Uninterested USA still beats Ukraine, now on to knockout round against Mexico

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Thursday’s game against the Ukraine literally didn’t mean a thing to the USA, they had already secured the top seed in Group C, their spot in the 16-team knockout round already was locked. This was basically another exhibition game for the Americans.

And it showed.

Once again Team USA came out slow, acting exactly like it was their third game in three days. Which it was. Combine that with a vintage Mike Fratello strategy (the former NBA head man coaches the Ukrainians) of bottling up the paint, slowing the game down and just making it ugly and you got the USA in a little trouble early. The Ukrainians were driving the lane, the Americans were not moving the ball and Team USA trailed 19-14 after one quarter.

Then things returned to normal. With the middle bottled up the USA guards started to knock down shots — James Harden led the way with 17, Stephen Curry had 14 including three three-pointers. Eventually the onslaught came (a 17-5 run to end the first half) and the USA eventually pulled away.

The final score was 95-71 USA.

The USA got a scare at the end of the game, when Kyrie Irving fell on his hip after going up for a shot with less than two minutes to go in the game. There was no twisting of a body part, but it was a hard landing. He limped back straight to the locker room. We are awaiting an update.

Next up for the USA is Mexico to start the round of 16, Saturday at 10 am ET (on ESPN 2). Mexico boasts a couple NBA players — Jorge Gutierrez, Gustavo Ayon — their level of talent is on the lower end of the teams the USA has faced so far. This should be another blowout win for the Americans.

When it gets down to the final 8 teams, things could get a little more challenging for the USA. (But really Spain in the gold medal game should be the only game Team USA could lose.)

If you’re looking for bright spots, the USA was out and running in the second half again and had six players in double digits — Harden and Curry we mentioned, plus Anthony Davis had a dozen and ran the floor well, Irving and DeMarcus Cousins each had 11, and Kenneth Faried had 10 points and 8 rebounds.

Derrick Rose moved well and made some nice plays (four assists) in his third game in three days. He seemed as fresh as the rest of the team. That said he still has not found his shot, going 2-of-9 for four points.

We could pick apart how the Ukrainians had success getting the ball inside early and scoring that way, plus keeping the Americans out of transition for stretches. But really it’s hard to judge a USA team just coasting to wins against opponents it can overwhelm. Maybe a team like Lithuania could give the Americans trouble by exploiting the lack of defensive focus and offensive ball movement. Maybe.

But really, as we head to the knockout round, all signs point to USA vs. Spain in the gold medal game in Madrid — and that one the Americans legitimately could lose. We’ll see how Team USA tightens up in the knockout round starting Saturday in Barcelona.

NBA Championship odds: Lakers, Bucks favorites as NBA plans restart

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It’s all about LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

At least for the gambling public. With the return of the NBA set for July in a 22-team format, the NBA futures odds to win the title have gone up at sportsbooks. Not surprisingly, LeBron and the Lakers, and Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, are the betting favorites. Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers are close behind, with a considerable drop off after that.

Here are the current odds (with money won on a $100 bet):

TEAM CAESARS FAN DUAL
Los Angeles Lakers +200 +270
Milwaukee Bucks +275 +240
Los Angeles Clippers +325 +340
Houston Rockets +1500 +1200
Boston Celtics +1500 +2000
Toronto Raptors +1700 +2400
Denver Nuggets +2200 +2500
Miami Heat +4000 +2700
Philadelphia 76ers +2500 +2700
Utah Jazz +6000 +2900
Dallas Mavericks +3500 +3600
Brooklyn Nets +6000 +6000
Indiana Pacers +12500 +10000
Oklahoma City Thunder +6000 +10000
New Orleans Pelicans N/A +12000
Memphis Grizzlies +50000 +21000
Portland Trail Blazers +7500 +21000
San Antonio Spurs +100000 +21000
Orlando Magic +75000 +25000
Phoenix Suns +50000 +25000
Sacramento Kings +200000 +25000
Washington Wizards +100000 +25000

A few quick thoughts:

• Brooklyn is only at 60/1 odds because of Kevin Durant‘s possible return to the court — except that’s not happening. Even if he could, Kyrie Irving is not recovered from his March surgery yet, and no way KD is coming back without Irving.

• Along those same lines, John Wall is not returning for the Wizards this season.

• The best bet on the board? I would say the Clippers.

• If I had to bet who will end up with the eighth seed in the West, I would take Portland. New Orleans and Memphis both have a legitimate shot, but Portland gets Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins both back, and that was a 50+ win team with those two the season before.

• I’m basing my thoughts on what happened before March 11, and all of that feels somewhat irrelevant heading into this unprecedented situation.

PBT Podcast: The NBA is back! Breaking down the restart format.

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The NBA is back!

Or will be in July, at least, when 22 teams report to Orlando to play in a format that will see eight “seeding” games followed by potential play-in games for the eighth seed. After that, it’s a regular playoffs — no 1-16 seed but still East and West — with seven-game series each round.

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman from NBC Sports, along with our friend Keith Smith — who lives in Orlando near the Disney property and has been all over this story from the start — break down the format and whether this is a format that provides enough safety to the players and staffs in Orlando.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Adam Silver: Older coaches may not be on bench in Orlando “in order to protect them”

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Gregg Popovich is 71. Mike D’Antoni is 68. Alvin Gentry just turned 65.

People 65 and older have proven particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control says 80% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States are people 65 and older.

As the NBA heads to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando to resume the season, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed concern for some of the league’s older coaches during an interview on TNT.

“There are people involved in this league, particularly coaches, who are obviously older people…” Silver said. “We’re going to have to work through protocols, for example, and it may be certain coaches may not able to be the bench coach. They may have to maintain social distancing protocols, and maybe they can be in the front of a room, a locker room… with a whiteboard, but when it comes to actual play we’re not going to want that that close to players in order to protect them.”

You can guess how that went over with D’Antoni and Gentry (and, likely, Popovich).

Pretty quickly, Silver was walking his statement back. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, president of the NBA Coach’s Association, was quickly on the phone with Silver.

The league may want to take coaches who are members of vulnerable populations and find a way to add layers of protection for them, but keeping them from coaching their teams would be an incredibly tough sell to everyone around the league.

NCAA sets August deadline for early draft entrants to withdraw

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The NCAA has set a new schedule for early entrants to the NBA draft to withdraw and return to school.

The NCAA announced Thursday that it would give players until 10 days after the NBA scouting combine or Aug. 3, whichever comes earlier. This comes three weeks after the NCAA postponed its deadline, which was originally scheduled to fall on Wednesday.

That June 3 deadline was set to come 10 days after the completion of the combine, but the NBA postponed the combine amid the coronavirus pandemic and has yet to announce a new date.

The NBA has announced the date of the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery, now set for August 25. Traditionally the NBA Draft Combine would follow a few days after that, although there has been no official announcement.

The NCAA’s date will force players to decide whether or not to stay in the draft before the combine takes place, or even before many have found out if they are invited. Some players who might otherwise have returned to school now likely will keep their name in the draft, only to not get a combine invite.

In a statement, the NCAA said the Division I Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee worked with the National Association of Basketball Coaches on the new timeline and “believes this is the most equitable alternative available in these unprecedented circumstances.”

“This provides the utmost flexibility to student-athletes testing the waters to make the most informed decision about their future during this uncertain time,” NCAA Senior Vice President for Basketball Dan Gavitt said in the statement.