Zach LaVine starts, shines in Team USA bounceback Argentina win

 

LAS VEGAS — Team USA broke out of a two-game slide Tuesday night with a 108-80 drubbing of Argentina. The result moves them to 1-2 in exhibition play.

Here are four observations:

Zach LaVine starts — and shines

Jayson Tatum was a late scratch from the contest with right knee soreness, an ailment for which he’s listed day-to-day. Zach LaVine took his presumptive place in the starting lineup alongside Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant and Bam Adebayo.

As that unit jumped out to a big advantage, LaVine contributed on the periphery. He jumped a passing lane for a steal, assisted a Bradley Beal 3-pointer on a drive-and-dish and buried a catch-and-shoot corner 3 of his own in seven first-quarter minutes.

While LaVine has left little to critique regarding his defensive activity level in the exhibitions so far — he continues to stick to his assignment up high up the floor — Argentina clearly sought him out on switches in the first half. Luis Scola and Gabriel Deck each leveraged size advantages to beat him for buckets down low a handful of times. Lillard got similar treatment.

LaVine’s highlight of the night came early in the fourth quarter, when he dropped an absolute hammer on Juan Pablo Vaulet that electrified the Michelob Ultra Arena crowd:

“We’ve seen him do some crazy stuff in there,” Bradley Beal said of LaVine after the game. “Obviously we know his athletic ability. It doesn’t surprise us. But it (the dunk) definitely gave us a lift of energy and a boost for sure.

“Zach’s talented, we know what he’s capable of doing. We want him to stay aggressive and continue to play unselfishly, as he’s been.”

LaVine finished the evening with 15 points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one turnover, shooting 5-for-8 from the field, 1-for-2 from 3-point range and 4-for-5 from the free-throw line. USA outscored Argentina by 26 points in his 24 minutes.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of the high marks, which featured two cuts for smooth-looking slams, and a nice pick-out of Adebayo in transition.

Offensive breakout

The Americans led 33-19 after one quarter, shooting 68.4 percent from the floor and 6-for-9 from 3-point range. At the half, that lead grew to 58-42, with an 8-for-14 line from distance buoying them.

Even better, they sustained their effort throughout. After building a nine-point first half lead against Australia, USA was outscored 54-37 in the second half, which coach Gregg Popovich chalked up at least partly to conditioning. But in this one, they ballooned their advantage into the mid-20s early in the third quarter and didn’t look back.

Simply put, it was a needed offensive performance after the back-to-back upset losses to Nigeria and Australia, each of which featured stagnant stretches. Against Argentina, they tossed 27 assists in 40 minutes and cleared 50/40/80 splits from the field, 3 and line.

Beal brings spark

After struggling shooting in the Nigeria game, Beal appeared to warm up against Australia. In the first quarter on Tuesday, he caught fire, scoring 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting, 2-for-2 from 3-point range.

By night’s end, he and Durant shared the game-high scoring total with 17 points; Beal did so on 5-for-8 shooting and 2-for-4 from distance. All five U.S. starters broke double-figures.

Battle of the bigs

Team USA did well to outscore Argentina 40-28 in the paint one night after being sliced up by Australia to tune of a 44-24 disadvantage in that area.

More impressive, though, was the American bigs’ passing. Adebayo (five), Draymond Green (three) and Kevin Love (three) combined for 11 of the team’s dimes, providing a much-needed dose of playmaking.

Meanwhile, on the Argentinian’s end, Scola, 41, brought it. He led his side in scoring with 16 points and bruised mismatches when they presented.

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