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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Sixers’ defensive adjustments rock Raptors, even series

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Brett Brown made his adjustments, Toronto’s offense sputtered, and Philadelphia evens series with a win. It was just a handful of moves, but it changed everything — at least for a game.

Joel Embiid was now guarding Pascal Siakam, a guy who took 71 percent of his shots this season within 10 feet of the rim. That threw off Siakam, who shot 9-of-25 on the night, but more importantly, it let Joel Embiid stay closer to the basket and be a disruptive force.

Part of that disruption was a bigger focus by Embiid and all the Sixers in shading their defense toward Kawhi Leonard, who still scored 35 points on 13-of-24 shooting, but it wasn’t the same impact as he didn’t get to his spots on the floor as easily. Ben Simmons continues to do a respectable job on Leonard, who is going to get his anyway.

Embiid had been on Marc Gasol, who now had the smaller Tobias Harris guarding him, but Gasol shot just 1-of-6 on the night and struggled for a while to figure out how to be a better playmaker despite the size advantage.

Combine all that with a 30-point game from Jimmy Butler and it was enough for Philly to win another defensive slugfest, 94-89. The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Thursday.

It still felt near the end like Toronto has advantages in this series, it just couldn’t hit the shots to exploit them, for example knocking down just 19-of-37 from three (27 percent). Toronto seemed to figure out what it needed to do to beat the Sixers’ adjustments, it just couldn’t finish the play — the Raptors were 19-of-54 (35.2 percent) on uncontested looks in this game (stat via NBA.com… not the best judge of what is uncontested, but the point is valid).

But now the series heads back to Philadelphia where the Sixers role players may be more comfortable and step up. They also should get more out of Embiid, who was battling a stomach… oh, let’s just let him describe it.

Game 3 is going to tell us a lot in this series. Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse didn’t change is rotations at all heading into this series, and after a Game 1 win didn’t feel the need. He should now, doing things like matching Gasol with Embiid (for defensive reasons). He stuck with Fred VanVleet despite an off night, expect the hook to come quicker from now on. This is a tight series, and if the Raptors are going to break out of their historic mold this is where they need to adjust and step up. As a team. We’ll see if they have that in them.

2) Nikola Jokic leads Denver offense to Game 1 win, but who will play defense in this series? The Spurs and Trail Blazers have this in common: Neither team has any idea how to slow down the Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray pick-and-roll.

Usually Jokic set the pick for Murray, but they reversed that a few times, and anything they did seemed to work. Jokic carved up the Portland defense when he was on the floor on his way to 37 points, nine rebounds, six assists.

Both teams scored at will in Game 1, but Jokic — and the Nuggets defense forcing 18 turnovers that became 23 points — was enough to get the 121-113 win. Game 2 is Wednesday night.

Portland did get 39 points from Damian Lillard in this game.

However, the story of this series is on the other end. Portland defended the predictable offense of Oklahoma City well in the first round, but Denver does not have Russell Westbrook dominating the ball and missing jumpers. Denver moves the ball, moves players off the ball, and has shooters everywhere. And you better guard that Nuggets’ center out at the arc, too.

That becomes the real question in this series — which team is going to defend the best? Which team is going to get enough stops that their offense can win it?

Portland tried Enes Kanter on Jokic (credit Kanter for a good game despite playing with basically one arm, he separated his left shoulder in Game 5 against OKC a week ago and is still not right, but he was out there). Thing is, that may still be their best option. There are not good ones, Zach Collins? With Jusuf Nurkic out Terry Stotts will have to get creative.

This is a “bet the over” kind of series, but if one team can figure out how to defend a little better, it will have a significant advantage. In Game 1, that was the Nuggets forcing turnovers.

3) Houston released an audit, Steve Kerr flopped in a press conference, now can we focus on the game, not the referees? This happens in every playoff series. Some more than others, but it’s a tradition that goes back decades — Phil Jackson was a master of it with the Bulls and Lakers.

The losing team in a playoff game has the coach/players complain about a specific kind of call, trying to influence the next set of officials to call that thing more their way.

Ultimately, that’s all that is going on here. Houston relies on James Harden getting to the free throw line a lot in their offense, and he wasn’t getting calls when the Warriors defenders crowded him in Game 1. There were times fouls should have been called — in the first half Klay Thompson absolutely fouled Harden and took away his landing spots. However, Harden sells every call — he goes to the ground on jumpers, he throws his head back and flails on drives — and so he doesn’t always get the benefit of the doubt. There’s a boy who cried wolf thing here. On Harden’s final three of the game he leaped forward and jackknifed his body to draw contact, then laid on the ground to sell the call. The referee rightly didn’t give it.

