Spain looks like World Cup favorite with healthy Pau, easy win over Brazil


VIDEO: GameTime looks at the rest of Team USA’s Group C Schedule

GRANADA, SPAIN – If there were any doubts that Spain is a legitimate threat to the U.S. National Team at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, the Spaniards erased them Monday night with a sound 82-63 beating of previously unbeaten Brazil in Group A play.

Brazil ranked as a top-three defense (behind only Spain and the U.S.) through the first days of World Cup action. But the tournament hosts torched them in the first quarter, scoring 30 points on just 17 possessions, with Pau Gasol (12 in the period) looking clearly like the best of the seven NBA big men in the matchup.

He wasn’t the only 34-year-old Spanish star to turn the clock back, as Juan Carlos Navarro scored seven of his team’s first 15 points. Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez also got in the early action, with Ricky Rubio running the show. Spain built a comfortable lead before they had even unleashed Serge Ibaka and Jose Calderon off the bench.

“You can’t just guard one guy,” Brazil’s Anderson Varejao said afterward. “The way they move the ball, it’s hard. It’s tough to guard them.”

Brazil was able to settle down and get some stops in the second quarter, but could never really make the game interesting. Pau Gasol started raining jumpers in the third quarter, hitting three 3s and a long two as Spain built a 21-point lead.

They cruised from there. After two easy wins over Iran and Egypt, it was clear they were determined to separate themselves from the other good teams in Group A.

“Everybody who stepped on the court played great tonight,” Calderon said. “This was important for us.”

And the elder Gasol seems determined to lead his team to gold on its home turf. He looks healthy and spry and his game looks complete. He finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and three impressive blocks on Monday, at one point meeting Nene at the rim and turning him away.

Spain has games against France (Wednesday) and Serbia (Thursday) remaining, but may have just faced the toughest team they’ll see before a matchup with the U.S.

This wasn’t just a preview of the talent and depth that the U.S. might eventually face in the gold medal game. The crowd also provided an indication of how loud and intense the atmosphere might be. They will certainly turn it up a notch with a stronger opponent in the building.

Given their home-court advantage and superior chemistry (from having played as a team much more often), it’s fair to call Spain the tournament favorites over the team that hasn’t lost since 2006. Monday’s game was Exhibit A.

“If they play each other,” Brazil coach Ruben Magnano said through a translator, “it would be a really interesting game.”

More notes from Spain 82, Brazil 63…

  • Brazil has an NBA frontline and a fantastic point guard in Marcelo Huertas. But they’re still not a great offensive team. Tiago Splitter and Varejao are terrific role players in the NBA, but they’re not going to scare many defenses when they’re posting up early and often. And Nene just seems to be a better NBA player than FIBA player, the anti-Luis Scola if you will.
  • Leandro Barbosa was the only Brazilian to really get going offensively. He scored 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting. Huertas was also able to find some holes in the Spanish defense, but the Brazil bigs were neutralized and the team could never get much going offensively.
  • Sergio Rodriguez has improved as a shooter and scorer since he last played in the NBA in 2010. The 2013-14 Euroleague MVP is another weapon that Spain brings off the bench and tallied 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting on Monday.

Other games of note…

Group B: Senegal 77, Croatia 75

Group B continues to be the most entertaining of the four, with just one undefeated team left after Senegal’s two-point victory over Croatia on Monday.

Behind 17 first-half points from Gorgui Dieng, Senegal (2-1) had a nine-point lead at the break. Croatia (2-1) worked its way back, but missed five 3-pointers that would have tied the game or given them the lead in the final five minutes.

Senegal hit its free throws down the stretch for its second straight win. This is a team that qualified for this tournament with a four-point play in the final seconds of the third place games of last year’s Afrobasket. And now they’re almost assuredly going to qualify for the knockout rounds of the World Cup.

