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Team USA scrimmage shows team chemistry is work in progress

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LOS ANGELES — It led to some raised eyebrows in the Lakers’ practice facility, where Team USA continues its training camp for FIBA World Cup that starts in China in two weeks.

Then it led to some overreaction on NBA Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does.

The USA Select squad — made up of G-League players and NBA fringe players — beat members of Team USA 36-17 in a 10-minute scrimmage Wednesday, about half of it in front of reporters. It was the second time that practice the select team knocked off a team of some of the USA main squad guys.

While the outcome is a mild surprise, remember this is a practice scrimmage, to read much into it would be a massive mistake. Second units beat the starters in scrimmages all the time, and this was not the USA’s top lineups being put together.

That said, two things were clear watching the scrimmage:

One team had players who had built chemistry and trust through a series of hard-fought tournaments.

While the other team looked just thrown together.

“[Team USA’s chemistry] is coming along,” the Bucks’ Khris Middleton said. “We’re basically strangers in some ways, but [coach Gregg Popovich] and the guys around here have made a huge emphasis to get to know each other, to create a bond…

“We need that chemistry, that bond, that love for one another.”

“Your off the court relationship transfers onto the court, I’ve always been big on that,” Kemba Walker said.

The USA Select team players have already formed that bond. These are guys who had put on the USA jersey and played for Jeff Van Gundy and their country through the FIBA World Cup qualifying process (which overlapped with the NBA season, so players with an NBA contract could not take part). That experience showed. During the scrimmage select players moved on a string on defense, collapsing to take away drives and covering kick-out passing lanes, they knew where guys liked to spot up on the break, and just looked comfortable with one another and the system.

The teams the USA will face in China during the World Cup already have that bond, too. Teams like the Czech Republic (the USA’s opening game on Sept. 1), or Australia, or Spain (which the USA faces Friday night in an exhibition) have played together since their youth. They know each other’s tendencies and styles, and they play as a unit.

The regular USA team players are still trying to figure all that out, which leads to rough patches.

“You don’t want everything to be seamless right now,” Brooklyn’s Joe Harris said. “These are the moments right now in practice where you want it to be difficult, take your licks a little bit, and figure it out. It’s making us come together.”

A few areas specifically appear to need work. One area of focus is finding the balance between passing and when to attack. Popovich has pushed for more ball movement from Team USA, but that has limits.

“They’re doing really well [playing his style], they’re probably overdoing it, actually,” Popovich said. “They’re a good group, they try to please, they want to play the right way, it’s a teachable group.”

Another area of adjustment is the physicality allowed in the paint. A couple of times in the scrimmage Walker or Utah’s Donovan Mitchell would drive the lane, the Select Team defense would collapse and be physical protecting the rim, Walker or Mitchell would end up on the ground, and there would be no foul call. That’s FIBA basketball.

“That’s going to be a little different for all of us,” Middleton said of the level of physicality allowed. “The NBA, FIBA are two different styles of play, the referees let it get a lot more physical, but we got to adjust to it, and adjust to it fast. We can’t just complain about calls, we’re not going to get them.”

“We have to adjust, we just have to. If we want to win, we have to adjust to this game,” Walker said.

USA Basketball — with many elite NBA players choosing to take the summer off — cannot just overwhelm the best teams in the world with talent, not this summer. Serbia is a legit challenger for the title. Spain can be, too. There are others as well. The Americans need chemistry to compete, and through a couple of weeks in Las Vegas and now Los Angeles, they believe it is coming along.

“We’ve got the group text going already,” Middleton said. “Practices, we’re constantly talking to each other. The bus rides, the breakfast meetings when there’s no phones, just getting to know each other to see what they’re all about, see how they are, just get to know them.”

“I do [think the chemistry is improving], we just have a bunch of high character guys, hungry guys who want to be here, guys who want to win,” Walker said. “So it’s been easy for us to get along.”

A good test of how that camaraderie is transferring to the court will come Friday night when Team USA takes on a Spanish squad, led by Marc Gasol, that has a masters in team chemistry.

Before that, don’t read too much into a practice scrimmage.

Bucks pull away in second half behind 31 from Giannis Antetokounmpo, rout Sixers

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks turned a tight game with the Philadelphia 76ers into a mismatch immediately in the second half, led by the reigning league MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Khris Middleton scored 25 points and the Bucks beat the 76ers 119-98 on Saturday night in a matchup of Eastern Conference rivals.

Antetokounmpo scored Milwaukee’s first 11 points in the third quarter as the Bucks took advantage of the absence of Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid, who went to the bench less a minute into the period after picking up his fourth foul, and quickly put the game out of reach.

“We came out the third quarter and played fast,” Antetokounmpo said. “We were able to rebound the ball and just attack them. Joel had four fouls. That worked in our favor. We tried to be aggressive in the third quarter and set the tone.”

Antetokounmpo added eight assists as Milwaukee won for the 16th time in its last 18 games to improve its NBA-best record to 48-8.

The Bucks led 56-50 at the half before Antetokounmpo’s scoring outburst put the Bucks in control. Milwaukee would go on to outscore the 76ers 37-23 in the period.

