Tag Archives: Kevin Love

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 10 August 2017

It’s the day of Thor. Where’s my hammer? Here are the Rumblings.

Nooooooo!!!!!! We all knew this day would come, but it still feels weird: “Have the Thunder’s ’Stache Bros been reduced to an only child? That was the indication on Thursday, when one half of Oklahoma City’s mustachioed duo, Enes Kanter, posted a Twitter picture of teammate Steven Adams sporting a clean-shaven face (though still with his trademark long hair). Assuming it’s a current photo, Kanter is a solo Bro.”

It’s official: The Thunder will play in their first neutral site regular season game on foreign soil (not including Canada): “We’re excited to be asked to participate in the NBA Mexico City Games 2017 as the NBA expands its global reach,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a statement. “As we enter only our 10th season of Thunder Basketball in Oklahoma City, we feel incredibly fortunate that our team and fan base will get to experience our first regular-season‎ game abroad.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 10 August 2017

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Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 22 of 82)

westbrook durant irving thompson cavs thunder

  • When: Thursday, 11 December 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The first real test of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s new season. The Thunder have quietly won 5 of their last 6 games and seem to be hitting their stride. Russell Westbrook has been MVP-worthy in the games that he has played. Kevin Durant appears to be getting back into game shape. And the Thunder, as a whole, are getting used to playing as a full collective. In the last game, against the Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City trotted out multiple small ball lineups to combat what Milwaukee was doing. And they worked for the most part. As much as the young Thunder have grown in that trying first month, Scott Brooks appears to have grown as much. Brooks is like a kid in a candy store with all the line-up possibilities. Once known for his stubbornness in adapting to the opponent’s personnel, Brooks now appears confident enough in his rotation to trot out various line-ups to combat whatever the opponent is throwing out there.

This is the first meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They split their two meetings last season, but these are not your 1 year old son’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Past history will likely have little bearing on these future meetings.

The Opponent

lebron james kevin love kyrie irving cavs

The Cavaliers come into tonight’s game with a 13-7 record, riding an 8-game win streak. After a rough start that saw them start the season 5-7, the Cavs seem to have finally righted the ship. LeBron James is once again LeBroning (no, not that LeBroning), and the other “big 2”, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, are getting used to their new roles. The Cavs are top-1o in most major categories except for defensive rating (14th – 106.1) and rebounding (24th – 41.2 per game). Leading the charge is 4th year point guard Kyrie Irving, who has slowly adjusted to his new role as a facilitator/attacker from just solely being an attacker. Irving’s ability to pick and choose the right spots where he is needed to take over has been a big factor in the Cavs’ recent resurgence. On the wing, LeBron James has recovered from his early season swoon, and is back to being his MVP-caliber self, averaging 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. On the other wing, Cavs coach Dave Blatt inserted veteran SF Shawn Marion into the starting line-up early in the season to help provide some perimeter defense. Up front, Kevin Love has probably had to make the biggest adjustment of the the 3 All-Stars. To go from alpha male to 3rd option can be a difficult change. But Love has done his best Chris Bosh impersonation and is learning how to make the most of his opportunities when they are presented. The veteran Anderson Varejao mans the middle providing his usual energy and defensive presence. Off the bench, Dion Waiter, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova will get most of the reserve minutes.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • PG – Kyrie Irving
  • SG – LeBron James
  • SF – Shawn Marion
  • PF – Kevin Love
  • C – Anderson Varejao

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

Key Match-Ups

1. LeBron James vs. Andre Roberson/Perry Jones – Yes, Kevin Durant will guard James at times. But a lot of the success of the Thunder will be dependent on Durant being on the floor and not getting into foul trouble. This is where Roberson and Jones come into play. Jones’ career, before his 3-game scoring binge at the beginning of this season, has been defined by the job he did on James in the 2nd half of the Thunder game against the Heat in Miami last season. While he didn’t necessarily shut him down, he did make James work for whatever he got in that game. And most importantly, he kept Durant off of James.

NBA: Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder

2. Serge Ibaka vs. Kevin Love – Love has always been a match-up nightmare for Ibaka. Love can grab rebounds with the best of them, but can also take you outside on the perimeter. That inside/outside game can cause Ibaka to get lost in the shuffle. Look for the Thunder to play smaller, and for Ibaka to be more on Thompson or Varejao than Love.

3. Russell Westbrook vs. Kyrie Irving – Whoever plays the smarter game will likely lead their team to victory. But one of these two, if not both, will likely look to one up the other at some point in the game.

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – A lot like LeBron’s Miami teams, rebounding is a weakness of this Cavalier team. Even with Kevin Love, who is averaging his lowest rebounds per game average since his rookie season, the Cavs still struggle on the boards. On the offensive end, Love finds himself on the perimeter many times, negating offensive rebounding opportunities. Defensively, Cleveland’s penchant for forcing teams to shoot jumpers, causes long rebound opportunities to land in the lap of the offense. The Thunder will definitely need more than 1 rebound in a half from Steven Adams in this game.

ibaka jackson morrow thunder

2. Bench – The Thunder’s bench unit is becoming one of the better ones in the league. The Cavs bench is one that can be extremely streaky, especially Waiters. As long as Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Anthony Morrow play their games, the Thunder bench should be a net positive against the Cavs.

3. Mike Miller – I don’t care if Miller has missed the last 3 games with a concussion. He should be available for this game, and he torches Oklahoma City nearly every time he plays against us. I fully expect him to go 4/5 on 3-point shots.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Northwest Divison

Northwest Division

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

westbrook ibaka durant jackson jones thunder

Last season: 59-23 (1st in the Northwest Division, 2nd in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Mitch McGary – Draft (No. 21 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Anthony Morrow – Free agent signing
  • Sebastian Telfair – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Thabo Sefolosha – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Caron Butler – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Derek Fisher – Retired (Head coach of the New York Knicks)
  • Hasheem Thabeet – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers

Season Preview – After years of relying on internal improvement/development, the Thunder finally threw their hat into the free agency fray. They failed in getting Pau Gasol or Mike Miller to OKC, but did get the deep-range threat they coveted in Anthony Morrow. If healthy, this team is one of the best in the league. Sporting the current MVP and another top 5 players in Westbrook, the Thunder should benefit from their more versatile additions. When it comes to a team like the Thunder, though, its all about May and June. With the team’s shortcomings in the playoffs with such a talented roster, might this be the year that coach Scott Brooks starts to feel the heat?

