Team USA Big Men Proving They Can Match Up with Spain at 2014 FIBA World Cup

If their last two FIBA tuneups are any indication, Team USA’s template will be as follows: author a somewhat forgettable first half that gives the opponent a modicum of confidence, before steadily pulling away behind a balanced scoring effort.

So long as Mike Krzyzewski’s decision to load up on frontcourt talent yields the desired result—a win over the Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka-led Spain—it’s a trend the Team USA coach is more than willing to live with.

Playing in their lone exhibition in the Canary Islands just two days after announcing their final round of roster cuts, the Americans rolled to a breezy 98-69 win over the Goran Dragic-led Slovenia Tuesday afternoon.

From here, Team USA will head to Spain, where they will face Finland in the opening round of group play on Saturday.

Ahead of what many believe will be his global coming-out party, Anthony Davis led the way with 18 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and four blocks. More amazing still, Davis’ most impressive number might’ve been the lowest one possible:

Meanwhile, Davis’ frontcourt mate, Kenneth Faried, registered a fine outing of his own, tallying 14 points and nine rebounds.

Headlining one of the deeper American frontcourts in recent memory, Davis, in particular, is serving notice that Team USA has every intention of matching Spain’s formidable size with a dose of its own.

And while his offensive repertoire only continues to grow, it’s at the other end of the floor that Davis has made his domain.

As they had in their second and final pre-FIBA tilt against Puerto Rico in Madison Square Garden this past Friday, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and company struggled early to keep the opposing guards from wreaking havoc on the perimeter—this despite the struggles of Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic, who finished with six points in limited action.

And, just like Friday, the second half saw Team USA throw it into a gear the opposition simply couldn’t match.

Beginning with a pair of technical free throws by Stephen Curry—awarded following a halftime outburst from Slovenian coach Jure Zdovc—Team USA commenced what’s become its strategic bread and butter: ratcheting up the pressure and turning its defense into offense. By the 4:50 mark of the third quarter, the Americans had opened up a 69-39 lead.

But it’s in his cast of big men that Krzyzewski has staked his team’s fortunes.

Krzyzewski clearly has the host country on his radar screen. And rightly so: Not only are the No. 2 ranked Spaniards brim-loaded with quality big men; they have a two-headed point guard monster in Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio that itself boasts oodles of international experience.

All of which invites the question: In preparing exclusively for Spain—and, to a slightly lesser extent, Brazil—have Krzyzewski and Team USA president Jerry Colangelo painted themselves into a corner (no pun intended)?

In a recent column, Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley raised precisely that point:

The international stage tends to promote floor spacing, both to take advantage of shorter three-point arcs and to break opponents out of zone defenses. USA has stretched opposing teams thin in the past, but this super-sized attack doesn’t offer the quantity of perimeter-oriented players as those clubs did.

Of course, what it lacks for quantity in terms of three-point snipers, it may completely compensate for in quality.

Taken together, Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and DeMar DeRozan would seem to offer Team USA plenty of backcourt firepower. Where the quintet falls a bit short, however, is in the dual combination of perimeter size and playmaking—two areas where Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons, two of Krzyzewski’s final cuts, could’ve paid significant dividends.

During a July press conference, Krzyzewski sounded adamant in his belief that beating Spain didn’t necessarily own a monopoly on Team USA’s strategic radar screen.

“Everyone talks about matchups (with big teams such as Spain), people have to matchup against us, too,” Krzyzewski said. “What you have to do is put your best 12 together and then make adjustments with the best 12. Obviously we’re not going to have 12 guards, but that’s what we’ve done.”

It’s difficult to say whether Krzyzewski’s shift amounts to a strategic about-face, or a natural reaction to what he sees as a FIBA fact: Spain remains the only real threat to Team USA’s six-years-long hardwood hegemony.

Here’s what we know: Of this year’s four FIBA groups, Spain—with France (No. 8 in the FIBA rankings), Brazil (10) and Serbia (11) all in its midst—has by far the toughest draw. Team USA, by contrast, could be in for a cakewalk, with Turkey (7) and New Zealand (19) being the drawing’s most formidable competition.