  • When we talk about the long-term potential of young Timberwolves like Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett, we have to include the 24-year-old Dieng in the conversation. He’s not just long and athletic, but also a very smart and willing passer out of the high post. This is a guy who averaged 12.2 points and 12.0 rebounds in 15 starts as a rookie and is now putting up huge and efficient numbers (22.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 1.7 blocks, 54 percent shooting) at the World Cup.
  • Dario Saric continues to display ridiculous talent. He racked up 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals on Monday. And with an off day on Tuesday, he gets to visit the dentist to replace those six teeth he lost to Andres Nocioni‘s elbow.
  • Bojan Bogdanovic also scored 15 points for Croatia, but shot 5-for-14 (1-for-7 from 3-point range), missing two threes that could have tied the game in the final two minutes.

Group B: Argentina 85, Philippines 81

The Philippines (0-3) continues to play strong against very good teams, but just can’t pick up a victory. Argentina (2-1) trailed early, but built a 15-point lead late in the third quarter. Then the Philippines came all the way back to within one with two minutes to go.

But Andray Blatche missed a 3 to take the lead, Argentina got a couple of huge offensive rebounds, and Jayson William traveled with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final seconds, allowing Argentina to escape with the win.

More Day 3 notes

  • Evan Fournier missed his first seven shots of the World Cup and is still 0-for-7 from 3-point range, but he got off the schneid with a wide-open jumper late in the first half of France’s 94-55 win over Egypt and finished with nine points and four assists, with the blowout allowing him to find a little bit of a rhythm as his team’s fifth guard.
  • Missing Carlos Arroyo, Puerto Rico fell to 0-3 with a 90-79 loss to Greece, with Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring 15 points on 5-for-11 shooting. Greece and Spain are the first two teams to clinch berths in the round of 16.

Big games on tap for Tuesday

Groups A (Granada) and B (Sevilla) take the day off, while Groups C (Bilbao) and D (Gran Canaria) get back to business.

  • Angola-Mexico (7:30 a.m. ET) is likely for fourth place in Group D and a trip to Barcelona for the round of 16. Angola (1-1) has a win over Korea, who Mexico (0-2) has yet to play.
  • There are four teams with 1-1 records in Group C. One of them isn’t going to finish in the top four, and they all play each other on Tuesday. So both Ukraine-Turkey (9 a.m. ET) and Finland-Dominican Republic (3:30 p.m. ET) will be important.
  • Australia-Lithuania (11:30 a.m. ET) should be the highest quality game of the day.

U.S. wins without apology


VIDEO: The GameTime crew breaks down the U.S. win over Turkey and more

BILBAO, SPAIN — Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said it best hours before the U.S. team got its first scare of the FIBA World Cup.

“There are going to be a lot of upsets in this tournament in the four groups, I feel,” Fratello said. “And that’s because there is such balance. And the team that loses one night is capable of coming back the next night and playing great. That’s just what these teams are capable of doing.”

That wasn’t supposed to be the case in Group C, where the U.S. was expected to have an easier ride than some of the other medal favorites. Sunday’s close call (for three quarters) backed up Fratello’s assertion. And Senegal’s upset of Croatia in Group B on Monday confirmed it.

That might also explain why U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t sound the least bit apologetic about  his team not winning bigger against Turkey.

“We won and we won because we deserved to win,” he said. “Our guys played their hearts out. And that was a really big win for us against a good team.”

Coach K and anyone else who understands the level of competition involved knows that no team in this field, not even the U.S., is going to win big every night out. These coaches understand better than anyone just how competitive the field is here. And it shows in their appreciation of the competition after each and every game.

It’s a lesson the players were reminded of Sunday and certainly something for them to chew on with everyone in Group C off on Monday.

Kyrie Irving summed it up best, given his perspective as a first-timer on this stage.

“We separated as a team a little bit in the first half,” he said. “We had some adversity. And we faced it.”

Shooter’s Game?