2014-15 will be successful if: The Thunder win the championship

Projected 2014-15 Record: 61-21

2. Portland Trailblazers

aldridge batum lopez matthews lillard trailblazers

Last season: 54-28 (2nd in the Northwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Steve Blake – Free agent signing
  • Chris Kaman – Free agent signing
  • James Southerland – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Mo Williams – Signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Earl Watson – Unsigned

Season Preview – The Trailblazers basically bring back the same team as last season, but with a little bit more veteran presence. Chris Kaman and Steve Blake should help shore up some of the inexperience off the bench. With that said, the Blazers’ Achilles heel this season will be the same as last season’s: lack of bench production. Second year guard CJ Mccollum will be expected to fill the production provided by Mo Williams. They were lucky the injury bug didn’t bite that hard last season. They will need similar health next season to produce the same output.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Blazers make it to the Western Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 52-30

3. Denver Nuggets

Indiana Pacers v Denver Nuggets

Last season: 36-46 (4th in the Northwest Division, 11th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Arron Afflalo – Obtained in a trade with the Orlando Magic
  • Gary Harris – Draft (No. 19 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jusuf Nurkic – Draft (No. 16 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Evan Fournier – Traded to the Orlando Magic
  • Jan Vesely – Signed overseas
  • Anthony Randolph – Signed overseas
  • Aaron Brooks – Signed with the Chicago Bulls

Season Preview – I only wrote three names on the “Key Additions” section, but with half the team coming back from injury, you could easily add about 5 players to that section. Now, half the team is a bit of an exaggeration, but the players who are coming back are core members of the rotation. JaVale McGee, Danilo Galinari, JJ Hickson, and Nate Robinson all missed time last season with surgery necessitating injuries. With all those key players coming back and Kenneth Faried coming off a great showing in the FIBA World Cup, Denver becomes the wild card in the Western Conference. Two seasons ago, they were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with many of these players on the team. It may take Denver a bit to gel, but I could definitely see them being a nuisance come the second half of the season.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Nuggets make it to the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

4. Utah Jazz

burke hayward favors jazz

Last season: 25-57 (5th in the Northwest Division,  15th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Trevor Booker – Free agent signing
  • Dante Exum – Draft (No. 5 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Rodney Hood – Draft (No. 23 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Steve Novak – Obtained in a trade with the Toronto Raptors

Key Departures:

  • Richard Jefferson – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Marvin Williams – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets
  • Brandon Rush – Signed with the Golden State Warriors
  • Diante Garrett – Traded to the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – The Jazz are probably at the midway point of their rebuild. Their young guys from 2-3 seasons ago are starting to come up for extensions and they have yet to show much fruit. They had to pay Gordon Hayward max money in order to keep him away from Charlotte. And their backcourt consists of a rookie (Exum) and a 2nd year player (Trey Burke). I think the Jazz take a step this season. Not necessarily a big one, but a 5-7 win improvement through the internal development of Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, and Trey Burke. Show improvement and the team probably stays the course. But, flounder again, and the team may be looking at a smaller rebuild for the future.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Jazz win 35 games

Projected 2014-15 Record: 31-51

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

"blg 04 wolves state fair"

Last season: 40-42 (3rd in the Northwest Division, 10th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Anthony Bennett – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Zach Lavine – Draft (No. 13 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Glenn Robinson III – Draft (No. 40 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Andrew Wiggins – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 1 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Mo Williams – Free agent signing
  • Thaddeus Young – Obtained in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers

Key Departures:

  • Kevin Love – Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
  • Alexey Shved – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers

Season Preview – The Timberwolves seem to have a problem holding on to great power forwards. Kevin Garnett about seven years ago and Kevin Love this offseason. But they got a much better haul this time around for Love than they did for Garnett. Wiggins has franchise player potential and Bennett has match-up problems potential if he is healthy this season. Thaddeus Young is a good veteran stopgap at the forward spot, but is also young enough to grow with this group. I believe this team will surprise some people. Rubio is made to be a fast break point guard and now has the horses to let loose his talent. In the end though, this team is extremely young and will have plenty of growing pains this season. Luckily, they’ll also be exciting as hell.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Timberwolves’ young players show development throughout the season, and they still garner a Top 5 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 30-52

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Central Division

Central Divison Preview

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

lebron james varejao cavs

Last season: 33-49 (3rd in the Central Division, 10th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Brendan Haywood – Obtained in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets
  • LeBron James – Free agent signing
  • James Jones – Free agent signing
  • Kevin Love – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Shawn Marion – Free agent signing
  • Mike Miller – Free agent signing
  • John Lucas III – Obtained in a trade with the Utah Jazz

Key Departures:

  • Anthony Bennett – Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Andrew Wiggins – Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Spencer Hawes – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers
  • C.J. Miles – Signed with the Indiana Pacers
  • Tyler Zeller – Traded to the Boston Celtics
  • Alonzo Gee – Traded to the New Orleans Pelicans
  • Sergey Karasev – Traded to the Brooklyn Nets
  • Luol Deng – Signed with the Miami Heat

Season Preview – No other team in the league made as big of an offseason improvement as the Cavaliers. The signing of James combined with the acquisition of Love immediately elevated the Cavs from lottery bound team to championship contender. The additions of Miller and Jones will provide the Cavs with the floor spacing they need to maximize the talents of LeBron, Love, and Kyrie Irving, who just finished an MVP campaign with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. The one thing that can derail the Cavs, besides injuries, is the lack of experience from key players. The Cavs will be putting a lot of the responsibility on four players who have never sniffed the playoffs in their careers (Irving, Love, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson).

