USA easily handles Uruguay in World Cup qualifier, 105-71

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LAS VEGAS — A special pregame surprise was awaiting the U.S. World Cup qualifying team Thursday night, in the form of a pep talk from Mike Krzyzewski.

Coach K’s words worked for the Americans again.

John Jenkins scored 22 points on 8-for-9 shooting — including a 6-of-7 effort from 3-point range — and the U.S. had little trouble on the way to a 105-71 victory over Uruguay in a World Cup Americas Region qualifying game, with Krzyzewski sitting courtside to enjoy the show.

“We knew when he came and talked to us that we had to put on a good performance and play hard,” Jenkins said.

Krzyzewski, the now-retired Duke coach, led the U.S. to three consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2008, 2012 and 2016. His message was simple, revolving around how playing with USA on a jersey means playing with pride is a must.

The Americans listened. They outscored Uruguay 33-13 in the second quarter, turning the game into a runaway, and it stayed that way.

“Coach K talked to the team five minutes before I went in to talk pregame,” U.S. coach Jim Boylen said. “How was I supposed to follow that? … It was a really cool honor, a great moment for all of us.”

The win, combined with Puerto Rico’s 75-72 win over Brazil (5-2) in another qualifier Thursday, put the Americans alone atop of their qualifying group.

Langston Galloway added 18 points for the Americans, who are likely now just two wins away from qualifying for next year’s World Cup.

The U.S. (6-1 in qualifying) made 3-pointers on four consecutive possessions during that second-quarter burst, and never looked back. DaQuan Jeffries scored 16, Dewan Hernandez added 12 and Robert Woodard II had 11 for the Americans, who were 15 for 29 from 3-point range.

David Stockton, whose father John Stockton — the Basketball Hall of Famer — also was in attendance, added nine assists in 17 minutes for the U.S.

Esteban Batista and Luciano Perodi each had 14 for Uruguay (4-3), which remains firmly in the mix for a World Cup berth. Uruguay has the same record as Puerto Rico and Mexico, and Colombia (3-4) gave itself new life by rallying from 20 points down to stun Mexico in overtime, 93-89.

The U.S. opened the day tied with Brazil in the Group F standings; there are two groups of six teams in the Americas Region, and the top three in each group — along with the best fourth-place team — will go to the World Cup.

The Americans can’t start packing for the World Cup yet. But they can probably start thinking about what to bring.

Other than the U.S. and Brazil, Group F also includes Puerto Rico, Mexico, Uruguay and Colombia. The other group in the Americas Region, Group E, features Canada (7-0), Venezuela (6-1), Argentina (5-2), the Dominican Republic (5-2), the Bahamas (2-5) and Panama (2-5).

Uruguay led 4-0 after 20 seconds, and that was the lone hurrah for the visitors from South America. The rest of the night was all U.S., which got its easiest win yet of this qualifying tournament.

“Tonight, every guy we have played as hard as he could play,” Boylen said.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.