As deep as the U.S. roster is with quality perimeter shooters, the Americans have struggled to make shots from distance through the first two games of the pool play

They are shooting 35 percent (14-for-40) from beyond the supposedly shooter-friendly international 3-point line. But Steph Curry is just 4-for-17 overall and missed nine of his first 10 shots from behind the line before he got it going late in the win over Turkey.

Curry’s Splash Brothers partner, Klay Thompson, isn’t worried.

“That’s just basketball. We try not to rely too heavily on 3-point shots because we have such good post players and such good guards getting in the lane,” he said. “You are going to have nights like that I’m sure next game, we’ll go 11 for 20 from three or something like that. That’s basketball.”

Turkey’s matchup zone caused the U.S. plenty of problems, a known blueprint for others in this field eager to identify a weakness they can exploit.

The U.S. didn’t panic, though. They didn’t try to shoot their way out of trouble when they were down early against Turkey, which seems like a sure sign of the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses they have to manage as the competition moves on.

“If our jumpers aren’t falling, we can’t let that dictate what we’re doing on the other end,” Thompson said. “I think we did that a little bit too much [against Turkey]. In the second half, we did a great job of putting the pressure on them, getting to the rim. Once you see a few buckets go in around the rim, it opens up the perimeter so much more.”

Pure Energy

Any questions about the fit of Kenneth Faried on this roster for an international competition should be put to rest after watching the way he helped rescue the U.S. with his trademark energy against Turkey.

Faried and Anthony Davis fueled the rally against Turkey and Faried, in particular, showed that his best quality translates in any competition.

“I just love to play basketball,” he said when asked where he continues to find the fuel others cannot. “Every time I step on the basketball court, you never know it could be your last game, so I like to play my hardest in every game. When you love the game like that it tends to reward you back.”

Varejao feeling healthy after tough four years without LeBron

Anderson Varejao hopes to remain healthy as he competes with Brazil. (Photo courtesy FIBA)

Anderson Varejao is using the FIBA World Cup to prepare for a title run with the Cavaliers. (Photo courtesy FIBA)

GRANADA, SPAIN – Derrick Rose isn’t the only player looking to use the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup as a springboard to a healthier and more successful NBA season for a title contender.

Cavs center Anderson Varejao would love to put some injury issues behind him as well. In the four years since LeBron James left Cleveland, Varejao, who turns 32 later this month, has averaged just 37 games per season, dealing with injuries to his upper and lower body.

James is back and Kevin Love has arrived. With Kyrie Irving and a bunch of shooters, the Cavs’ offense should be ridiculously good. But their defense will ultimately determine how far they go, and Varejao will be a big part of their success on that end of the floor.

With Mike Brown on the bench and Varejao playing 65 games last season, the Cavs improved from 27th to 17th in defensive efficiency. And they allowed 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Varejao on the floor than they did with him on the bench.

The Cavs lack rim protection, but the last two seasons in which they had James and (a healthy) Varejao together, they ranked in the top 10 defensively. Brown was the coach then. David Blatt, who has had strong defenses with the Russian National Team, is the coach now.

As Blatt gets ready to put his new super team together on both ends of the floor, Varejao is in Spain with his Brazilian national team, a contender for a World Cup medal. Brazil is in a tough Group A, where it will play Spain on Monday (4 p.m. ET).

In Granada, after a win over Iran on Saturday, Varejao spoke with NBA.com about his health and the upcoming season.

NBA.com: How do you feel now compared to the last couple of years?

Varejao: I feel pretty good. I feel like I’m 100 percent. I feel like I’m moving a lot better. I’m healthy. I feel like I’m in shape. So this helps a lot.

Does this tournament really help you get your legs back and get back in basketball shape?

Varejao: Yes, it does. I believe the preparation that we had was about 40 days. And now we have the tournament. I just want to stay healthy.

How do you look back at the last four years, not only not playing with LeBron, but not being able to play a full season?

Varejao: Tough four years for me. It was very tough on me. It wasn’t easy, because every year that I was doing well, people were talking about All-Star, this and that, and then I would get hurt. So it wasn’t easy, but it’s all past now. The good thing is that I’m in shape, I’m healthy, and I’m looking forward to the next season.