2014-15 will be successful if: The Cavs make it to the Finals. Winning the Finals would definitely be icing on the cake, but this team is looking to build experience for sustained future success in the next 5 seasons.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 58-24

2. Chicago Bulls

rose noah bulls

Last season: 48-34 (2nd in the Central Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Washington Wizards.

Key Additions:

  • Aaron Brooks – Free agent signing
  • Pau Gasol – Free agent signing
  • Doug McDermott – Draft (No. 11 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Nikola Mirotic – Signed Eurostash

Key Departures:

  • Carlos Boozer – Amnestied; then signed by the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Nazr Mohammed – Currently unsigned
  • D.J. Augustin – Signed with the Detroit Pistons

Season Preview – The success of the Bulls rests on the health of Derrick Rose. After basically missing the last two seasons, Rose showed some of the form that made him a league MVP 3 seasons ago during the FIBA World Cup. If Rose comes anywhere close to being that type of player, the Bulls will once again be listed as a championship contending team. The addition of Gasol and Mirotic bolsters a front line that was already one of the better ones in the league. And adding a shooter like McDermott, to bookend with Dunleavy, will make this team even more formidable if Rose returns to form. This team, with a healthy Rose, has a great balance of defense and offense that will lead them far if everything clicks.

2014-15 will be successful if: Derrick Rose remains healthy and the Bulls make it to the Finals.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 57-25

3. Detroit Pistons

pistons drummond monroe jennings caldwell pope

Last season: 29-53 (4th in the Central Divison, 11th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • D.J. Augustin – Free agent signing
  • Caron Butler – Free agent signing
  • Aaron Gray – Free agent signing
  • Jodie Meeks – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Charlie Villanueva – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Rodney Stuckey – Signed with the Indiana Pacers
  • Chauncey Billups – Retired

Season Preview – Last season, the Pistons were an inefficient bunch that relied too much on perimeter shooting from players who weren’t weren’t great at shooting. This season, new coach (and GM) Stan Van Gundy, decided to bring in some shooters to supply that need. Meeks and Butler will provide the spacing that Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe will need to operate inside. In addition, Brandon Jennings will be able to be more of a drive and dish point guard, instead of a “let it fly” point guard.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Pistons make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 38-44

4. Indiana Pacers

paul george injury pacers

Last season: 56-26 (1st in the Central Divison, 1st in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat

Key Additions:

  • C.J. Miles – Free agent signing
  • Rodney Stuckey – Free agent signing
  • Damjan Rudez – European free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Evan Turner – Signed with the Boston Celtics
  • Lance Stephenson – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets

Season Preview – The story of this upcoming season for the Pacers was written on August 1st, when Paul George broke both bones in his lower right leg in a freak accident during the Blue and White scrimmage for USA Basketball. With that, and the departure of Stephenson, any chance of the Pacers contending in the Eastern Conference went out of the window. Stephenson and George were the only players on the team capable of creating their own shots. This season, the Pacers will have to rely on Roy Hibbert, David West, and CJ Miles to provide any semblance of offense. Hence why I think they’ll struggle this year.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Pacers make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 31-51

5. Milwaukee Bucks

parker bucks

Last season: 15-67 (5th in the Central Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Jabari Parker – Draft (No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jerryd Bayless – Free agent signing
  • Jared Dudley – Obtained in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Damien Inglis – Draft (No. 31 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Kendall Marshall – Claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Lakers

Key Departures:

  • Ramon Sessions – Unsigned
  • Ekpe Udoh – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Carlos Delfino – Traded to the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Miroslav Raduljica – Traded to the Los Angeles Clippers

Season Preview – Much like the Philadelphia 76ers, this season will be all about development for the young core of the Bucks. The Bucks seem to have their wings of the future in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Parker. This season will be about evaluating the point guard and post positions. The Bucks will win more games this season than last because Parker and Antetokounmpo will make winning plays, but the rest of the team will need to follow their lead.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Bucks’ core shows improvement in their development and they net another Top 5 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 21-61

Kevin Love/Andrew Wiggins: Tread Carefully, Cleveland

love wiggins

The Cleveland Cavaliers have made every right decision this summer. They drafted Andrew Wiggins, won the LeBron James sweepstakes, and have begun to assemble a supporting cast similar to the one James had in Miami (even with the same players). But all those decisions were basically made for them. There was hardly any strategy involved in making those decisions.

When Joel Embiid injured his foot a week before the draft, the decision of whom to choose was parred down to Wiggins and Jabari Parker. With Parker doing everything possible to get drafted by Milwaukee (bad workout for the Cavs, back channel gossip that he didn’t want to go to Cleveland), the choice was made even easier for the Cavs. Of course, it WAS Cleveland with the first pick. There was always the possibility they would over think it and select Jusuf Nurkic with the number 1 pick. But with a selection this easy, they was hardly anything they could do to get it wrong.

The next step was to try and convince James to come back home. After getting to four straight NBA Finals on a veteran-laden team, the Heat were starting to crumble under the weight of how they were structured. The value of their aging veterans was diminishing, one of the Big 3 was starting to break down, and the Thor-like hammer of the CBA was finally starting to take its toll on the team. With James asking for his worth and requesting the full max, the Heat were at a financial crossroads in terms of what they could surround James with. Wade and Bosh wanted to come back, but weren’t going to take steep pay cuts to make it happen. With only Norris Cole and Shabazz Napier under contract, the Heat would be really hurting if they brought back the Big 3 with market-level contracts.

