USA’s best half of basketball propels them to easy win vs. Lithuania, into gold medal game

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Team USA has been a second-half team all World Cup long, letting teams hang around (or in Turkey’s case, lead) for 20 minutes, and at the same time absorbing the best an opponent has to offer. Then in the second half they find another gear and blow the opponent out.

Things started out the same way Thursday against Lithuania. James Harden and Stephen Curry struggled on defense and struggled to find their shot but did find foul trouble, all of which helped make it a seven point USA lead at the half .

Then the Americans unleashed their best half of basketball all tournament long.

The USA started off the third quarter with a 10-0 run (Curry and Harden hitting threes, Anthony Davis with a putback off a miss in there too) and from there on owned the third quarter 33-14. Harden had 16 points in the third alone.

The USA coasted from there to a 96-68 victory. The USA has won every game in this tournament by at least 21.

The victory puts the USA in the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid against the winner of Friday’s France vs. Serbia contest. A game where the USA will be a heavy favorite (now that France eliminated host Spain).

The first half of Thursday’s game was physical, chippy and both teams were struggling to make shots. Which is just how Lithuania wanted it. The Americans had multiple guys in foul trouble, and going against a big front line of Lithuania the USA went away from Davis and Kenneth Faried inside and instead relied heavily on guard play. Which normally works but Team USA shot 33 percent overall in first half, and 4-of-16 from three. Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving were a combined 1-of-7 from beyond the arc before the break.

Yet the Americans led 43-35 at the half because of their team defense, which held Lithuania to 31 percent shooting (Lithuania bricked some looks in there, too). Well, that and Klay Thompson’s 14 points on 11 shots in the first 20 minutes. As they have done all tournament long, in the first half the Americans absorbed the best their opponent could offer, all while trying to establish their up-tempo style.

Then in the second half the USA released the Kraken.

The tempo the USA established earlier picked up steam thanks to their defensive pressure, which carried over to the other end as transition baskets opened up and the threes started falling. With that the USA big men started to run the floor which led to Davis and Faried getting buckets (and a couple impressive dunks). It was a whirlwind and there was nothing Lithuania could do to stop it.

The Americans played their best half of basketball in this game, when it mattered most. By the time the third quarter was over the USA was up by 26 and from there they just let Kyrie Irving take charge of the offense as he finished with a team-high 18 points. Harden and Thompson each finished with 16, Curry added 13. (Derrick Rose struggled with his shot again and was 1-of-8.)

The only time that Lithuania seemed to contest the Americans was after the game when the two sides went to shake hands and the two sides started a little pushing match. Mike Krzyzewski jumped in the middle and made himself the peacemaker.

Well, that and when an elbow caught Rudy Gay in the mouth and sent him to the locker room late in the third quarter.

Lithuania was led by the Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas, who had 15 points (11 of them from the free throw line) and 7 boards. He helped keep the USA big men in foul trouble, but he couldn’t really slow down the scoring. Lithuania is now on to Madrid for the bronze medal game, taking on the loser of the Serbia/France contest.

For the Americans, they are where they expected to be now, the gold medal game. Most importantly, they are playing their best ball at the right time — one more game like this one and they will take home the gold from Spain.

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

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After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.

Reports: Suns push for Jarred Vanderbilt derailed Bojan Bogdanovic trade

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Utah traded Bojan Bogdanovic not to one of the contenders pushing for him — Phoenix, Miami, even the Lakers — but to rebuilding Detroit. It’s a move that caught the NBA off guard.

News has come out now that part of what hung up the Suns’ effort to land Bogdanovic was their push to make promising young forward Jarred Vanderbilt — who the Jazz got from the Timberwolves in the Rudy Gobert trade — as part of the deal. The well-connected John Gambardoro first had the report.

If the Suns had not pushed for Vanderbilt it doesn’t mean they would have landed Bogdanovic using a Jae Crowder-based package ( with another player, maybe Landry Shamet, and some picks). Reports have also suggested the draft package that was part of the Suns offer was not impressing the Jazz, so Utah moved on to a cost-cutting move rather than one where they took back more salary than they preferred.

The Pistons may decide to trade Bogdanovic again closer to the February deadline and maybe the Suns can get in the mix then. But for now, the Phoenix target is in the Motor City to start the season.

 

 

Knicks’ Leon Rose plays it safe with media, Mitchell trade: ‘We’re thrilled with where we are’

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Leon Rose continues to play it safe.

He’s played it safe with the New York media since he arrived — he doesn’t meet with them. Instead, he again turned this week to the MSG Network — owned by Knicks governor James Dolan — so he doesn’t have to face hard questions or defend decisions.

He also played it safe in the Donovan Mitchell trade talks, not going all-in to get the All-Star out of Utah. Mitchell is now in Cleveland and we will see over the course f the next 12-24 months if playing it safe was the right call. Here’s Rose’s explanation of the situation in that MSG interview (hat tip Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News).

“We went through that process and at the end of the day we made a decision to stay put. And we’re thrilled with where we are. Taking a look at the summer, we feel great about what transpired.”

As every GM does this time of year, Rose said he likes his team and its chances this season.

“One of our main goals has been to create internal stability. Signed RJ Barrett, first extension of a player since Charlie Ward. We retained Mitchell Robinson. He’s a player who has developed the last few years and we feel very fortunate that we were able to keep him. We got the No.1 point guard in free agency this summer in Jalen Brunson. So we feel really good about the summer.”

In the interview, Rose also defended Tom Thibodeau and his decisions as coach, despite rumors of him being on the hot seat. Rose said Thibs is not under pressure.

The Knicks should be better this season with Brunson, plus Barrett should take another step forward. New York’s problem is much of the East got better — Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington and others — and this roster likely still leaves the Knicks fighting to make the play-in.

Rose deserves credit for being patient, trying to build culture and foundation, and not just throwing Dolan’s money at an aging superstar. He hasn’t done anything stupid, which is a step forward in New York. But he also hasn’t done anything bold yet, he’s just played it safe.

At some point, Rose and the Knicks will have to push their chips in and make a bold, all-in move. But for now, they are playing it safe.