USA destroys Dominican Republic in exhibition opener


USA destroys Dominican Republic in exhibition opener

LAS VEGASIf slaughtering the competition the way they did in its exhibition opener in what is just a prelude of what to expect in 2012 Olympic play, Team USA demolished its opponent, the Dominican Republic, 113-59, Thursday evening at the Thomas and Mack Center on the campus of UNLV then maybe the debate about whether the current USA Basketball national team is superior to the original Dream Team of 1992 is actually legitimate.

While they didnt win the opening tip, Team USA struck first and in impressive fashion, as a Chris Paul steal led to an easy Carmelo Anthony fast-break finish.

However, it was no runaway from freight train in the earlier going, as the John Calipari-coached Dominican Republic squad actually took a 4-2 lead something that never occurred with the 1992 squad, it must be noted though neither team could be accused of crisp play at the very outset.

Quickly, however, things changed, as USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski made rapid-fire substitutions in the opening period, showing a commitment to the small-ball philosophy made necessary by the squads lack of size league MVP LeBron James guarded Atlanta Hawks big man Al Horford, for example blitzing the Dominicans with a 13-0 run before Horford knocked down a free throw, followed by a subsequent three-pointer from ex-Louisville point guard Edgar Sosa, who later exited the game with a leg injury, and a triple by Horford, cutting the deficit to 15-10.

But whatever the Americans were missing in size, they made up for in versatility, defensive intensity, unselfishness and offensive firepower.

Highlights of the first stanza included three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durants three-point barrage as well as an alley-oop from Paul James throwing down a fast-break lob from Deron Williams and a surprising pair of triples from defensive-minded swingman Andre Iguodala.

After a quarter of play, Team USA led, 26-12, with the likes of NBA legend Bill Russell, Hall of Fame player and coach Lenny Wilkens, and original Dream Teamers Chris Mullin, Clyde Drexler and former Bulls superstar Scottie Pippen looking on, as every player except recent No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis, a Chicago native, saw some action.

Durant continued his one-man shooting exhibition in the second quarter, nailing his first five attempts from behind the arc, but it was clear that Team USAs focus was on the defensive end, as the smallish Americans the Dominican Republic actually had more size on the court at most times, though inferior length and athleticism pressured the ball for the length of the court, although that didnt lead to the gap, while a comfortable margin, widening much more.

At the intermission, the hosts held a 50-27 advantage, following Durants sixth first-half made three and a late deep two-point jumper, as he notched 21 points before the break.

Williams started the second half in place of Paul and immediately made his impact by scoring the first two baskets of the third quarter to double up the Dominican Republic, followed by a relative slump from Team USA and the Sin City crowd doing an extended version of The Wave and chanting U-S-A to inspire their heroes, though the sight of former NBA stars like Gary Payton, Steve Smith, Spencer Haywood and Dominique Wilkins brought some life to the arena.

Bryant, revered locally due to Los Angeles close proximity and the fact that Las Vegas doesnt have an NBA franchise, struggled with his shot, often taking contested jumpers, but the Americans quickly got back in gear and after three consecutive dunks by Durant, Chandler and Iguodala Durants came on a transition alley-oop from Thunder teammate James Harden; Oklahoma Citys other Olympian, Russell Westbrook missed a wide-open attempt of his own, though he later atoned with a pretty fast-break layup, plus the foul Team USA seized firm control of the contest and went into the final period with a commanding 79-41 lead.

Davis made his first appearance of the contest at the beginning of the fourth quarter and while the Chicagoan didnt affect the game to a huge extent, a steal and full-court push resulting in him splitting a pair of foul shots after missing a transition layup showed flashes of the big mans potential, despite not practicing with his teammates after suffering an ankle injury early in training camp.

Due to the game being such a laugher, Davis got more touches than he could ever hope to on a team of established NBA superstars and as time went on, he found his groove a left-handed jump hook, a put-back layup off an offensive rebound and a four-point play with under a minute to go in the lop-sided affair that fittingly concluded the scoring in the festive atmosphere.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction


Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks


Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."