USA advances to World Cup quarterfinals, clinches Olympic berth with win 89-73 vs. Brazil

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Before they even stepped on the court Monday in China, Team USA had already clinched a trip to the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals, the eight-team tournament and knockout round of the event. Greece upset the Czech Republic earlier in the day, which locked the Americans into the next round.

However, the USA still wanted the top seed, wanted to go undefeated in group play, and wanted to beat Brazil to secure a berth in the Tokyo Olympics next summer.

The USA got all that with an 89-72 victory over Brazil, behind 16 points each from Kemba Walker and Myles Turner.

The USA will now play France in the first round of the quarterfinals on Wednesday. The French team came into the World Cup as a dark horse to win it all thanks to Rudy Gobert locking down the paint on defense and scorers such as Evan Fournier, Frank Ntilikina, and former Spur Nando De Colo (who has been impressive in FIBA games). If the USA, as expected, knocks off France they likely will face Nikola Jokic and the Serbian team — the biggest threat to the USA in this tournament — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Eliminating Brazil also put the USA into the Tokyo Olympics as one of the top two teams in the World Cup from the Americas (Argentina is the other one still standing). Brazil falls into the qualification tournament next summer before the Games.

Monday was a breakout game for Turner, who has been the USA’s best big man in this tournament (so much so that when he is not on the court Gregg Popovich tends to go with small ball now, Mason Plumlee and Brook Lopez get very little run). Turner scored at the rim, knocked down a Duncanesque 12-foot bank shot multiple times, and finished 8-of-11 shooting, with 8 rebounds and strong defense in the paint as well. Plus, Turner got Brazil coach Aleksander Petrovic ejected when the coach ran on the court to argue that a Turner block on Anderson Varejao was a foul. (Yes, Aleksander Petrovic is the brother of the late, great Drazen Petrovic.)

The USA also got 11 points from Jaylen Brown, who has arguably been the American’s best all-around player in the FIBA tournament. He is being decisive and attacking with the ball, something Celtics fans should love to see after last season.

There was another good sign in this game, the USA’s zone offense has improved. Most teams are going to a matchup zone against the USA (those teams don’t have the athletes to go man-to-man for long stretches) and at times that has frustrated the USA, especially when their threes are not falling (and Team USA was only 8-of-25 in this win from deep). Turkey had real success with it in the game that took the Americans to overtime. Now the USA is doing a better job of getting into the middle and the heart of the zone, and making plays off that. It’s a good sign for what is coming up, because when France plays a zone two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Gobert is the guy in the paint.

Brazil kept it close in the first half (43-39 USA at the break) with former NBA player Anderson Varejao working as the fulcrum of the offense. He finished the game with 14 points, as did another former NBA player Leandro Barbosa. Victor Benite led Brazil with 21 points for the game.

The USA pulled away in the second half with an 11-4 run sparked by tighter defense, which led to transition opportunities for the Americans. After that, the game was never really in doubt.

It was a good showing for the Americans because they had nothing on the line but chose not to mail it in. The USA had already clinched a spot in the quarterfinals before they took the court because Greece beat the Czech Republic in an earlier Group K game. (As an aside, Greece needed to win by 12 and have the USA beat Brazil to advance, and the Greeks were up 10 with 5:20 left when Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out — on a terrible call, welcome to FIBA — and ended up winning by just 7.)

Here are the matchups for the first round of the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals:

Argentina-Serbia
USA-France
Spain-Poland
Australia-Czech Republic

The USA vs. France game is Wednesday. If the Americans and Serbians win (both will be favorites) their showdown will come Friday in Beijing. The championship game is Sunday in Beijing.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.

Target score ending likely returns to All-Star Game next year

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It seemed obvious this is the direction the NBA would go after the most competitive All-Star Game in recent memory, after it generated an incredibly positive buzz. Now we have some confirmation.

A league executive told Zach Lowe of ESPN that yes, it’s highly likely the target score idea will be back next All-Star Game.

It is a “good assumption” the NBA will use a target score to end next season’s All-Star Game after experimenting with the concept for the first time Sunday, Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, told ESPN on Wednesday in New York…

“The intensity popped,” Spruell said. “The guys really bought in…”

If the NBA uses the target score at next season’s All Star Game, they may tinker with the rules so that the game cannot end on a free throw, Spruell said. They have already discussed taking points away from any team that commits a shooting foul on a potential winning shot instead of awarding free throws, Spruell said. They could also force that team to remove the player who committed the foul and replace him with someone else for a certain number of possessions, Spruell said.

If this were used in a regular-season NBA game, then essentially sending a player to the “penalty box” after a foul on a game-winning attempt would have some impact. In the All-Star Game, not so much. For example, if Kyle Lowry had been sent to the bench after fouling Anthony Davis, then Nick Nurse could have replaced him with Jimmy Butler or Trae Young or some other elite player. It’s not that damaging.

Removing points makes more sense.

While the Elam-style ending was a success in the All-Star Game (and next season they may bump the point total up from 24, even though it took 15 minutes of game time to play the quarter, because that is an outlier for the All-Star Game), it’s not coming to the NBA. Which means it’s not coming to the G-League either, Lowe was told. A discussion about Summer League doesn’t seem to be on the table, either.

Where could the target score ending pop up? If/when the NBA starts playing a mid-season tournament, Lowe was told — and those playoff games could be just 40 minutes. Also, the G-League showcase every December makes some sense, Lowe was told.

The target score ending was a huge hit in the All-Star Game, it only makes sense to bring it back. But for the NBA, it will remain more special occasion gimmick than a daily part of the league.