Blogtable: Best five U.S. Team players for offense

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: NBA rookies eager to watch in Rio | Team with best shot to defeat U.S.? | Best five U.S. Team players for offense | Best five U.S. Team players for defense


>The five players Coach K should put on the floor when he needs scoreboard-busting offense?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:

G – Kyrie Irving
G – Klay Thompson
F – Carmelo Anthony
F – Kevin Durant
C – Draymond Green

This is a red, white and blue version of Golden State’s Death Lineup, with Irving, Anthony and Durant swapped in for Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes. When you factor in the shorter 3-point line in FIBA rules, this crew — three of whom will be playing together in 2016-17, along with the reigning two-time Kia MVP — would be scary-lethal. (Note: No disrespect to Barnes, who also is on Team USA, but KD is a clear upgrade and Melo is a professional scorer.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comCarmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comKevin Durant, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Kyle Lowry.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comFirst thought: Kevin Durant. Duh. Second thought: They would be best offensively with Draymond Green’s passing and shooting at the five, especially if Kyrie Irving is at the point. Now add the shooting of Klay Thompson and Carmelo Anthony and they will score rather efficiently.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Start with Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson in the backcourt, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony in the frontcourt and DeMarcus Cousins in the middle and you can blow out a few bulbs on any scoreboard. That first five firepower would be off the charts. Coach K is working with an embarrassment of riches, even when some of the best and brightest don’t make the trip.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:  Everyone here can create his own shot:
C – DeMarcus Cousins
F – Carmelo Anthony
F – Kevin Durant
F – Klay Thompson
G – Kyrie Irving

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI would go extra small and use a lineup of Kyrie Irving at the point, with Klay Thompson alongside him in the backcourt. Then a frontline of Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. Spread the floor, score. Good luck finding someone on that five who can’t take advantage of a mismatch.

Blogtable: Best five U.S. Team players for defense

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: NBA rookies eager to watch in Rio | Team with best shot to defeat U.S.? | Best five U.S. Team players for offense | Best five U.S. Team players for defense


>The five players Coach K should put on the floor when he needs lock-down defense?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

G – Paul George
G – Klay Thompson
F – Jimmy Butler
F – Draymond Green
C – DeAndre Jordan

The key to this lineup would be Paul George’s ability to make life tough on point guards with his length and quickness. Thompson, Butler and Green are proven two-way players who pride themselves on shutting down their men. And there’s Jordan backing them all up with size, leaping ability and — in these games — a license to take the ball off the rim.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comJimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Paul George and DeAndre Jordan.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comDeAndre Jordan, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Paul George, Jimmy Butler. That would force someone to defend a point guard, but very few opponents will have a PG with the ability to go around Thompson or Butler, for example. If I need a point guard for defense, I go with Kyle Lowry and sit one of those two.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comA long lineup of Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan wouldn’t have too many issues switching everything and would be tough to score on. And it’s a lineup that we very well may see. Krzyzewski has been using George at point guard for a few minutes here and there in the first few exhibition games.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Depending on what type of ball pressure you want to bring to the game, I’d start with Klay Thompson and Paul George as my guards (and I think they could both handle themselves against the point guards in this field). Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler have all the versatility I need on the perimeter and can both play bigger than their listed height and weight. DeAndre Jordan is going to be a revelation to some people in this competition much the way Kenneth Faried was in the 2014 World Cup in Spain, a player capable of dominating the game around the rim with his athleticism and shot-blocking.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThese five will also be able to transform stops and turnovers into baskets, so long as Jordan is attacking the basket for lobs:

C – DeAndre Jordan
F – Draymond Green
F – Paul George
G – Jimmy Butler
G – Klay Thompson

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThis is where I’m not sure what the play is at the point, considering neither Kyle Lowry or Kyrie Irving are known for their defense. So maybe you use Klay Thompson at the one, with Jimmy Butler next to him at the two. Then a front line of Paul George, Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan seems pretty capable, and able to switch just about anything.