James, now more mature and savvy than he was four years ago, began to see the writing on the wall. When asked why he sometimes passes the ball in late game situations, James usually answers that he always makes the right basketball play. If ever there was an opportunity to not only right his most wrong, but also make the right basketball play, this would be it. With Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, a stable of young, relatively cheap players, and salary cap flexibility in the fold, Cleveland was beginning to look like the right choice. After hashing out any old grudges between himself and Cav’s owner Dan Gilbert, James signed with Cleveland for 2 years, with a player option after the first year. Again, a decision that was made for the Cavs by James.

kevin love lebron james

With James signed in, Cleveland went from being a punchline to being a destination city in NBA circles. Almost immediately, James’ ex-teammates like Mike Miller and James Jones joined the fray, with Ray Allen contemplating to make the same jump. Free agent decisions are always made by front offices, but with James in the mix, these decisions have basically been made for them. This has basically been the story of Cleveland’s offseason.

But now comes the big decisions. Cleveland as currently constructed is a young, up and coming team with the best player in the NBA. Think of the 2010 Oklahoma City Thunder with a 3rd year Kevin Durant, a 2nd year Russell Westbrook, and rookies James Harden and Serge Ibaka….Now add 2010 Kobe Bryant to that team. It would have been a dynamic mix that would’ve won 52-56 games in the regular season, but would’ve probably floundered in the later stages of the playoffs due to the inexperience of most of the core of that team. And therein lies the decision for the Cavs: do they cultivate the pieces they have around LeBron for the long haul or do they make a big splash now while the pieces are in place?

On Thursday, after weeks of denying that he was available, sources stated that Cleveland would be willing to include Wiggins in a deal for Kevin Love. A trio of Irving, James, and Love would immediately be one of the best trios in the league. But the question for Cleveland becomes, “What else would you have to give up for Love?” And therein lies the difficulty of the decision.

Any trade for Love would have to involve more pieces than Wiggins, due to Love’s $15.7 million dollar salary. This is where the decision making will come into play for the Cavaliers. The Timberwolves have already been down this road before. In 2007, they traded All-NBA power forward Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, and 2 first round picks. Of all the players traded for Garnett, only Ratliff was over the age of 24 at the time of the trade. The number of the players involved in this trade was largely due to Garnett’s $22 million dollar salary at the time. Any trade for Love will be on a smaller scale due to him having a smaller salary than Garnett at the time of his trade from Minnesota. But the blueprint of the trade will likely be very similar.

Cleveland Cavaliers v San Antonio Spurs

Any team that trades a superstar wants three things in return: a large expiring contract, young talent with potential, and future draft picks. Cleveland is flush with young assets that have loads of potential. Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, and Dion Waiters have all shown flashes, while still being on their rookie contracts. In the last three seasons, Anderson Varejao’s name has appeared repeatedly on two lists: the players that will potentially be traded at the trade deadline list and the injured list. Varejao will once again be on the “players that may be traded at the trade deadline” list with his expiring $9.7 million salary. And, the Cavs also have all the draft picks for the foreseeable future, plus a first rounder from Miami.

Say what you will about LeBron and loyalty, but if you are one of his guys, he’ll do everything in his power to keep you by his side. He did that with his closest friends, who are now his agent and top advisors. The only 2 players he ever had that kind of relationship with was Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Varejao. You can bet that Cleveland will try everything in its power to keep Andy in a Cavs uniform this season. So that leaves the Cavs trading two or, even three of their young players to Minnesota. And that’s where it gets perilous.

Trading your young core for a proven superstar is a great plan for the present. The combination of three extremely talented players with a veteran supporting cast has been a winning formula for the past 7 seasons. Boston and Miami have ridden that formula to be participants in 6 of the last 7 NBA Finals, with 3 championships coming out of that. The only problem is that it isn’t a sustainable formula. Superstar salaries eventually rise, veteran players get older and less effective, and the CBA eventually wins over time. Three years into the experiment, you’re right back to square one. And that’s if everyone stays relatively healthy.

It’s just so strange though, because Cleveland has been down this road before. Last time around, Cleveland tried, at every turn, to surround LeBron with what they thought was the necessary talent to lead Cleveland to a championship. That led them to a bloated salary cap situation in which they were constantly cutting their nose to spite their face to retool and rebuild their team. Now that they have a team loaded with potential and a sustainable cap situation, they want to turn around and do it again. It needs to be brought up that Kevin Love has played the same amount of playoff games as Andrew Wiggins, Kyrie Irving, and Tristan Thompson. While Love is proven, he’s also still unproven when it matters most. That Cleveland is putting so much stock on someone who is so unproven should not only scare LeBron, but also Cleveland.

 

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 51 of 82)

durant love thunder timberwolves

  • When: Wednesday, 05 February 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Two games in and I already miss January. It’s kind of a drag having to watch Kevin Durant score only 28.5 points per game. I mean, he looks downright superhuman out there, which is a notch below the deity like figure he became in the first month of the year. After suffering their annual loss in Washington D.C., the Thunder got back on track with a home victory over the surging Memphis Grizzlies. That was their first victory over the Grizzlies in 5 tries without the services of Russell Westbrook.

It doesn’t matter whether the game is in Minneapolis or in Oklahoma City, the Timberwolves always seem to give the Thunder fits. The Thunder have held the advantage in the past 5 season, winning 15 of their last 18 meetings, but every game is usually a very spirited affair. It has been no different this season. In the first meeting of the season, the Timberwolves blew out the Thunder. The Thunder returned the favor in the 2nd meeting, winning 113-103. It was the 3rd meeting of the season between these two that was more akin to how their games usually play out. This was the game, I think, that started the Reaping. With the Thunder down by 13 half a minute into the 4th quarter, Durant went on to outscore the Timberwolves 23-21 during the rest of the quarter. His play, along with that of Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, and Serge Ibaka helped the Thunder come from behind to secure a 115-111 victory.