The Warriors responded with Draymond Green sounding rational (“Refereeing is an inexact science. So it is what it is.”) and Steve Kerr was flopping in press conferences. Tom Ziller of SB Nation had the best line, saying he can’t wait to go to the Rockets “2018 champions by audit” banner raising.

The question is did Daryl Morey and Harden complaining get them what they wanted. Will they get more calls and will that change how Game 2 is officiated, and with that the outcome? Or, have the Rockets become so lost in their own mythology that they will not be ready for Game 2, where it’s a safe bet the Warriors will be better rested, will have adjustments, and will just flat-out be better.

Giannis Antetokounmpo put on a show against Italy in World Cup tune-up (VIDEO)

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NBA defenses cannot stop MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So imagine what happens in an international game against lesser athletes and defenders.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine. Here are some highlights.

Antetokounmpo scored 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds 19 minutes of play, and Greece cruised to an 83-63 win. (Danilo Gallinari did not suit up for Italy in this one but will be on their World Cup roster.)

USA vs. Spain notebook: Celtics fans should like what they see

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — After listening to how defections had left Team USA weak and vulnerable, the Americans came out with a chip on their shoulder Friday night, played strong defense, showed they have plenty of athleticism and skill, and handled Spain 90-81 in a game that was not really that close.

Here are some other notes from Friday night’s exhibition game at the Honda Center (usually the home of the NHL’s Ducks)

Donovan Mitchell, who led Team USA with 13 points, summed up the feelings of the guys who did make a commitment to USA Basketball this summer:

“Me, I’m 22, some guys are older and got to rest their bodies and I understand that… For me, I’ve never been part of USA Basketball and I’m honored to be here, I’m honored to have this privilege to go out and compete.”

Marcus Smart was in street clothes and did not play on Friday night. Thursday at team practice he took part in some shooting drills but not the scrimmages or anything with contact. He continues to try to come back from a calf injury and make the World Cup roster.

• Smart said during the broadcast Friday that he is “100 percent confident” he will be back on the court with the team.

• Good news for Celtics fans: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both played well within the team concept, cutting off the ball and attacking when they had the chance. There was a comfort level and confidence with their games that was good to see again.

Tatum, in particular, made good decisions with the ball all night long, found teammates as cutters when defenders came to him, and seemed to do an improved job playing through contact (something he worked on this summer, and if FIBA ball they let more contact go so he needs it).

Kemba Walker‘s hesitation moves are just unfair.

• The USA’s starters were Harrison Barnes, Khris Middleton, Donovan Mitchell, Mason Plumlee, Kemba Walker.

• To start the second half, Myles Turner got the nod over Plumlee at center. Just a hunch on my part, but Turner is going to have some breakout games for the USA in China.

• Speaking of Myles Turner, this was the Tweet of the night.

• Of the three centers on the roster, Brook Lopez got the fewest minutes by a considerable margin. Lopez is considered a lock to make the roster, this may have been coach Gregg Popovich and staff wanting to get a longer look at Plumlee and Turner in game action (especially against NBA bigs on the Spanish side in Marc Gasol and Juancho Hernangomez). Not sure all three USA centers make the final roster cut.

• Middleton was the best player on Team USA Friday night. He always seems to make the right decision with the ball in his hands.

• This is Southern California, and the Laker fans were out in force. The Honda Center echoed with “Kuuuz” chants every time Lakers’ forward Kyle Kuzma touched the ball.

• Kuzma is considered one of the guys on the bubble to make the team, but he had a strong game on the boards and finished with seven points and five rebounds.

• In the third quarter, the USA rebounder passed ahead to Kuzma in transition, who pushed it up the wing but pulled up and went to the corner because Marc Gasol was back in the paint. As he pulled it out Kuzma found Derrick White as a trailer on break and threw him a pass, White got into the lane and hit an easy floater. When that happened, Popovich stood up and pointed at Kuzma and then Pop pointed at his head, acknowledging and loving the smart play by the Laker.

That was a sign of a maturing of Kuzma’s game, something the Lakers will need this season — and why playing for Popovich this summer is so good for him.

• You can see why Daryl Morey and the Rockets like Serio Llull — the 2017 EuroLeague MVP just knows how to play the game and is well rounded. Houston has Llull’s rights and have tried to lure him to the NBA, but he’s been happy playing for Real Madrid and so far has decided to stay in Spain.

DeMar DeRozan — a gold medalist with Team USA in the Rio Olympics — was in the arena with his children watching the action. Remember he plays for Popovich and the Spurs now (and is a SoCal native).

• In the final minute of a decided game, Team USA had a sloppy offensive possession then lost guys in transition leading to a Marc Gasol three. Popovich called a timeout with 53.4 seconds left to let his team hear about it. There was no chill.