Blogtable: Team with best shot to defeat U.S.?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: NBA rookies eager to watch in Rio | Team with best shot to defeat U.S.? | Best five U.S. Team players for offense | Best five U.S. Team players for defense


>The United States will be a heavy gold-medal favorite in Rio, but which team do you believe has the best chance to hand the U.S. a loss?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Australia won’t have Ben Simmons or Andrew Bogut, Spain will be playing without Marc Gasol and the best players on Argentina’s team are all long in the tooth. So I’ll go with France, to whom Tony Parker and Boris Diaw will bring their years of Spurs synergy. Lithuania and Serbia should be more rugged tests, too, than Team USA has been facing in its exhibitions so far.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comFrankly, the answer is nobody. Normally you’d look at Spain, but not without Marc Gasol. If you forced me to make a pick, I’ll take a flyer on France with a roster stocked with NBA talent.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFrance, then Spain. The French are expected to have Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Gobert, Boris Diaw and others, some with an NBA background, plus many years together that includes reaching the quarterfinals in London. (The surprise was that France left Evan Fournier off the roster.) It won’t be enough to beat Team USA, but that lineup will get the Americans’ attention.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comSpain has better offensive talent, but France has the defenders — namely Nicolas Batum and Rudy Gobert — that can make things interesting against the U.S. They also have a very good coach, Vincent Collet, whose game plan played a big part in their upset of Spain in the World Cup quarterfinals in Madrid two years ago. It would help if Tony Parker was a few years younger, because neither Parker (at 34) nor France’s other ball handlers have the quickness to really make the U.S. defense scramble. While Spain has been able to hang with the U.S. in a couple of high-scoring games in the last two Olympics, France would need a much uglier game to have a shot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I don’t believe the U.S. is in any sort of imminent danger from the field in Rio. France and Spain always stick out from the crowd, due to the abundance of NBA players on their respective rosters. But the U.S. is the only team that can go up and down the roster and tap NBA All-Stars to hit the floor and play at a high level for short stretches. If things get interesting late in any game, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe leadership of Tony Parker, the shot-blocking of Rudy Gobert, the playmaking of Boris Diaw and the perimeter defense of Nicolas Batum will give France the best chance in the final game of group play — especially if the French are fighting for a higher seed and the Americans are looking ahead to the knockout round. That being said, I don’t see any team capable of beating the U.S. There will be a surprisingly close game or two, but the great players of the traditional basketball powers – Parker, Pau Gasol of Spain and Manu Ginobili of Argentina — have grown old while USA Basketball has continually replenished. The argument can be made that the top eight players (if not more) will be wearing American uniforms.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThere are several teams stocked with NBA players, but the two I’d be most concerned with are both from Europe: Spain and France. I know Australia has a lot of talent as well, but Spain, as always, basically has a team full of NBA players, and France is the other team I think you can never count out.

Blogtable: Rookies eager to watch in Rio

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: NBA rookies eager to watch in Rio | Team with best shot to defeat U.S.? | Best five U.S. Team players for offense | Best five U.S. Team players for defense


