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Kobe Bryant says USA will no longer cakewalk to gold: ‘The days of 1992 are over’

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It’s been the common refrain from American basketball observers in the wake of the USA finishing out of the medals — seventh or eighth, actually, depending on Saturday’s game against Poland — in the FIBA World Cup in China:

The USA didn’t send their best team, and the rest of the world is too good at the game now for America to get away with that.

Kobe Bryant said this is nothing new and American audiences had better get used to it.

“I hear that a lot – did we send the best possible team that could come out here. The Redeem Team, we needed a helluva fourth quarter to beat Spain, and we still needed a really late push to beat Spain in the gold medal match,” Kobe said of the 2008 USA Basketball team he was on with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and other stars. “Put the best players that you think are gonna make the best U.S. team out on the floor – it’s still not gonna be a cakewalk.

“The days of 1992 are over.”

That 2008 Redeem Team was an alignment of the biggest stars in the game at the time, fueled by Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski taking over USA Basketball after the USA took bronze in the 2004 Olympics, then finished out of the running at the 2006 World Championship (which FIBA now calls the World Cup because it desperately wants to be like its soccer counterpart). The USA won gold at every major international tournament between 2008 and 2016, but this World Cup was different, with many of the USA’s top players choosing not to come.

Kobe said he understood why many elite players chose not to come to China this year, as some dealt with injuries, while others tried to navigate recovery and moves to new cities (or teams that underwent a roster overhaul). It’s a big commitment to come.

Kobe was in Beijing during this World Cup’s final four — Argentina and Spain will face off for the title on Sunday — as an ambassador of the sport. At his press conference (attended by Rachel Thompson of NBC Sports) the questions about Team USA kept flowing, but his answer was always in the same vein — the world is changing and the USA needs to adapt to that reality.

“It’s not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the U.S., the rest of the world has been caught up for quite some time,” Kobe said. “It’s to the point where us in the U.S. are gonna win some, gonna lose some, there’s just great basketball being played. Whether it’s Redeem 2, no matter what team it is, it’s not gonna be easy.”

After this showing, expect many of America’s top players to sign up to come to Tokyo next summer for the Olympics. Guys did not want to commit two summers in a row to Team USA, and guys will always choose the Olympics — still a huge deal in America — over the often overlooked World Cup.

Just don’t expect it to be easy for those guys to win gold, either.

Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett out at least a week with right ankle sprain

R.J. Barrett
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NEW YORK (AP) New York Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett will miss at least a week with a sprained right ankle.

Barrett was hurt during the Knicks’ loss to Phoenix on Thursday. On Friday, he had X-rays, which were negative.

The Knicks announced afterward that Barrett will be re-evaluated in a week.

The No. 3 pick in the draft from Duke is averaging 14.1 points.

Heat: Justise Winslow out at least two more weeks

Justise Winslow
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MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Heat say Justise Winslow will miss at least two more weeks while recovering from a back injury.

Winslow has played only once since Dec. 4 and is slated to be out for at least the remainder of January. The team originally called Winslow’s injury a back strain, then updated the diagnosis to a bone bruise.

Winslow played off the bench in Miami’s win at Indiana on Jan. 8. The team said the back problems reappeared after that game. He has not played since.

Friday’s game in Oklahoma City is Miami’s 41st of the season and the 30th that Winslow has missed. He’s averaging 11.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists for the Heat this season.

Kevin Huerter’s 3-pointer gives Hawks first win in San Antonio in his lifetime (video)

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The Hawks beat the Spurs in San Antonio on Feb. 15, 1997.

The next year, Kevin Huerter was born.

Atlanta’s next win in San Antonio came Friday, when Huerter hit the game-winning 3-pointer in a 121-120 win.

The Hawks’ losing streak in San Antonio spanned Tim Duncan’s entire lengthy career – and continued a few seasons beyond that. The only reprieve came during the lockout-shortened 1999 season, when Atlanta didn’t visit San Antonio. So, the skid lasted 21 games.

Buddy Hield on Kings getting booed at home: ‘That’s how Sacramento fans are’

Kings guard Buddy Hield
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Buddy Hield is quite familiar with frustration amid the Kings’ disappointing season.

Sacramento fans showed theirs Wednesday, booing the Kings during their home loss to the Mavericks.

Buddy Hield, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“Everybody is frustrated, it’s not even them, we’re trying to figure it out too,” Buddy Hield said following the loss. “But it’s the home team and we get booed…we don’t agree with it, but they’re going to voice their opinion.

“I understand their frustration, but like I said, I’m going to keep shooting the ball,” Hield continued. “When I make a three they like me, when I don’t, they hate you. That’s how Sacramento fans are, man, so you’ve got to embrace it.”

Hield seemingly isn’t looking to pick a fight with fans. He made a point to empathize with their frustration.

But I don’t think he’s being fair, either.

Kings fans are far more loyal than swinging between love and hate depending whether or not a shot falls. They’re fed up after 13 – going on 14 – straight seasons missing the playoffs. This year has been particularly discouraging, as Sacramento has backtracked from fun and fast to sad and slow. Losing to Luka Doncica particular grievance – only adds to the irritation.

The Kings’ problems have spanned multiple owners, executives, coaches and players. So, booing this group isn’t totally fair, either. But this is who’s in front of the fans.

If this Sacramento team plays hard and together, fans will embrace it – and stick with it through thinner times.