Might Krzyzewski be banking on a banged-up Spain being a team of walking wounded headed into tournament play? It’s certainly possible—even strategically clever.

Then again, if Krzyzewski can rely on this kind of consistent performance from Davis and Faried—ditto backup bigs DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee—looking like a genius might never seem so easy.

Given the level of competition it’s about to meet, Team USA is bound to encounter a handful of teams built, either by design or happenstance, to give it fits.

From Krzyzewski’s perspective, though, the philosophy is all too obvious: better to weather the small storms, so long as you’re boarded up tightly for the big one.

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WATCH: Durant thought Steph Curry was white when they met

Hearing stories from the past can be fun, especially when professional athletes are speaking about their childhoods. During Tuesday’s NBA 2K Uncensored event, Kevin Durant revealed something pretty hilarious that was going through his mind the first time he met Stephen Curry. Keep in mind that Durant was only 10 years old at the time. Durant’s little story had Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis rolling with laughter. That wasn’t the only funny moment from the event. The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar and the Golden State Warrior sharpshooter both revealed that they have a hard time playing as Curry in the video game. The post KD Thought Stephen Curry Was White When They Met as Kids appeared first on The Sideline Sports.

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Kevin Durant Reveals He Thought Stephen Curry Was White When They Met as Kids

Hearing stories from the past can always be fun, especially when it’s professional athletes speaking about their childhoods.

During Tuesday’s NBA 2K Uncensored event, Kevin Durant revealed something pretty hilarious that was going through his mind the first time he met Stephen Curry. Keep in mind that Durant was only 10 years old at the time.

Durant’s little story had Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis rolling with laughter.

That wasn’t the only funny moment from the event. The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar and the Golden State Warrior sharpshooter each revealed that they have a hard time playing as Curry in the video game.

 

[YouTube]

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Miami Heat: Why They Won And Lost The Offseason

Miami Heat: Why They Won And Lost The Offseason
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
When I writing the winners and losers of the NBA offseason, I had difficulty placing the Heat. On the left hand their best player and the best player in the NBA, LeBron James went to Cleveland. If you have the best player in the NBA and he signs with another team you cannot be an offseason winner, but on the right, I loved the rest of their offseason, so they cannot be called losers. Yes I just said I cannot call them winners or losers, but I will call them winners and losers. Yes, it’s a technicality, but if you’d like to complain feel free.
Yes, losing LeBron James hurts, they won’t be a better team and likely aren’t a contender, so yes they are losers in that regard, but they have rebounded as well as they could. Pat Riley was able to still keep the Heat one of the 3 best teams in the Eastern Conference. Signing Chris Bosh to a 100+ million dollar contract isn’t perfect, but with no Ja…

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NBA Rookies Reveal Which Player They Would Most Like to Dunk On

Rookies don’t want to put a target on their back by running their mouth before they prove themselves on the court, so it’s intriguing to see how players from this year’s NBA draft class responded to being asked which player they would like to dunk on.

Some rookies had a tough time with the question. Should they give an honest answer or just give no comment? Some rookies gave the politically correct response, but those who did answer with names gave pretty predictable answers.

LeBron James and Blake Griffin better watch out because this year’s rookie class is coming after them.

[NBA]

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Los Angeles Lakers: Why They Lost The Offseason

Los Angeles Lakers: Why They Lost The Offseason
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the losers of the offseason. As I was ranking the winners and losers they came in 4th among the losers, as they were well, really pathetic. Let’s start with the positives, this will be fast because there were few. I loved their draft choice of Julius Randle 7th, who can be an All Star power forward and a key part of their franchise and foundation. I like the hiring of Byron Scott, who is a veteran, he isn’t elite, but can and will help them win. Also signing Ed Davis for just 1 million was an excellent move, as he can be a starter in this league at power forward. Then there is umm, the uh, well that’s it for the Lakers. Here is why they are one of the biggest losers this offseason.
The biggest failure was that they had the cap space for 2 All Stars or 1 max contract yet the best free agent they signed was Carlos Boozer. The biggest name they were able to …

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Why Team USA Needs Every Point Guard They Have for FIBA World Cup

No more cutting point guards. We’re good now. Let’s move on. 