> Several incoming NBA rookies will be suited up for the Summer Olympics, which begin next week.  Which of these rooks are you most eager to see in action in Rio? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m curious about Domantas Sabonis with Lithuania. I missed seeing his old man, Arvydas, until he was an older, thicker and different player with Portland (1995-2003) than he had been in international competition. If his offspring can make the transition from Gonzaga to the NBA as effectively as Arvydas did when he arrived at age 31, the Thunder will have something special. Arvydas Sabonis was so gifted, and had such great finesse for a huge man. It’ll be interesting to see how much Domantas relies on guile as he’s adding strength to compete in the paint against the NBA’s grown men.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comAs a resident of Houston, I’ll be most interested in Rockets second-round draft pick Zhou Qi of China.  The 7-foot-2 center has a tremendous wingspan, demonstrated athleticism, touch around the hoop and a decent jumper. But he is downright skinny and I want to see if he can hold his own against physical play. I’ll also have an eye out for Domantas Sabonis of Lithuania.  The son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis could get big minutes this season for the relaunching Thunder.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAlex Abrines. I’ve been on the bandwagon for a few years, since before the Thunder took him 32nd in 2013. His previous experience at major international tournaments has only been in the junior events. Now the swingman has extensive experience in Spain, will finally be joining Oklahoma City this season and is scheduled to play for Spain in the Olympics. The Spanish roster is crowded enough that Abrines will not be handed minutes, but his play, especially if a matchup with the United States materializes beyond pool play, will be a measuring stick heading toward his NBA debut. The same goes for Dario Saric as he nears the move to the 76ers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comTwo of them — Domantas Sabonis and Dario Saric — are lottery picks. Even though Sabonis played college basketball in the States, I’ve seen more of Saric. So I’m more curious about Sabonis, who has been playing a decent amount of minutes in exhibition games for a veteran-laden Lithuania squad. His skills could be a good fit on the Thunder frontline and it will be interesting to see if he gets a chance to contribute as a rookie on a team that will be fighting for a playoff spot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Seeing his highlights doesn’t do justice to the game so many talent evaluators insist resides in the body of Dario Saric. I’ve been waiting anxiously to see him go all out in a competition like this, just to see if he can justify some of the hype (and there has been plenty). He’s such a critical piece for the Philadelphia 76ers going forward. I want see for my own eyes what he brings to the party in Philly.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comFor two years we’ve been hearing about 6-foot-10 power forward Dario Saric, the No. 12 pick of the 2014 draft who will add to the glut of big men in Philadelphia next season. Will Saric be able to earn meaningful minutes alongside Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor? Which skills will he bring to the 76ers? The best clues will be provided by his play with Croatia in the weeks ahead.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWait, Ben Simmons is playing? Oh, well then, my options are severely limited. In that case, out of the rookies playing in Rio, I’ll do with Domantas Sabonis, who may end up playing a bigger role than anyone suspected this season for the Thunder following the departure of Kevin Durant.

Waiters agrees to deal with Miami

For those casual NBA critics you run into occasionally – particularly the ones who finally have come off their hackneyed “no one plays defense” or “the regular season means nothing” salvos, only to replace them this summer by grumbling about the flood of TV money and overpaid mediocre players – we offer: Dion Waiters.

Waiters, a shooting guard who already was an object of bemusement for some NBA reporters on social media, appears to be adding another chapter. The Miami Heat have signed Waiters, who most recently played for Oklahoma City, to a reported two-year contract worth around $6 million.

Mediocre? Overpaid? Not in this instance. If the reported salary is correct, Waiters will play in 2016-17 for less than he was paid last season and not even half what he could have gotten by re-signing with the Thunder. But Waiters’ inconsistent play, and the gap between his skills and his perception of those skills, apparently meant less of a market for a guy who was the No. 4 pick overall in 2012. Waiters averaged a career-worst 9.8 points while shooting 39.9 percent and continuing a career-long trend as a minus player in net rating (99/108 in 2015-16).

Here is some context from Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman, including details on why the Thunder pulled their qualifying offer to Waiters:

The number is eye-popping. Waiters is a 24-year-old shooting guard who, despite his flaws, showed decent ability on both ends of the floor deep into the playoffs this past season. Many speculated that Waiters would get $10 million or more per year in this seller’s market.

But his restricted free [agency] dragged on deep into July. The Victor Oladipo trade last month, combined with the Kevin Durant departure, allowed the Thunder to take a new direction. After signing Alex Abrines, OKC had little interest in bringing Waiters back. So the Thunder rescinded a qualifying offer last week that, if Waiters accepted it, would’ve made him $6.8 million next season.

He then became an unrestricted free agent and, apparently, there wasn’t much interest out there despite available money from teams like the Nets and Sixers. So Waiters has agreed to a short-term, bet-on-yourself, pay-cut deal with the Heat.

Carmelo Anthony leads meeting on police, community tensions

LOS ANGELES — Continuing to encourage dialogue as an important early step to easing tensions between police and the African-American community in many cities, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony used Team USA’s day off to help assemble an estimated 200 people, from teenagers to adults, citizens to senior law-enforcement officers, for two hours of discussions at a Boys & Girls Club.

“We had a bunch of youth, had a bunch of police officers, had a bunch of community leaders of all race ethnicities, athletes,” Anthony said. “It was an open forum, open dialogue, an honest conversation. We came together as a group first, as one big group. We discussed some things and then we broke down into eight small groups and each group had athletes, officers, community leaders. What we did was, we just talked about the issues that’s going on out there today and we talked about solutions.