Embiid, coming off a 39-point performance on Thursday night, had 17 points and 11 rebounds but shot just 5 for 18. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton also scored 17 points apiece for the 76ers, who fell to 9-20 on the road.

“I liked what I was seeing in the first half, and the death knock was Joel sitting,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We just didn’t respond well to Milwaukee playing their tails off, and they shot the heck out of the ball.”

Philadelphia lost All-Star point guard Ben Simmons early in the first quarter. Simmons, who missed the 76ers’ previous game with lower back tightness, headed to the locker room after making consecutive driving layups, the second with a little more than 7 minutes left in the opening quarter. He didn’t return after the injured flared up.

“We never got in a rhythm. Losing Ben, then foul trouble, not making shots and some calls that could have gone a different way,” Embiid said. “But it’s on us.”

The 76ers shot just 35%, while the Bucks connected on 53% of their shots.

The Bucks got off to a scorching start, taking a 12-2 lead sparked by seven points from Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee led by as many as 11 in the quarter and held a 31-21 lead at the end.

Philadelphia pulled within 37-36 in the second before the Bucks used a 10-2 spurt to push the lead back to double digits.

Watch Dwyane Wade have his number retired by Heat

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Dwyane Wade is the greatest Miami Heat player ever.

He was at the heart of every championship the Heat won, he was active and beloved in the community, he was the face of the franchise.

Now his legacy is forever part of the American Airlines Arena — the Heat have retired his number.

Wade is a three-time champion, and 8-time All-NBA player, a 13-time All-Star, and a Finals MVP who averaged 22 points a game over his 16 year NBA career.

Next stop: Hall of Fame.

Stephen Curry cleared for contact, goes through full scrimmage with Warriors

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Stephen Curry is not sitting out the rest of the season. He wants back on the court — he’s targeting the first week of March — and the Warriors are not holding him out.

That got a step closer on Saturday when Curry went through a full scrimmage with the Warriors. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this after practice, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Yeah he scrimmaged today, first day of scrimmaging,” Kerr told reporters at the Chase Center practice facility. “We only had seven other healthy players, so there were two coaches out there scrimmaging too, it was not pretty, but Steph looked great.”

The March return for Curry seems on track. Klay Thompson will not return to the court this season.

The Warriors are not playoff bound, but there is no reason to sit out Curry and tank, either.

First, that’s not the kind of culture the Warriors have built, coming off three titles in five years. Second, the fan base could use the boost of watching Curry drain deep threes after a disheartening season to this point. Third, and maybe most important, what exactly would they need to tank for, better draft position? This is a down draft to begin with, so anyone the Warriors select likely can’t help them much next season anyway (which is why there’s a lot of speculation the Warriors may try to trade the pick). Also, with the flattened out lottery odds, they don’t gain much anyway. The Warriors have the worst record in the NBA, but the three worst teams all have a 14 percent chance at the top pick, and the fourth worst is at 12.5 percent, fifth is 10.5 percent. Curry’s return for a month isn’t lifting the Warriors to the point teams will not want the pick.

We could all use to be reminded just how special Curry is as a player. Hopefully, we get to see that in a couple of weeks.

Kings return to Staples Center, beat Clippers for second time in a month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kent Bazemore scored a season-high 23 points, Bogdan Bogdanovic added 20 and the Sacramento Kings beat the Los Angeles Clippers on the road for the second time in less than a month, winning 112-103 on Saturday.

De’Aaron Fox had 20 points and eight assists for the surging Kings. They have won two straight out of the All-Star break and eight of 12 overall.

Sacramento blew a 14-point lead in the second half to a Clippers lineup missing injured stars Paul George and Patrick Beverley. But the Kings then shut out Kawhi Leonard and the Clips for more than five straight minutes down the stretch, making a decisive 10-0 run capped by Harry Giles’ percussive dunk with 58 seconds left.

Leonard scored 31 points in his return from his MVP performance in Chicago, but the Clippers returned from the All-Star break with their first three-game losing streak of the season. Lou Williams added 24 points, and Montrezl Harrell had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Sacramento had a big lead late in the third quarter, but the Clippers took their first lead of the day on Harrell’s leap-and-lean bucket with 8:30 to play.

The Kings reclaimed the lead on Harry Giles’ putback score with 4:17 left, and Bogdanovic hit a clutch 3-pointer two minutes later.

With the Clippers comfortably in third place in the Western Conference, George and Beverley are both getting extra time off to rest persistent injuries.

Reggie Jackson scored eight points in his Clippers debut two days after the Pistons bought him out, while Marcus Morris had six points and five turnovers in 32 minutes in his home debut nearly two weeks after the Clippers acquired him in a three-way trade.

With George and Beverley sidelined, Clippers coach Doc Rivers used his 28th starting lineup in 56 games, putting newcomers Morris and Jackson in the mix. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these unfamiliar Clippers returned from eight days off and missed 13 of their first 14 shots on their way to a 4-for-24 first quarter with five turnovers.

Sacramento wasn’t much better, but Bazemore scored 15 points in the first half. Los Angeles had more turnovers than field goals until late in the half, but Jackson’s first basket for the Clippers was a 3-pointer in the final second before halftime.