The Opponent

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves come into the game with a 24-24 record, 3.5 games out of the 8th spot in the Western Conference. To say that this season has been a bit of a disappointment would be an understatement. With health finally on their side, the T-Wolves were supposed to in the thick of the playoff race, not on the outside looking in. They boast a top 3 offense and are 7th in the league in Margin Of Victory (MOV). But their defense in terms of opponent’s ppg is in the bottom third of the league (20th) and they seem to find a way to lose close games. The offense is guided by PG Ricky Rubio, who’s continues to dazzle as a playmaker, but offers little else in the perimeter game. Ex-Thunder 6th man Kevin Martin signed with Minnesota in the offseason and is their second leading scorer. Kevin Love is having an excellent season, averaging 25.6 points and 13.2 rebounds. The Timberwolves’ bench has the ability to be explosive, but is a bit muted because of the absence of Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • PG – Ricky Rubio
  • SG – Kevin Martin
  • SF – Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
  • PF – Kevin Love
  • C – Ronny Turiaf

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  •  C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Depth – The Timberwolves are currently down 2 starters, and possibly 3 depending how Kevin Love woke up this morning after that nasty fall he took last night. The Thunder’s depth may allow them to blow this game open when the starters are resting.

2. Timberwolves’ Front Line – With Pekovic out, does it really make sense to play Perkins that much? Ibaka and Nick Collison (or Kevin Durant) may be better suited to guard the Turiaf/Love front line, than Ibaka/Perk.

ibaka love jackson pekovic thunder timberwolves

3. Rebounding – The T-Wolves are in the top 3 in rebounds per game. It’s a major part of their game and acts as an equalizer to their lack of defense. Turiaf is a much more active rebounder than Pekovic, and can present a different set of problems than Pekovic’s size presents. It’ll be very important to keep them off the offensive glass.

Alternate Reality – Dream Team vs. 2012 Team USA

In collaboration with Akeli Jackson of DYST Media, Steve Person of Hooptalk365.com and Jon Midget of SLCDunk.com.

The debate has been raging all summer long about which team is better: the 1992 Dream Team or the 2012 US Men’s Olympic basketball team. Members from both teams have spoken publically and most have said that the Dream Teamers would be the victors. But the tally hasn’t been 100% on the side of the Dream Teamers. Kobe Bryant, in an interview, stated, “If you’re asking me, ‘Can you beat them one game?’ Hell yeah, we can beat them in one game. You didn’t ask me if we could beat them in a 7-game series. In one game, we can beat them. No question about it.” This discussion was presented for each of the subsequent “Dream Team” teams after the ’92 team, but the discussion usually died down pretty quickly. For some reason, though, the debate for the 2012 team has lingered on longer than it did for any of its predecessors. Maybe it’s Twitter, where the in your face, non-stop commentary sometimes leads to a paradigm shift in thought, even if it’s just for a moment. Maybe, people see a 2012 team that is loaded with a combination of great players and potential great players. Sadly, though, these types of debates usually remain as they are….figments of our statistical imagination. 

 

Fortunately, I have more money than I know what to do with. So I decided to call a buddy of mine who works at an anti-aging clinic. He told me he would be able to revert the older Dream Teamers back to their 1992 form using hormone replacement and gene therapy. Of course, the players on the ’92 squad would have to agree with this. So, that’s where their ego and my money came into play. I got all the players from the Dream Team to sign on by offering them $10 million each and telling them that the 2012 team would wipe the floor with them. Christian Laettner even asked my buddy if he had anything that would bring his “Duke-swag” back. My buddy told him he didn’t have anything to cure failed potential. Surprisingly, Larry Bird required the least amount of work. His body is basically in the same physical shape now as it was then. Unfortunately, the anti-aging clinic didn’t have anything to bring Chuck Daly back from the after-life, so Lenny Wilkens, who was an assistant on the Dream Team, agreed to be the coach. The fine folks at Coachella kindly declined when we asked them if they could have Hologram Chuck Daly walk back and forth on the Dream Team sideline. 

 

After 2 weeks of intense anti-aging therapy, and a month of “training camp”, the Dream Team was looking like its old self again. Magic Johnson was passive-aggresively talking trash, Larry Bird was sinking flat footed 3 pointers, and Michael Jordan was dunking on Patrick Ewing. The game was set up to happen the night before the gold medal game of this year’s Olympics. Only a few writers were privy to the game. Everyone who was witness to the game was CIA-scanned for electronic devices, meaning no photos or video of the game would ever exist. The 4 writers who were invited were each assigned a quarter to write about in detail. No one was allowed to release any information until after the gold medal game. This, is what transpired: 

Pre-Game 

The game would be played using a mixture of FIBA and NBA rules. The quarters would be 10 minutes in length to maximize the athletic potential of all the participants in the game. The FIBA 3-point line would be used, and the painted area used was the standard rectangular NBA format. Players wouldn’t be able to touch the ball on the rim like in international play. It would be counted as a goaltend, if the ball is touched while still on the rim. A team would have 8 seconds to bring the ball up past the half court line. The style of refereeing would be more international, allowing the players to be a little bit more physical on the perimeter and on the inside. The officials would be Ken Mauer, Dan Crawford, and Dick Bavetta. And, finally, a game like this wouldn’t be right without the use of an official David-Stern signed, NBA Spalding ball.  

One of the most amazing sights to see on a basketball court are the pre-game antics of the different players. Some have customary handshakes and dances that they do. Some have a specific routine of stretching and warming up. One thing that stood out while watching these two teams warm up was the gawking and wide-eyed fandom that was apparent on the 2012 team’s side of the court. It is easy to think of athletes as robotic in nature, while forgetting that they were once young fans wanting to be like they hardwood idols. Especially when their idols are on the other side of the court with their deity-like skills on hand for display. But, just as quickly as they were star-struck, they were just as quickly snapped back into reality by Kobe Bryant, and, surprisingly, by Russell Westbrook. The Dream Team squad was all business on their end. 

The referees called out the captains of each team (Johnson and Bird for the Dream Team and Bryant and James for Team USA). The Dream Team was in their classic whites and the 2012 squad in their new look blues. They all shook hands, the referees explained their expectations of the game, and each team went to their sidelines. Game time!!! 