“Now, there’s a lot of solutions that was going on out there today, but we know that nothing’s going to happen overnight. But what we wanted to do was create something that we can start right now and continue on when we leave here today. There were some very, very powerful messages that was being talked about, not just us as athletes but the youth. The youth really, really spoke out today about how they feel about their community, how they feel about police officers, how they feel about relationships and how we can mend these relationships.”

Anthony admitted he does not have an answer on how to move forward from conversation to implementing change — “If  had the solution this would be corrected already,” he said — but was confident meetings like Monday can make a difference. Indeed, others in attendance said the chance to interact in more of a social setting, as opposed to the potential of a confrontational situation on the streets, helps.

So does Anthony and another attendee, Tamika Catchings of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever and the women’s Olympic team, lending their name in hopes of resolving the situation, said William Scott, a deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department.

“I think it makes a tremendous difference,” Scott said after the gathering. “The platform that these athletes have is worldwide and this issue is an issue that needs attention. We need to have some dialogue and we need to have some solutions to push this forward, so it makes a tremendous difference. It brings not only attention to the issue but it actually, I think, multiplies the facilitation of that dialogue. A lot of these young folks would not have been in this room talking with police had it not been for what these athletes are doing. That’s a tremendous, tremendous benefit to this issue and to us in the city.”

Team USA, which defeated China on Sunday in Staples Center, departed for San Francisco later Monday afternoon in preparation for a second meeting with China on Tuesday night at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

 

Cavaliers’ Lue agrees to contract extension

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Tyronn Lue is still basking in the glow of his first title as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’ll do it with a sense of long-term security now, having agreed to terms on a five-year, $35 million contract extension, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.

After taking over for David Blatt 41 games into the season, Lue worked on the same contract he had before assuming the role as head coach. He guided the Cavaliers through the Eastern Conference playoffs and from a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors in The Finals to end a 52-year title drought for fans in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers have had a relatively quiet summer since their raucous championship parade. But a contract agreement with Lue and the (official) re-signing of LeBron James (who has already made it known that he’s not going anywhere) were two outstanding matters that had to be addressed.

Jordan gives $2M in hopes of improving police, black relations

Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest player in NBA history and currently the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, is putting his money where others’ mouths are. After staying out of any political fray for most of his active playing career and taking a low-profile role in supporting candidates and causes since, the legendary Chicago Bulls’ shooting guard stepped directly into the middle of current unrest between law enforcement and many in the black community.

Jordan announced via The Undefeated.com, a subsidiary site of ESPN.com, that he felt compelled to step up publicly and support from both sides the efforts toward better relations and understanding. He’s doing that in the form of $1 million donations. Here is Jordan’s statement in full:

“As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers. I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones, as I know their pain all too well.

“I was raised by parents who taught me to love and respect people regardless of their race or background, so I am saddened and frustrated by the divisive rhetoric and racial tensions that seem to be getting worse as of late. I know this country is better than that, and I can no longer stay silent. We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported

“Over the past three decades I have seen up close the dedication of the law enforcement officers who protect me and my family. I have the greatest respect for their sacrifice and service. I also recognize that for many people of color their experiences with law enforcement have been different than mine. I have decided to speak out in the hope that we can come together as Americans, and through peaceful dialogue and education, achieve constructive change.

“To support that effort, I am making contributions of $1 million each to two organizations, the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s newly established Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The Institute for Community-Police Relations’ policy and oversight work is focused on building trust and promoting best practices in community policing. My donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s oldest civil rights law organization, will support its ongoing work in support of reforms that will build trust and respect between communities and law enforcement. Although I know these contributions alone are not enough to solve the problem, I hope the resources will help both organizations make a positive difference.

“We are privileged to live in the world’s greatest country – a country that has provided my family and me the greatest of opportunities. The problems we face didn’t happen overnight and they won’t be solved tomorrow, but if we all work together, we can foster greater understanding, positive change and create a more peaceful world for ourselves, our children, our families and our communities.”