The John Wall cut leaves USA Basketball with Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard as the remaining starting NBA point guards. And hopefully that’s how it stays.

There’s no sense in cutting one of them just to shave down the position, especially when they can afford to keep all four. 

And not only that, but they could each serve a legitimate purpose. 

With Kevin Durant pulling out and Paul George out with a broken leg, Team USA will need as much offensive firepower as it get can get. 

And that might mean playing small ball. Given the versatility of USA’s guards and forwards, coach Mike Krzyzewski should be able to pull it off. 

USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo gave his views last month on his guards and their versatility.

“It’s hard to create more than two pure points (on the roster),” Colangelo told USA Today‘s Sam Amick. “Kyrie is a pure point. John Wall is a point. Derrick is a point. Curry can play point, but he’s a two (shooting guard). Harden is a two-three (shooting guard-small forward). Damian is a tweener also – he goes both ways.”

Though Collangelo mentioned he only planned on going with two point guards, he also said that Curry and Lillard both had 2-guard capability. 

And considering the 6’7″ size of Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan, along with the absence of Durant and George, Team USA can play some of their 2-guards at the 3 spot, allowing Curry and Lillard to unleash their perimeter-scoring attack off the ball.

The flexibility Coach K has with the 1-3 positions is tremendous. We could be looking at potent second-unit trios like Irving, Curry and Thompson or Lillard, Harden and DeRozan. I might have trouble sleeping at night if they ended up reducing that flexibility for Kyle Korver.

Right now, Team USA is looking at 15 names. Three cuts have to be made to finalize the 12-man roster.

In terms of the guards, you know Rose isn’t going anywhere. The level of respect he’s earned around the league is just too high. And with Durant going down, it’s Rose, the former MVP, who could now be viewed as the veteran leader of this squad. 

And all reports have been positive regarding his health and performance. 

“He went right at it. The first defensive exchange in the camp, he was all over the ball handler, moving his feet, attacking him,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN’s Nick Friedell. ”There was a buzz right away because it was basically his saying, ‘Look, I’m not just back. I’m back at a level that’s elite.’”

And don’t expect Curry to go anywhere. His passing and shooting ability add value to any lineup or rotation, while ESPN’s Marc Stein calls Kyrie Irving an “inarguable roster lock.”

Stein also dropped an interesting “what if”—”[What if] Krzyzewski decides he simply can’t resist keeping Damian Lillard alongside Rose, Curry and Irving to form a quartet of small speedsters that the rest of the world isn’t equipped to chase around?”

Now that’s what I’m talking about. There are countries out there that can neutralize Team USA’s size inside. Nobody can match the speed, athleticism or firepower offered by the American guards.

If Colangelo did have to cut a guard, it would seem like Lillard would be the odd man out. But he shouldn’t have to.

Of the three centers, you’d like to think Colangelo will cut one, whether it’s DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond or Mason Plumlee

That leaves two more cuts to be made. 

Not to downplay their talent, but based on the roster and its needs, Korver and Gordon Hayward appear a bit more expendable than others, when you consider the presence of Thompson, Harden, DeRozan and Chandler Parsons at the wing positions. 

The fact is that this roster’s core strengths fall in the backcourt. It’s what this team’s identity is built around now that Team USA’s top two wing players are both gone.

Coach K might not use Rose, Curry, Irving and Lillard each in full-time roles throughout the tournament. But having additional playmakers capable of generating offense on demand could provide some valuable extra cushion in case the offense ever gets stagnant. 

Colangelo will be cutting some of the fat on this roster pretty soon, but hopefully he stays away from the backcourt, where USA packs its most potent offensive punch. 

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Shaun Livingston Finally Gives Golden State Warriors Exactly What They Need

It wasn’t a Kevin Love trade, and it may not be a precursor to one, but landing Shaun Livingston was a huge step in the right direction for the Golden State Warriors.