How good can the Cavs be defensively?

Varejao: To me, defense is all about effort. If we put effort in, I believe we could do really well.

Have you talked to David Blatt?

Varejao: I did when he signed. I spoke with him during the soccer World Cup. I was in Brazil and he called me. I spoke with him once.

What do you know about him?

Varejao: I know that he’s a winner. He won the Euroleague last year. When he was with Russia he beat Brazil in the Olympics. With six seconds left in the game, they beat us.

He’s a good coach. He’s a winner. Everybody that I asked about him said good things about him. Anthony Parker played for him [at Maccabi Tel Aviv]. He said he’s one of the best human beings that he’s met and he’s a great coach.

Do you feel like you fit pretty well with Kevin Love on the frontline?

Varejao: I feel like I have to do what I always did when I played with LeBron, set screens, roll to the basket, be ready whenever I have a chance to go to the basket, play defense and rebound.

Durant confirms commitment to Nike

NBA.com staff reports

Kevin Durant‘s shoe-contract saga is over and the 2014 NBA MVP is staying with Nike, as first reported by Darren Rovell and Marc Stein of ESPN:

Maryland-based apparel giant Under Armour reportedly offered Durant a mammoth contract in hopes of luring him away from Nike. But it’s hard to overpower the Swoosh.

Durant is represented by Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports.

 

Spain to get tested in next three games


VIDEO: Mike Fratello talks about the depth of international competition

GRANADA, SPAIN – As the U.S. National Team was getting a scare from Turkey in Bilbao, Spain was rolling to its second easy win, a 91-54 victory over Egypt, at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

After sitting out Saturday’s win over Iran with tightness in his right hamstring, Serge Ibaka came off the bench and looked fantastic, scoring 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds in just 18 minutes and thrilling the home crowd with three athletic dunks in the third quarter.

Spain is big, talented and deep, bringing two NBA starters – Ibaka and Jose Calderon – off its bench. The hosts have size, athleticism and shooting. And while the U.S. is missing several of its best players, Spain is at full strength.

That’s why they’re the World Cup co-favorites with the U.S, which has now won 38 straight games in international competition. The two teams that met in the gold medal games of the 2008 and 2012 Olympics are seemingly on a path to meet in the gold medal game in Madrid on Sept. 14. But there’s a lot of basketball to be played between now and then, and anything can happen once the World Cup reaches the 16-team, single-elimination tournament on Sept. 6.

Now it may be Spain’s time to get tested. After rolling through Iran and Egypt, the hosts will now see just how tough Group A really is. They’re set to face Brazil, France and Serbia in the next four days.

Along with Spain and the U.S., there are five other teams who have yet to lose. Brazil is one of them, having outlasted France on Saturday and blown past Iran after a slow start Sunday. They have a frontline – Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao – that can compete with any team, one of the best point guards in the tournament (Marcelo Huertas), and the craftiness of Leandro Barbosa. So Monday’s game (4 p.m. ET) will be one of the most important of group play.

France and Serbia, Spain’s opponents on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, played a fantastic game on Sunday, and are also dangerous. So we’ll likely have a better gauge of where Spain stands than where the U.S. stands before the knockout rounds begin.

Spain is also likely to face a tougher road to the final. Not only are the teams in their group on their half of the bracket, but so are Argentina and two of the other undefeated teams so far: Croatia and Greece.

“We want to win every game,” Pau Gasol said Sunday night. “We want to get better as we go along. We know it’s not win-or-go-home at this point, but I think the next three games are three good tests for us to improve and move on to the eighth-finals.”

U.S. forced to work on Day 2


VIDEO: Team USA uses late run to rout Turkey on Day 2

BILBAO, SPAIN — An early wake up call isn’t necessarily what the U.S. was looking for on Day 2 of the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But that’s exactly what they got Sunday night against a Turkey team they are very familiar with, the same team Steph Curry mentioned late Saturday night after the U.S. team roasted Finland by 59 points in their opener.