Morning shootaround — July 24


NEWS OF THE MORNING
The loss lingers | Mr. Burke goes to Washington | Boston cool on Okafor

No. 1: The one loss turned Team USA golden — It has been almost an entire decade since Team USA lost in international play. That came at the World Championships in Japan back in 2006 when the U.S. were whipped in the semifinals by Greece. It was the start of the collaboration between new director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the loss not only stung, but provided the necessary impetus that has put Team USA back on top of the basketball world, says Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:

“The shock and disappointment was real. We didn’t know what to expect in terms of playing the next game,” Colangelo said. “As we look back now, it was very important. We haven’t looked back since.”

During that summer 10 years ago, Krzyzewski was guilty of hubris and it carried over to his team. In his first year on the job he’d promised to pay respect to the international game and the non-NBA players who’d given the Americans six losses combined in the 2002 World Championships and the 2004 Olympics.

Yet he quickly declared that he’d never play zone defense despite having zone master Jim Boeheim on his coaching staff. Then during the tournament he sometimes was so unfamiliar with the opponents that he referred to them by jersey number instead of name.

“The stuff we had done up to that point, we realized we didn’t know what we were doing yet and what we were supposed to do,” Krzyzewski said. “It was a continuation of so-called failure. It wasn’t just the game, it was a ‘oh here we go again.’ I don’t think anyone was afraid of what people were going to say, it was what we felt. No one could say anything to make us feel worse.”

Krzyzewski started LeBron James at point guard in that bronze medal game, his first move in which he realized he needed to give James more responsibility going forward.

He worked together with Dwyane Wade, who had one of the best games of his international career that night.

Krzyzewski then went through with numerous other changes, including installing a zone defense for use in the FIBA Americas tournament in 2007 and upgrading the scouting to make sure the team was always more prepared for the opposition.

“Out of adversity comes opportunity,” Colangelo said. “It was a wake-up call, even though it was just at the beginning of our journey, that no matter how much talent you have on any given night, you don’t get much more of a learning experience than that.”

***

No. 2: Burke needed a change — He was a national college player of the year when the Jazz made Trey Burke their first round draft pick in 2013. But after three seasons of sliding steadily down the depth chart, the former University of Michigan guard says it was time for a change and he’s looking forward to a fresh start next season with the Wizards. Lev Facher of the Detroit Free Press has the details:

“It was definitely time for a reset,” Burke said. “A lot of the things that happened, I didn’t understand. Just to have an opportunity again, being able to play with an All-Star-caliber point guard in John Wall, I look at it as an opportunity to go deep in the playoffs and win games.”

Burke’s first three years in the NBA essentially marked the first success-free stretch of his career. In two years at Michigan, he propelled the team to two straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a run to the national championship game his sophomore year.

Utah, by comparison, didn’t have a winning season in Burke’s three years there. By the end of his first NBA run, Burke had fallen off the bottom of Utah’s rotation, playing in just two of the team’s final 14 games in 2015-16.

“My entire career, I’ve always won,” Burke said. “To be in Utah, it was up and down. We had some success there, but just to be on another team that has the opportunity to make the playoffs again feels great.”

***

No. 3: Celtics won’t overspend for Okafor — If the 76ers are going to break their logjam of big men by trading Jahlil Okafor, it’s looking less and less like it will be with a trade to Boston. Or at least not at this time. That’s the dish from Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Word out of Boston is that the Celtics will not give up much for the 6-foot-11, 257-pounder.

They have concerns about his playing in the city after being involved in two street fights there in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning. Nor do they like the fact that the center saw a gun pointed at his head in Old City and that he was stopped for going 108 mph over the Ben Franklin Bridge.

The Celtics have a practice of minimizing the risk when acquiring guys who have had what they view as a character flaw.

Former St. Joseph’s standout Delonte West is a prime example. A source said that general manager Danny Ainge loved West. However, Ainge only gave him a minimum deal even though talent-wise West was deserving of mid-level exception money.

And he’s just one example.