According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, “Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that Livingston and the Warriors have struck a deal that will pay him the league’s full mid-level exception for the next three seasons, which is valued at an estimated $16 million.”

General manager Bob Myers and Livingston apparently saw eye to eye on more than money alone.

Per Stein, Livingston told ESPN The Magazine‘s Jordan Brenner, “It’s the fit. Definitely the fit. I want to remain competitive and this is the best opportunity.”

Finding a winning franchise is always a good fit, but there’s more to it than that.

Starting with the obvious, Livingston is an experienced and gifted floor general who seems to be peaking at the perfect time for Golden State.

As NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman notes, “Livingston had the best season of his career in Brooklyn last year. Starting most of the season, he averaged 8.3 points, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals in 26.0 minutes per game as a secondary ball-handler in the backcourt.”

Livingston told Brenner, “It was the best year I’ve had in terms of consistency.”

As CSNBayArea.com’s Monte Poole notes, “Livingston’s career has been hijacked by injuries, the most grotesque and devastating being a left knee injury as a member of the Clippers in 2007. The injury required extensive surgery and rehabilitation.”

By now the effects of that injury are ancient history.

So the signing comes at a good time for the Warriors. They’re getting a guy who appears to be hitting his stride, understanding his role and finding his niche. And the transition with Golden State should be straightforward enough.

As was the case in Brooklyn, Livingston will spend much of his time playing alongside a point guard who can score.

Stephen Curry did it all for Golden State last season, averaging 24 points and 8.5 assists in a campaign that solidified his status as an emergent superstar. But Curry does some of his best work off the ball, and that’s one reason he’ll co-exist splendidly with Livingston.

The 28-year-old’s ability to handle and distribute the ball will allow Curry to spend additional time running off screens and getting himself the shred of daylight he needs to put a shot up. Livingston will also relieve Curry of some minutes. The elder Splash Brother averaged 36.5 of those minutes last season and 42.3 per contest in the playoffs.

Though the 26-year-old has carried the load quite nicely, an extra breather now and then certainly couldn’t hurt.

Livingston may also embolden Curry to become even more of a shooter, which is probably a good thing given his career’s 44-percent success rate from beyond the three-point arc.

Crucially, Livingston has pass-first instincts. His 26.6 assist ratio ranked just behind Curry himself last season (who scored a 26.7 rating). That didn’t rank him among the very best distributors, but it’s an impressive figure given that Livingston’s usage rate was 60th out of 70 qualifying point guards.

In other words, there was a relatively small sample size by which to measure Livingston’s decision-making. But the eye test confirms that he looked to facilitate more than the average ball-handler.

And the numbers confirm solid overall efficiency. Livingston’s 14.52 player efficiency rating put him ahead of several starters around the league, including Jameer Nelson, George Hill and Raymond Felton.

There are limitations to Livingston’s game to be sure.

He can’t shoot three-pointers, and he turns the ball over a bit more often than you’d like to see from a player who doesn’t dominate the ball. 

The good news is Golden State has plenty of three-point shooters, namely Curry and backcourt partner Klay Thompson. Floor spacing won’t suffer too much when Livingston is on the floor, and he’s learned to make up for his missing perimeter shot with a better-than-average in-between game.

As CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore observes, Golden State, “needed a floor general and perimeter defender more than another shooter anyway.”

About that defense.

The Warriors became a much-improved defensive club over the last two seasons, and that’s in spite of the fact that interior anchor Andrew Bogut has been consistently sidetracked by injury (though the 67 games he played last season were a vast improvement over the 2012-13 campaign, when he suited up just 32 times).

Golden State ranked third league-wide last season in opponents’ field-goal percentage (at 43.6 percent), just behind defensive juggernauts in the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls.

Livingston will only add to that defensive presence with his length and versatility. Though he’s frequently classified as a point guard on account of his handling ability, Livingston can guard virtually anyone in the backcourt or on the wing. In fact, there’s no reason he couldn’t play alongside Curry and Thompson—essentially playing backup to small forward Andre Iguodala, himself a top-shelf playmaker and defender.

