Threes fall again, Carmelo scores 19 as USA routs Nigeria in final pre-Rio exhibition

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Now things get serious.

Not that the games suddenly will be closer or more interesting, but the stakes go way up starting Saturday.

That’s when USA Basketball tips off its Rio Olympics run, taking on China in the opener.

The Americans finished their pre-Olympics preparations with another blowout win knocking off Nigeria 110-66 Monday night in Houston. Carmelo Anthony led the way with 19 points for the USA (and postgame he apologized to Vanessa Carlton), Klay Thompson had 17, but more importantly, the USA was knocking down threes again (39.4 percent) and continued to play impressive defense.

Team USA looked ready.

“Yeah, and we hope to get even more ready during the pool play, because then it’s one-and-done once you get into the medal round,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a televised interview post game, referring to the five group-stage games the USA will play first.

The USA struggled from three in its last exhibition against Venezuela hitting 19 percent, but against Nigeria they hit 39.4 percent (13-of-33) led by Thompson’s 5-of-9 from deep. Kevin Durant was also 3-of-4.

What changed with the USA’s shooting?

“I thought we played really good defense,” Krzyzewski said, falling back on the coaching axiom that good defense leads to good offense. “We had played good defense, but (tonight) it led to some fast breaks. And these guys are too good a shooters not to be good shooters. They might have a bad night shooting, but it hasn’t affected their defense.”

There was a bit of a stumble for the USA early as another makeshift starting lineup didn’t blow anyone away — Nigeria went on an 8-2 run to make it a one-point game in the middle of the first quarter. The USA defense was fairly solid, particularly with Houston native DeAndre Jordan patrolling the paint, but the starters were 4-of-11 shooting and were not taking quality shots. But when in came more of the projected starters — Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins — things turned quickly. Thompson hit 3-of-4 from deep to start, the ball moved better, and the USA was up 13 after one and 24 at the half.

Nothing changed after that. Nigeria wanted to run and have an up-tempo game, which is smart in the sense they didn’t want to face the USA’s half court defense, but trouble because they didn’t have the athletes to run with the Americans. So things like this happened.

The USA did that without Kyrie Irving (left thigh bruise) and Paul George Paul Geroge (left calf injury), both of whom sat the game out. Coach K said after the game neither injury was at all serious and both will be ready to play in Rio come Saturday.

Nigeria was led by Chamberlain Oguchi, who played his college ball at Oregon and Illinois State. He had 21 points and his four made threes were the only ones that Nigeria had all evening.

If you’re searching for negatives with Team USA, you could point to Draymond Green’s offensive performance so far, or that point guards who can attack off the dribble may give them trouble. But you’re just looking for the negatives — while this team isn’t perfect they look far better and deeper than any other team heading to Rio. The USA is just far more talented and is the clear gold medal favorites for good reason.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.

 

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.