So the Celtics probably won’t offer anyone or anything the Sixers would perceive as equal value for Okafor. At least they won’t at this time.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Gerald Green returns to Boston and Celtics also re-sign Tyler Zeller … Chris “Birdman” Andersen signs with Cavaliers … David Stockton signs three-year deal to play in Croatia … If you still need a Kevin Durant Thunder jersey, there’s a sporting goods store in OKC selling them for 48 cents … Steph Curry was trying to make sweet music with his golf swing while playing with Justin Timberlake

Morning shootaround — July 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA rolls in opener | Paul George shines in long-awaited return for USA | Harden looks forward to fresh start | Ingram’s tough road to the NBA

No. 1: Team USA rolls in opener — They might have had just four days of practice together, but Team USA came out in their exhibition opener and looked nothing like a team that needed more time to bond. Behind prime time performances from Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, Team USA coasted to a 111-74 win over Argentina. And as Steve Aschburner writes, it was a dominant performance from start to finish…

By halftime, the USA led 56-33, thanks largely to a 35-15 rebounding edge that produced second chances and defensive pressure that stymied Argentina’s attack. Led by Carmelo Anthony‘s three steals and Cousin’s two in the first 20 minutes, the NBA stars shook loose 14 turnovers and turned them into 25 points. All those offensive rebounds — they grabbed 19 of their missed shots to Argentina’s 14 defensive boards in the half — showed up in a 19-2 advantage in second-chance points.

George, playing for USA Basketball for the first time since fracturing his right leg in an August 2014 intrasquad scrimmage, shot 6-for-9 with a pair of 3-pointers. Cousins had nine points and 10 rebounds in the half, while DeAndre Jordan maintained USA’s inside advantage with six points and four boards.

Andres Nocioni scored eight points in the first half, and Manu Ginobili had six. Argentina was better from distance — 6-for-14 on 3-pointers vs. 4-for-12 on 2-point field goals — thanks to cleaner looks. In the paint, USA dominated in the half 34-6.

Taking better care of the ball in the third quarter — just two turnovers — Argentina stayed even with the Americans at 80-56. They got 22 shots, compared to 26 in the first half, and only allowed USA one offensive board.

The Americans got their swagger back in the fourth, though, outscoring Argentina 24-8 through the first six minutes of the quarter.

The game was the first of five that Team USA will play over the next 11 days before heading to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Americans will play the Chinese national team twice — Sunday in Los Angeles and Tuesday in Oakland — before traveling to Chicago and Houston for games against Venezuela and Nigeria, respectively.

***

No. 2: Paul George shines in long-awaited return for USA — It was two years ago in Las Vegas during an exhibition that Paul George suffered a gruesome broken leg that changed the course of his career. Now back and healthy, George came off the bench to score 18 points last night for Team USA, and as Yahoo’s Michael Lee writes, George showed everyone that he’s all the way back …

George is back in the Team USA fold, ready to complete what he started before his career was interrupted by what he now calls a “bump in the road.” The venue for George’s long-delayed international debut changed to the brand-new T-Mobile Arena, but he admitted playing an organized game in Las Vegas again was “eerie.” Any uneasiness quickly subsided shortly after Krzyzewski brought him off the bench in the first period. After scoring 18 effortless points in an emphatic 111-74 demolition of Argentina, George was quick to state that the injury that rocked USA Basketball was “behind me.”

All week, George’s Olympic teammates avoided discussing with him a setback that he has little interest in reliving but remains a defining moment in his career that he has been unable to escape – especially since his will to overcome that incident continues to define his character. Krzyzewski said after Friday’s game that George is playing “the best basketball in his life.”

Determined to not only come back, but to continue his steady improvement after missing nearly an entire season, George made his return since breaking his right leg the best of his career. He led the Indiana Pacers back into the postseason, came one point short of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record with 41 points and earned third-team All-NBA and second-team All-Defensive honors.

Colangelo said the incentivized gesture USA Basketball extended in the aftermath of George’s injury was the “right thing to do,” but George also rewarded that blind faith, making easy the decision to add him to the 12-man roster.

“I’m here for a reason,” George told The Vertical. “I’m not just a guy that Coach K brought along.”

***

No. 3: Harden looks forward to fresh start — It was a season of discontent for James Harden and the Houston Rockets, who went through a coaching change and then made a quick postseason exit. But with new coach Mike D’Antoni on the sideline this season and several new free agents signed up, Rockets’ star Harden tells Lang Whitaker that he’s excited for the new opportunity…

Q: How do you feel you fit into Mike D’Antoni’s system, and how do you feel his system benefits you?