Andrew Wiggins reportedly had shoes, luggage burglarized in Los Angeles

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Like many NBA players, Andrew Wiggins is in Los Angeles this summer working out, practicing against other elite talent, and generally enjoying the summer in the unofficial off-season destination for NBA players.

Wiggins, however, got burglarized — including having his rented SUV stolen. TMZ had the story.

Former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins was burglarized in Los Angeles … and TMZ Sports has learned the thieves made off with the NBA star’s shoes and luggage…

But, we’re told cops described the scene as “amateur hour” … because the burglars left jewelry and other valuables in the heist, and only took about $1,000 worth of the stuff instead.

We’re told the thieves stole a pair of Wiggins’ casual Nikes and his luggage — and also made off with his rental SUV Escalade. But, we’re told authorities were able to locate the vehicle a short time later.

While the car was found, his shoes and luggage have not been, and there have yet to be any arrests. As anyone who has been burglarized can tell you (*raises hand*) the items stolen are rarely recovered and returned, that stuff tends to be in the wind.

With Jimmy Butler gone, Minnesota heads into this season trying to highlight Karl-Anthony Towns and find a second star to go next to him (they went hard after D'Angelo Russell this summer but did not get him). Wiggins has not been that guy as the Timberwolves had hoped, but with his massive max contract that still has four years remaining Wiggins is nearly impossible to trade. That leaves Ryan Saunders with the task of finding out how to get as much as he can out of Wiggins nightly.

USA shows it still has plenty of talent, athleticism, in 90-81 exhibition win against Spain

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — For the past month, whenever anyone mentioned USA Basketball, the talk was about who decided not to suit up this summer — James Harden, Anthony Davis, etc. Everyone wanted to talk about who Team USA did not have and how much trouble the team was in.

It’s time to move on from that topic.

The United States doesn’t just have the most talented players in the world, it has the deepest talent pool. And it’s not even close.

That was on full display Friday night — this version of Team USA still had more than enough talent and skill to comfortably handle Spain, one of the world’s better squads and a medal contender at the upcoming World Cup in China.

The United States picked up a 90-81 confidence-boosting win in its first test, an exhibition game it led by double digits most of the way. After the game, Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo reminded everyone the USA was the “best team in the tournament” and that he wanted to measure his team against this squad now as a learning experience.

The USA will now head to Australia — with 14 players, not making any roster cuts (they need to eventually get to 12) — for a series of exhibition games. From there it’s on to China for the World Cup, with the American’s first game coming Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

For a young USA team, Friday night’s exhibition was another step along the learning curve. Especially playing against a Spanish team that has played together for years and executes a deep offense at a high level.

“There were a lot of situations we learned from this evening,” USA coach Gregg Popovich said. “The win or the loss is pretty unimportant at this point. It’s about getting better, coming together, learning to execute…

“I was most pleased with us defensively, I thought we did a good job as a new group, communicating with each other. I thought we rebounded well, we haven’t done that well, to date, consistently, I thought we had a good effort on the boards from everybody tonight.”

The USA came out and attacked as well, pushing the ball in transition and getting to the rim whenever they could. Team USA took just 19 threes (hitting 10), but when the Spanish players closed out on the shorter international three-point line the Americans put the ball on the floor and went hard to the rim. Guys cut off the ball as the defense rotated, and that led to some nice plays.

The USA was led by Donovan Mitchell, who had 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting. However, the best player on the floor for the Americans was the Bucks’ All-Star Khris Middleton, who had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, three quality assists, played strong defense, and always seemed to make the right decision. Kemba Walker showed off some impressive hesitation moves on his way to 11 points.

“Everybody on this team can score,” Mitchell said. “But we have guys willing to sacrifice to be a defensive player, to rebound, to take charges, to make the little plays. Maybe not play as many minutes but lead from the bench.”

Team USA came opened the game playing with urgency, and using their athleticism both on defense and in transition, something Spain could not match. The Americans also just knocked down their shots. The USA shot 5-of-8 from three and 55.6 percent overall in the first quarter Friday night, while Spain started 2-of-9 from three. The result was a 31-20 lead after one frame, and the USA kept that lead in double digits most of the way.

Spain was led by Marc Gasol‘s 19 points on 13 shots, as well as Ricky Rubio, who had 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

A couple of times in the fourth quarter Spain cut the lead to eight, but each time Team USA responded with a run to push the league back to the mid-teens. The fact they handled the adversity well is a good sign for the USA.

“We have a group of guys that are willing to learn, willing to listen to each other and lock in,” Donovan Mitchell said. “It’s easy to come in and say ‘it’s my show’ but we have a lot of guys willing to sacrifice for each other, and you want to be on a team like that.”