1st Quarter

 Coach Lenny Wilkens trotted out Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, and Charles Barkley as his starting five. Coach Mike Krzyzewski countered with Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Lebron James, and Carmelo Anthony. And, just like that, 10 of the greatest basketball players were on the court exchanging pleasantries and shaking hands. Chandler and Ewing would be jumping at center court. Bavetta tossed the jump ball, and it is controlled by Ewing. Both teams started off by missing their first shot attempts. On the Dream Team’s 2nd trip down the floor, Kobe snuck into the passing lane and intercepted a pass from Pippen to Jordan leading to a breakaway dunk by Lebron James. The first two points were officially on the board. On their next trip down, Magic Johnson found Ewing on a no-look bounce pass for an and-1 layup. The teams exchanged makes and misses pretty consistently for the first 5 minutes. 

After a timeout, Wilkens substituted Larry Bird and David Robinson for Pippen and Ewing. For Team USA, their first substitutions saw Kevin Durant and Deron Williams coming in for Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. On the first trip down for Team USA after the timeout, Durant made a 3 pointer off an offensive rebound from Chandler. Barkley gave Durant a shoulder check as he turned to go to the other side of the floor. Durant pushed Barkley and both players were given a double technical. On the next possession, Pippen, playing point guard, found Michael Jordan on the baseline for a jumper. 12-11 Dream Team at the half way point of the 1st quarter. After a Deron Williams layup, the Dream Team went on a 10-2 run, with Larry Bird supplying two 3-pointers and Tyson Chandler picking up his 2nd foul during that run. 

After a run-stopping timeout, Coach K trotted out a line of Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Deron Williams, and Russell Westbrook. Wilkens brought in Bird, Karl Malone, Robinson, John Stockton, and Clyde Drexler. Anthony and Malone exchanged buckets in the next two possessions. On the next Team USA possession, Westbrook lost possession of the ball, which was stolen by Stockton, who found a streaking Drexler for an easy 2. Another turnover, this time, by Kevin Love, led to a mid-range jumper by Malone. 28-17 Dream Team, with under two minutes left in the quarter. After a missed jumper by Durant, the Dream Team brought the ball up the court looking to add to their double digit lead. Stockton passed it to Bird, who is wide open for a corner 3, but missed it, leading to a transition 3 by Carmelo Anthony. On the next Dream Team possession, Williams poked the ball from Robinson as the shot clock expired, which led to a thunderous (pun intended) dunk by Westbrook on the other end. After a Stockton miss, Williams brought the ball up for the final possession of the quarter. Durant got the ball above the 3-point line, dribbled a little while jabbing towards the basket, and let loose a 28-foot dead on three that splashed through the net as time expires. 28-25 Dream Team, after one quarter. 

2nd Quarter 

The Dream Team came out to begin the 2nd quarter with Stockton, Drexler, Mullin, Bird, andEwing. Team USA squad went with Deron Williams, Kobe, Durant, Lebron, and Love. Team USA took advantage of the Dream Team’s limited defense, and scored on their first four possessions. However, the Dream Team extended their lead at the same time with three from downtown: two from Bird and one from Mullin. 

On the Dream Team’s fourth possession, Lebron nearly steals the ball by knocking it out of Ewing’s hands, but it goes out of bounds instead. In a surprising display,Ewing thumped his chest several times, telling everyone in a loud voice, “I am a WARRIOR!” over and over. Mullin looks stunned for a moment as he wonders what his team would actually be like if Ewing really were a (GoldenState) Warrior. The Dream Team inbounded it toEwing, who immediately shows off his WARRIOR-ness by throwing up a running 18-foot fadeway that clanks off the rim (he was, admittedly, intimidated by the perpetual shut-down defense of Kevin Love). 

Still, the Dream Team led 37-33 as Team USA calls a timeout. 

Out of the timeout, The Dream Team came out with the same lineup. The 2012’ers let Lebron rest a bit and replaced him with Carmelo. Williams drove past Stockton to get an and-1. Stockton, one of the better defenders in NBA history, takes it personally, scowls, and on the next inbounds, rushes up the court and dropped a pull-up 3 right in Deron’s face. Realizing that Carmelo had Bird and Mullin taking turns “guarding” him, the 2012 squad goes to him on the next three trips down the court, with Carmelo hitting a 2 and a 3 (and having a missed 3 tipped in by Love). During that same time frame, the Dream Team goes on a bit of a cold streak from the field, and Team USA takes the lead 41-40, prompting the Dream Team to call a timeout.

One of the most amazing things to witness in a game like this is the interactions in the timeout huddle. While Team USA was all high-fives and laughs, it was all business in the Dream Team huddle. Lenny suggested putting in Laettner, but nobody even blinked. The players all knew they were old enough and wise enough to be coaches themselves. They noticed the 2012 squad trotting out Paul, Williams, Carmelo, Lebron, and Love. In response, Pippen tells Wilkens he’ll guard Carmelo so “they won’t have to worry about him touching the ball again”. Jordan says he and Stockton can take Paul and Williams. One of the funnier moments was when the Dream Teamers decided to put David Robinson in on Love, knowing that the Admiral would completely take advantage of the shorter, less athletic Love. The only person left to guard was Lebron, so they decided that, even though he can’t match LeBron’s total athleticism, the Mailman is the guy who can best match his speed and strength. So in came Malone. 

On the first play, Pippen ran Carmelo through a beautiful “elbows-out-I’m-going-to-send-you-to-the-floor-weeping” screen set by Stockton. Anthony gets up a little wobbly and goes back to the bench, replaced by Durant. Pippen smiles. 

At this point in the game, the Dream Team asserted themselves offensively and defensively. They continuously went inside to the Admiral, who routinely dunked it, probably wondering whether it was Kevin Love or a fruit fly he felt along the way. On the defensive side of the court, Chris Paul could barely make it past midcourt with Jordan hounding him. Paul passed to Deron Williams, who was being bumped and maimed by Stockton. Williams probably began to wonder why his team only had four guys on the court since he could not find Durant under that Pippen defensive blanket.   

On Team USA’s next possession, Williams found Love with a nifty pass. Unfortunately David Robinson shoved the layup down Love’s throat. It seemed for a moment, while Love looked at Robinson in awe, that he was wondering if he was looking at a Greek God incarnate, or just the most ripped athletic specimen to ever walk the earth. Fortunately, Lebron wasn’t as impressed with Robinson’s physique, as he picked up the loose ball and put in the score. 