HARDEN: You know what? The day he got hired, we watched film. We’ve communicated several times a week. You know, it’s going to work. I’m really excited about it because he’s prepared. He’s prepared, he’s given me knowledge, he’s given me things where I can fit into his offense and what he’s trying to do. And not only myself but the entire team — I asked him questions about how Patrick Beverley fits and the new guys that we got fit. So it’s exciting. And [we added Jeff] Bzdelik, who was the head defensive coach for Memphis. You know, everybody talks about, ‘The Rockets aren’t a good defensive team.’ Well, we got one of the best defensive coaches in the league now. So it’s all about preparation. In this league it’s all about preparation, putting guys in positions where they’re successful, and good things happen.

Q: Do you feel like you get a bad rap for your defense?

HARDEN: Yeah, yeah. But everybody makes mistakes. I can look up the same amount of plays for myself as the other top guys in the league. So I don’t really worry, I don’t focus on it. And now with the more talent that’s going to release some offensive pressure off me, I’m going to be able to go out there and play both ends of the floor at a high level. It’s really difficult to go out there, play all 82 games, lead the league in minutes and have to do everything offensively. I mean, no one else had that weight on their shoulders in the league. So like I said, it doesn’t really bother me. I focus on what I gotta do and I just go out there and do it.

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No. 4: Ingram’s tough road to the NBA — The Lakers used the second overall pick in this summer’s draft on Brandon Ingram, a lanky forward out of Duke who showed everyone in his one year of college that he is an elite scorer. But making it to the NBA wasn’t an easy path for Ingram, and as Chris Mannix writes for Yahoo, Ingram getting to the NBA was a family affair

As he got older, his basketball obsession grew. He played after school. When he got home, he challenged Bo to one-on-one on the battered hoop in the backyard. “I was a senior in high school before I beat him,” Ingram said. When it got dark, his father, Donald, who managed the local rec center, opened up the gym. “It was an all-access pass,” Ingram laughed.

The work paid off. Ingram won a state championship his first year at Kinston. He went on to win three more. A stringy, 6-foot-2 guard as a freshman grew, by his own estimation, two inches every year to finish high school as a slender 6-8 forward. Spins, fadeaways, step-backs — Ingram had it all. He averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds as a senior. Legend had it that in four years, Ingram never missed a free throw. So? “Most definitely, that’s true,” Ingram said.

Last month, the Lakers tabbed Ingram with the second overall pick in the draft. Overnight, Ingram, 18, became the face of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises. It’s not the type of position he has always been comfortable in. For years, Ingram was shy about playing in front of crowds. It wasn’t until eighth grade, when he joined Jerry Stackhouse’s AAU team, that he took to it. He was a star in high school but needed Mike Krzyzewski to tell him at the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game that he had pro potential. He could score on anyone but wasn’t always assertive in high school and was briefly benched for listless play at Duke.

The Lakers hope he grows into the role. They see Ingram as a multi-position player. At 6-9, 190-pounds, Ingram will need to bulk up. He was eating six meals a day, some 5,000 calories, Ingram said, before the draft and he hopes to be 210 pounds next season. But the talent is undeniable.

Durant sees it. For months, scouts have compared Ingram to Durant. And Durant understands why. “He reminds me of myself, but he’s a little farther along than I was at that stage,” Durant told reporters at Team USA practice in Las Vegas on Wednesday. For Ingram, there is no higher compliment. He grew up wearing Durant’s sneakers. His walls were covered with Durant posters. He mimicked many of Durant’s moves. He worshipped him when he was at Texas, cheered him in Seattle, followed his career closely in Oklahoma City. The Lakers hope they found the next Durant; Ingram knows it will be a while before he gets there.

“It’s a very special comparison,” Ingram said. “But, of course, I know I’m not him. I know I’m not him yet, but I have the potential to make my own brand. Of course, you grow up with him as an idol, and in a few months he’s going to become my rival. It’s going to be a dream come true. I think just watching him for so long and having the ability to actually learn and play against him is just going to be a special motivation for me as a competitor and someone who really looked up to him.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks have agreed to an extension that will keep Dirk under contract until he’s 40 years old … The Pelicans have signed free agent forward Terrence JonesDraymond Green reached a plea deal with prosecutors in Michigan … Luis Scola isn’t thrilled with the real estate prices in Brooklyn …