Curry was right. A much better effort was needed against Turkey. And for the longest time it was not there. The U.S. didn’t play with their usual energy or effort for much of the game. They were caught flat-footed on defensive rotations repeatedly, caved to Turkey’s deliberate pace early and then had to battle them on their terms deep into the third quarter before pulling away for the 98-77 win.

A Curry 3-pointer from the corner with 1:45 to play in third quarter gave the U.S. a 64-59 lead they would never surrender. But this was not the way anyone expected them to record their 56th straight win in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition dating back to 2006, not after watching them play as well as they did just 24 hours earlier.

The U.S. battled Turkey on their own soil to win gold at the 2010 World Championship, a spirited battle Curry talked about. Even with different faces, the history between the two programs remains. And you could feel it from the start Sunday.

Turkey led 40-35 at halftime and the whistling and artificial noisemakers in the stands got louder and louder. But the U.S. showed no signs of panic and methodically worked their way back into control after halftime, turning up the pressure on defense, particularly in the passing lanes.

By the time they were finished, the final score masked what was a much tougher Day 2 outing than anyone expected.

“We learned a lot about ourselves as a team,” James Harden said. “We learned we’re resilient. We knew every game wasn’t going to be a 50-point game. We didn’t panic or anything. We had to grind it out and we did that.”

The U.S. also learned that until their shooters start knocking down shots consistently, the heart and soul of this group will be big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, whose combined energy and activity kept them close early and carried them late.

Faried was a force throughout the game, finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds. Davis scored all 19 of his points after halftime and also grabbed six rebounds. The U.S. was outrebounded 21-12 in the first half.

As their activity level cranked up on both ends, the game changed rapidly. The floor opened up and Turkey appeared to finally feel the effects of the second half of a back-to-back against what is equivalent of a NBA team.

“I think we didn’t come ready to play in the first half and we can’t afford to do that if we want to win a gold medal,” Davis said. “So we’ve got to come out ready to play no matter who we’re playing against.”

This group knows what’s at stake every night out, both in reality and reputation. When you’ve won as many consecutive games against the rest of the world, everybody wants a piece of you.

So even the slightest scare, even one that lasts for just two and a half quarters, is enough to get the attention of the rest of the field in this competition. Turkey’s coach Ergin Ataman was ready and his team executed beautifully for as long as they could.

The speech U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski gave at halftime Sunday was required, even if only for the sake of formality. But his team already knew what had gone wrong. A halftime deficit in group play that was not expected to truly challenge this team served as the ultimate wake-up call.

“He didn’t need to say anything,” Davis said of Coach K’s halftime talk. “We already knew.”

Group C: Finland 81, Ukraine 76


VIDEO: Mike Fratello Interview

The Finland team that lost by a staggering 59 points to the U.S. in their opener returned to the building Sunday with a much better effort, holding off the Ukraine before another pro-Finland crowd and then partied outside with their fans after the game.

Shawn Huff led the way for Finland with 23 points and eight rebounds.

“We watched them against the U.S. and we knew that wasn’t the same team we were going to see,” Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said. “That [Saturday night's blowout loss] can happen to you against the United States. The shots they missed against the U.S. they were knocking down today.”

Pooh Jeter led the Ukraine with 24 points. But he lost his backcourt mate, shooting guard Sergiy Gladyr, to a sprained ankle after just eight minutes. They rallied late behind Jeter but never could come all the way back.

“All we’re thinking about now is Turkey [on Tuesday],” Jeter said. “We have to bounce back.”.

Group C: Dominican Republic 76, New Zealand 63

The Dominican Republic needed each and every one of Francisco Garcia‘s 29 points to bounce back on Day 2 and beat New Zealand. Garcia said he didn’t feel the need to force the action but his coach felt otherwise.