The Dream Team continued to put on an offensive clinic in the next few possessions, going inside to David Robinson and running the 2012 defenders through a series of cuts and screens that sends everybody on Team USA into at least one Stockton screen. Chris Paul and Deron Williams, taking the brunt of the physicality, start to vehemently complain about the screens. As a writer, it’s crazy when the crowd noise is taken out of the equation and you can hear almost every conversation on the court. In response to the complaining about the screens, Dick Bavetta told the two 2012 guards, “Hey, if you want to try to knock down guys 50 to 100 pounds heavier than you 10 to 12 times every game, I’ll let you do it too.” Paul and Williams suddenly realized they were nowhere as tough as the guy with the short shorts.   

On the other end of the floor, Paul and Williams were getting picked apart by Jordan’s defense and Durant was made to seem like he didn’t even exist on the floor anymore. Love kept looking to the bench, wondering why Coach K hadn’t noticed that David Robinson has 5 more inches and 8 times the athleticism on him. Lebron, realizing that he is only player that can do anything at this moment, begins to try to take over the game. He got past Malone on a couple of occasions, but the veteran power forward either stripped Lebron or knocked him off balance on his jumpers. 

In all, it was a 16-6 run by the Dream Teamers that put them up 56-47 with two minutes to go in the half. 

Time out for Team USA.   

The 2012 team put in their small ball line-up for the final two minutes of the half: Chris Paul, Deron Williams,Kobe, Durant, and Lebron. The Dream Teamers decided to show the young guys that they can also go fast AND big at the same time. They trotted out Magic, Jordan, Pippen, Barkley, and the Admiral.

 After the timeout, the 2012 squad looked to take advantage of their small ball lineup, especially at point guard with Magic being in the game. Heading into the game, one of the main headlines was the Kobe vs. Michael matchup. How would the player most compared to Jordan fare against him? In a couple words, not very well (in the first half, at least). Kobe tried to challenge Jordan in the final two minutes, but instead ended up costing his team.Kobe went 0-2 with two turnovers during that time-span.

 Those turnovers and missed jumpers allowed the Dream Team to basically turn every defensive possession into a fast break opportunity. Magic was at his “Showtime” best, setting up Jordan, Pippen, and Robinson for dunks. On the final possession of the half for Team USA, Pippen deflected a Deron Williams pass that ended up in the hands of Charles Barkley who had a full head of steam with 5 seconds left. The only person back for the 2012 squad was Lebron, but even he realized that he’d rather fight another day than try to challenge Barkley with a full head of steam. Two-handed slam, buzzer, and that was the 1st half. 66-51 Dream Team.  

 3rd Quarter

 Coming out of halftime, the 2012 squad looked to get back in the groove, down by 15. Coach K decided at halftime to throw caution to the wind and go with a more assertive lineup to combat these NBA greats. He turned the reigns of point guard over to Lebron, with Kobe alongside in the backcourt, Durant and Carmelo on the wings, and Chandler in the post. The Dream Team decided to start the 2nd half with Stockton, Jordan, Pippen, Malone, and Ewing in the paint.

 Again, one of the great things about eliminating the crowd noise is that you can hear the different conversations going on between the players and coaches. At the scorer’s table, Jordan walked up to Kobe and tells him, “You may be able to sit at many players’ tables, but you still can’t sit at my table, rook.” Kobe, in turn, responded, “We’ll see about that. I still got a couple years left”, while he powdered his hands. On the sideline, Ewing, looking as refreshed as someone with a jersey soaked in sweat could look, barked at Chandler, saying “this my paint, you ready to bang?” Chandler responded with a smirk as Dick Bavetta handed him the ball. Chandler passed it toKobe and the second half began. 

With Lebron controlling the ball at point, Team USA jumped out on a 6-0 run. On their first two possessions, on what looked like to be the same play, Lebron found a wide open Anthony who connected on back to back 3’s. Kack kaack!! “String music” yelled Carmelo. Jordan, disgusted by Pippen’s defensive effort, screams at his Bulls teammate, “get your man, Scottie!!!” Immediate timeout called by Coach Wilkens in an attempt to get the Dream Team’s focus back. The run, got the 2012 squad within single digits early in the 3rd quarter. 

After the timeout, the Dream Team makes the necessary defensive adjustments. The two teams continue to battle back and forth throughout the quarter. Jordan would score, then Lebron would respond. The two teams began to trade baskets in an offensive display like none other. The 2012 squad continued to hang close, only down by 9 points. On the next possession, Kobe swiped the ball from Stockton with a chance to cut the lead to 7, but inexplicably dribbled the ball off his knee. From that point on, the Dream Team turned up their defensive intensity, which seemed to stifle Team USA’s offensive production in the middle of the 3rd. Jordan was all on top of Kobe, giving him a real headache. When Kobe drove left, Jordan was there. When Kobe drove right, Jordan was there. It was his Airness at his defensive best. Malone and Ewing were being savages in the paint, giving Chandler and Carmelo more than they could handle. But no one was stopping Durant, who kept the 2012 team treading water with a couple jumpers. The 2012 team remained down by 9, midway through the 3rd quarter, heading to an officials’ timeout. 

The two teams made line up changes and exchanged baskets and misses for the next 3 minutes. With only a minute and a half left in the 3rd, the lead for the Dream Team was still 9, at 82-73. Lebron knew if something was going to happen, it had to happen now. One of the things that he learned in his championship season was to pick and choose when to take over, especially on a team full of superstars. It was go time. He knew it. Coach K knew it. Everyone on that 2012 bench knew it. After exchanging misses, Lebron drove to the basket using his strength to get an and-1 lay-up after a hard foul by Malone. After sinking the free-throw, Lebron blocked a last second shot attempt by Jordan to end the quarter. As the clock expired, both team walked to their respective sides knowing that the 4th would be a pure dogfight. With three quarters in the books, the Dream Team led 90-84.

