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.

Watch Trae Young hit floater over Jimmy Butler to lift Hawks past 76ers

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Philadelphia had its chance. It got the ball with 27.5 seconds left in a tie game in Atlanta, a chance for Jimmy Butler to ice another game and… nothing. The Sixers had a shot clock violation after a scrambled play (watch the video above).

That left 3.5 seconds for Trae Young, and that’s all the time he needed.

Young’s floater has improved over the course of the season, and he was quick enough to get in a position where Butler could not block his shot. And he drained it.

The combination of a Sixers team that looked flat coming off their win over the Celtics, combined with Young’s energy was too much. Atlanta has played better since the All-Star break and teams sleep on them at their own peril.

Watch Boban Marjanovic hit the first three pointer of his career.

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Boooobaaaaan!!!

Boban Marjanovic was 0-of-6 from three in his career before Saturday night. Then this happened.

Boban is just fun. Basketball should be fun.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with his free agency this summer, but you can bet the fans in Philly want him to stick around.

Lakers reached out to Lonzo Ball wondering if Big Baller Brand shoes part of ankle issues

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Lonzo Ball has played in just 99 games through his first two NBA seasons, 60 percent of the possible games. His rookie season, it was shoulder and knee issues that sidelined him for 30 games.

This past season, he went down on Jan. 19 with a sprained ankle against the Rockets, a severe one that also had a bone bruise, which slowed the healing. Ball has been shut down for the season because of it.

The Lakers are concerned that his Big Baller Brand shoes may have contributed to the ankle issues, something Ball confirmed the Lakers talked to him about in an ESPN story by Ramona Shelburne and Paula Lavigne.

[The January injury] marked his third separate ankle injury, which left the Lakers searching for what could be the root issue of his troubles — including asking about his Big Baller Brand shoes.

“Yeah, they talked to me,” Lonzo Ball told ESPN two weeks ago. “They asked me about it, and I told ’em, ‘I feel comfortable. If I wasn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t play in ’em. If I didn’t play in [his signature BBB shoes], I’d play in Kobe [Bryant’s signature Nike shoe]. I work out in [LeBron James’ signature Nike shoe], but that’s because they’re heavier.”

Lonzo also said he told the Lakers he was open to making adjustments — “just minor things,” he said — to his Big Baller Brand shoes if needed.

There are trainers around the league who believe a lot of foot and ankle issues in the NBA are about poorly designed or ill-fitting shoes (that can include major, trusted brands, but the player wears something that does not fit his needs).

Whether the ZO2 is part of the problem or not is impossible to say from the outside.

However, Ball recently severed some ties with the Big Baller Brand over the business manager’s handling of his money. Ball also deleted pictures of himself wearing Big Baller Brand gear from his Instagram. What does that mean? We’re not going to speculate here, but take your own best guess.

Another Bucks’ injury: Pau Gasol reportedly out for month with ankle injury

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Malcolm Brogdon is out for the remainder of the regular season, likely the first round of the playoffs, and maybe longer with a plantar fascia tear. Nikola Mirotic is out likely through the end of the regular season (and maybe a little longer) with a thumb fracture. The injury bug that the Bucks avoided much of the season is catching up with them.

And Pau Gasol can now be added to the list, according to ESPN’s Malika Andrews.

Gasol is going to play a limited role for Milwaukee, but his depth along the front line would have been helpful as the Bucks try to rest guys and get right for the postseason.

If these injuries — particularly Brogdon, who is an important glue piece for them — lingers into the second round of the playoffs for Milwaukee, it could mean an earlier end to the season than they hoped.