all-time series.

–Field Level Media

Watch James Harden score MVP-like 48, lift Rockets past Lakers in OT

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 48 points, Eric Gordon added 30 and the Houston Rockets overcame a 21-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 138-134 in overtime Saturday night.

The Rockets trailed for most of the night and were down by 18 in the second-half. Gordon sent it to overtime with a 3-pointer, and made four free throws in the last seconds of the extra period.

Coming off 57- and 58-point games, Harden had his 19th straight game with at least 30 and he’s had 40 in 10 of the last 13. He was 14 of 30 from the field, going 8 of 19 3-pointers, and hit 12 of 15 free throws.

Brandon Ingram missed a 3 for Los Angeles before Harden hit 1 of 2 free throws to make it 132-130 with less than a minute left. Ingram tied it with a basket, and Harden again made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 133-132.

Los Angeles missed a 3 before Gordon also made just 1 of 2 free throws to leave Houston up by two with 12.6 seconds left. Kyle Kuzma lost the ball and it went out of bounds to give Houston the ball back. Gordon added four free throws after that to secure the victory.

It was the second straight overtime game for both teams after Houston lost to Brooklyn on Wednesday night and Los Angeles beat Oklahoma City on Thursday night.

Kuzma had 32 points for Los Angeles and Ingram added 21 in a game where coach Luke Walton was ejected in the third quarter.

Already without LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, the Lakers have another injury concern after Lonzo Ball sprained his left ankle in the third quarter. The team said he was taken to a hospital for X-rays because the machine at the arena was broken.

Four straight points by the Lakers stretched the lead to nine in the fourth quarter, but Harden and Gordon made consecutive 3-pointers cut it to 112-109 with about two minutes remaining.

Los Angeles made four free throws to make it 116-109 about a minute later, but Harden made two 3-pointers around a basket by Ivica Zubac to get Houston within three with about 30 seconds left.

Lance Stephenson missed a 3-pointer and Harden made two free throws to cut the lead to 118-117 with 5.7 seconds left.

Zubac made two more free throws before Gordon’s off-balance 3-pointer with 2 seconds left sent it to OT.

The Lakers built a huge lead early and were up 64-46 at halftime, with Kuzma scoring 24 points.

They were ahead by 17 with about eight minutes left in the third quarter after scoring five straight points capped by a basket from Kuzma before Houston scored the next 15 points to cut it to 74-72 three minutes later. James Ennis had five points in that stretch and P.J. Tucker capped it with a 3-pointer.

Ball was injured just before Houston’s run began. He remained on the court for a couple of minutes talking with trainer’s before he was helped to his feet where he hopped on his right foot for a few steps before being carried off the court and to the locker room by Stephenson and Michael Beasley.

Walton was ejected a couple of minutes after that when he got two technical fouls after yelling at officials during a timeout.