The Warriors have been on the verge of contending in each of the last two seasons, appearing just a piece or two away from having what it takes to surpass teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Even as rumors swirl regarding the team’s pursuit of Love, it may be that the less ambitious acquisition of Livingston makes a significant difference nonetheless. 

Unless Myers and Co. are absolutely convinced that acquiring Love is worth disrupting this squad’s core, this roster is better off being tweaked than overhauled. Very little here is fundamentally broken, so the fixes should be modest.

Outside of a trade, the organization couldn’t (and can’t) afford much else.

With Livingston occupying Golden State’s mid-level exception and bringing the club’s salary commitments right up to the hard cap, the remainder of the offseason may be a quiet one. But for the chance of that Love story becoming a reality, quiet isn’t a bad thing.

Nor was adding Shaun Livingston.

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Report: Miami Heat Telling Free Agents They Will Have Money to Spend

With only one player (Norris Cole) under contract, the Miami Heat have over $50 million to spend on free agency this offseason. The only issue now is whether they will have the Big Three back in order to draw free agents to South Beach. 
Heat telling free agents they will have $12+ million to spend, indicating Wade & Bosh ready to take huge pay cuts, sources told ESPN
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 1, 2014

It had previously been reported that both Wade and Bosh were willing to take paycuts after opting out. As it relates to LeBron James, he’s demanding nothing less than the maximum offer he can receive.
The Big Three have previously met over lunch to discuss contract details amongst themselves. They have also given Heat president Pat Riley a window to improve the roster before moving on to other potential destinations.
If Wade and Bosh are indeed willing to take paycuts, the Heat will have a nice amount of money to spend in free agency. Their primary exterior target at…

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Report: Clippers Believe They Have ‘Real Chance’ of Signing Paul Pierce

Could Paul Pierce be headed for a reunion with Doc Rivers after a one-year hiatus in Brooklyn? 

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Los Angeles Clippers are now of the belief that they have a shot at signing Pierce following Jason Kidd’s departure: 

All this comes after Stein reported back in May that Pierce would be interested in linking up with the Clippers, although that option came with a caveat regarding Kevin Garnett‘s future at the time: 

If KG decides to play on, those who know him well say Pierce’s incentive to stay in Brooklyn naturally spikes. If Garnett decides it’s time to stop, Pierce is bound to be intrigued even more by the scenario that is said to be on his radar already: Reuniting with Doc Rivers in Clipperland in what would also be a homecoming for the Los Angeles native. 

Following a rather underwhelming inaugural season with the Brooklyn Nets that saw Pierce average a career-worst 13.5 points on 45.1 percent shooting from the field, a change of scenery would make sense for the unrestricted free agent. 

And given the organizational uncertainty that’s enveloped the Nets following Kidd’s transition to the Milwaukee Bucks, finding comfort in Rivers’ system out in his native Los Angeles would seem to be a natural for a veteran searching to maximize his remaining years in the Association. 

Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale relayed a similar sentiment after the Nets were ousted from the playoffs: 

“Going on 37, Pierce, as he showed at times against the Heat, can still play. He won’t want to waste what he has left playing for lottery-bound squads or fringe-playoff clubs.”

It’s also worth noting that the Clippers aren’t alone in their pursuit of Pierce. 

According to Stein, several other noteworthy contenders are putting out feelers as the 36-year-old hits the open market: 

“I still think I have something to give a team,” Pierce said following the Nets’ dismissal from the postseason, according to the New York Post’s Tim Bontemps. In addition, Pierce told reporters that he has a year or two left, “at most,” per Bontemps

If we’re to take Pierce at his word, a move to the Clippers would be the most logical one out there. 

Not only does Pierce have an intimate familiarity with Rivers’ scheme from their days in Boston, but L.A. is looking for immediate help on the wing, according to ESPN L.A.’s Arash Markazi

With a starting role feasibly up for grabs, it would behoove Pierce to try and cap his career with a Larry O’Brien trophy or two, even if it comes at a reduced price. 

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