 4th Quarter 

At the beginning of the 4th stanza, both teams decided to rest their main guys knowing that in order to win this dog fight, sustaining energy for the long haul was absolutely paramount.  The Dream Team entered the quarter with Stockton, Mullin, Drexler, Malone, and Robinson, while Team USA countered with Williams, Westbrook, Iguodala, Carmelo, and Love.  Team USA wasted their first two possessions on ill-advised 3-pointers by Russell Westbrook, while the Dream Team played much more efficient basketball, getting two easy buckets inside from Karl Malone. With that, the Dream Team took back control of the game, pushing their lead to 10, 94-84, a minute and a half into the fourth quarter. 

On their next possession, Iguodala lets a tipped pass get by his finger tips out of bounds, leading to a turnover. On their way back to the other side of the court, Barkley gets up off the bench and starts barking at Carmelo, “You can’t hold the Mailman!” Carmelo looked back, replying, “Don’t talk too soon Chuck, still a long way to go.” Not even a minute later, Williams was able to strip the ball from Drexler while he was driving to the basket, leading to a 3 on 1 fast break which Williams converted to a layup to cut the lead down to 8. With that, Coach K got off the Team USA bench with two clinched fists in the air, signaling for a full court press. Realizing that Stockton was the only legitimate ball handler on the court for the Dream Teamers, Coach K put Westbrook, and his ravenous ball pressure skills on Stockton, while the other four Team USA defenders went into heavy man to man denial mode. Westbrook’s defensive pressure works as Stockton picked up his dribble near midcourt. Chris Mullin comes to the half court as a pressure release as Stockton passes the ball, but Iguodala is a half second quicker in the passing lane, leading to a fast break opportunity for TeamUSA. Iguodala got the ball to Westbrook, who penetrated to the basket only to have his shot rejected by David Robinson, who came from the other side of the court. Kevin Love (as always) was in the right position to corral the loose ball, drop step, and finish a layup to bring Team USA within 6 points, 94-88. 

With 8 minutes and some change left in this heavyweight matchup, Dream Team coach Lenny Wilkens inserts Scottie Pippen in place of Mullin, while Coach K completes the chess match by substituting Durant and Paul for Iguodala and Williams. Before play begins, Krzyzewski calls Love over and whispers a brief 2-3 second order into his ear, to which Love gives a nod of agreement. After the teams exchange misses, the Dream Team was looking to utilize their advantage in the post. Stockton brings the ball up and passes it to Drexler on the wing. Drexler takes one dribble to the right, but passes it to Pippen who is coming off a Malone screen. Pippen zips a pass into the post to Robinson who has positioned himself for a quick shot. The Admiral goes up for a 3-foot hook shot, but is immediately fouled by Love. Coach K’s message to Love was to foul Robinson on his next shot attempt and make him earn those points due to the fact that Robinson was a 59% FT shooter in the ‘92 Olympics. The plan works as Robinson misses both free throws. Carmelo grabs the rebounds, dribbles up past the half court line as Coach K calls timeout with Team USA down 6. The coach knows that the next few minutes could be very important and wants to discuss strategy with the team.

 And so it begins……. 

6:43 left and both teams bring back their heavy hitters. The Dream Team 5 consists of Magic, Jordan, Barkley, Malone, and Ewing, while Team USA counters with Lebron, Kobe, Durant, Carmelo, and Chandler.

 As expected, Jordan comes out of the timeout hitting a 2 pointer off a flare screen by Barkley, which, in the NBA, would’ve been illegal, but since the refs are allowing a more physical game, it was allowed to happen. On Team USA’s next possession, Lebron, using Kobe as a decoy, was able to complete a give and go in which Lebron backdoors Magic for the 3 point play, giving Team USA a chance to cut the lead to 5.  Lebron completes the 3-point play with the free throw and cuts the lead to 96-91 with 5:44 to go in the 4th quarter.

 After a failed possession by each team, and a costly turnover by Chandler in the post, the Dream Team has the ball with 3:37 to go. Kobe gets a ticky tack foul called on him, as he slightly bumps Barkley while attempting a double team. Barkley looks at Kobe and yells, “I know you’re not double-teaming me with the guy that is guarding Michael!” Barkley gets the ball out of bounds and gets it to Jordan, who raises up for a 17 ft jumper that bounces off the back of the rim. Durant grabs the rebound and quickly gets the ball out to Kobe. Kobe gets the ball up the court and quickly passes to Lebron who finds Durant trailing on the play for a wide open 3….good!  Team USAonly down two, 96-94, much to the dismay of Coach Wilkens. 

 With 2 minutes to play, Coach Wilkens makes what is perhaps the coaching move of the game. He substitutes Pippen for Barkley, whose defensive lapses on the perimeter had cost the Dream Team most their lead. That move pays dividends as the defensive pressure from Jordan and Pippen limits Kobe to 1-4 shooting in the final 2 minutes, and keeps the ball out of Lebron’s hands by double teaming him every time he caught the ball in the perimeter. On the offensive end, the veteran leadership of the Dream Team took over. Magic Johnson showed poise in running the point, managing the shot clock, and finding Karl Malone for two back breaking 20 footers as the shot clock was expiring. The perimeter-oriented offense of Team USA proved to be their demise as they could not get anything easy going late in the game. When the final buzzer sounded, it was 100-96, Dream Team.

 Both teams hugged and congratulated each other like it was the end of a hard fought playoff series. All the Dream Teamers were grabbing their younger counterparts and dispelling small nuggets of wisdom. And, of course, the Team USA members were all ears, soaking it all in like sponges. At center court, Michael Jordan hugged Kobe Bryant and talked with him for about a minute. What was said? Only those two know. But I would bet it would have something to do with respect and love for the game, for these two teams exemplify what being a basketball player and being a basketball team is to us fans. In a game that would seem only to occur in the imagination, this was an incredible display of basketball at its finest.