“We always need him to be aggressive and think about scoring the way he did today,” Dominican coach Orlando Antigua said. “I can speak for him as his coach when I tell you that.”

Garcia outdueled New Zealand’s Thomas Abercrombie, who impressed with 22 points and four rebounds. Monday’s day off couldn’t come at a better time for New Zealand.

“We know we’re in a tough spot,” guard Kirk Penney said. “But we also know what has to be done.”

 

France bounces back on Day 2


VIDEO: Mike Fratello talks about the depth of international competition

GRANADA, SPAIN – Entering Day 2 of competition in Group A at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Serbia-France looked to be the game of the day. And it didn’t disappoint, as France came back from an 11-point deficit to pick up a much-needed 74-73 win in the final seconds.

Joffrey Lauvergne, acquired by the Nuggets in the 2013 Draft, hit the game-winning free throw with 1.1 seconds on the clock after drawing a foul on Serbia’s Miroslav Raduljica.

This was a much different performance for France than we saw in Saturday’s loss to Brazil. Nicolas Batum didn’t have a big game, Boris Diaw was saddled with foul trouble and Evan Fournier couldn’t make a shot, but their offense was much more efficient than it was the day before, scoring 74 points on just 67 possessions.

It was starting center Lauvergne and reserve guards Antoine Diot and Edwin Jackson who provided big lifts. Both scored 15 points and were a part of a huge 10-0 run that got France back in the game early in the third quarter. Jackson assisted Diot and then scored six straight (including a four-point play) on the run.

Lauvergne (19 points, six rebounds, 7-for-10 shooting) played as many minutes in the first quarter on Sunday (10) as he did against Brazil. He was matched up against and severely out-sized by Raduljica (21 points, seven boards, 8-for-13), but used his mobility to make it a pretty even matchup.

“Raduljica is big,” Batum said afterward. “He’s a problem on offense. But Joffrey’s more quicker than him. So, he moves a lot and did a great job for us.”

Lauvergne tied the game with 1:31 left on beautiful feed from Diaw and had a half a step on Raduljica on a broken-play drive from the foul line when the Serbian center was called for the game-deciding foul.

Lauvergne looked to be a little out of control and Raduljica was clearly upset about the call. But he held his tongue after the game. Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion, however.

“Every bad call that was called today,” Djordjevic said, “was called against us.”

He said he didn’t have a good look at the Raduljica foul, but was more unhappy with a no-call on the other end of the floor. After Diaw tied the game with a drive with 18 seconds left, Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic drove into traffic off a screen from Raduljica and lost the ball out of bounds with 4.8 seconds left, leading to France’s final possession and Lauvergne’s free throw.

A French defender had reached in on Bogdanovic, and Djordjevic wanted a foul on the play.

“It was a tie game,” Djordjevic said. “There was four seconds left. We would have had two shots. It was definitely a foul. It was a bad call.”

Djordjevic wasn’t the coach four years ago, but this is the same team that felt it got hosed against hosts Turkey in the semifinals of the 2010 World Championship, a game Turkey won on a play in which Turkish point guard Kerem Tunceri appeared to step out of bounds.

With Egypt and Iran also in Group A, Serbia shouldn’t have any problem qualifying for the knockout round. But they’re now 0-1 in games between the four best teams in the group, with matchups against Brazil (Wednesday) and Spain (Thursday) still to come.

France, meanwhile, is 1-1. The European champs are missing Tony Parker, but look stronger after getting big games from some of their role players. And after the United States and Spain, this tournament appears to be wide open.

So, after Saturday’s loss, this was huge for both Group A placement and France’s prospects down the line.

“You never know,” Batum said about how far his team can go. “It’s basketball. You get a lot of surprises sometimes.”

More notes from France 74, Serbia 73…

  • Bogdanovic got off to a great start, scoring or assisting on Serbia’s first 13 points. There was a smooth-looking, catch-and-shoot 3, a runner in traffic, and a nice dime to a slipping Raduljica. But he shot 2-for-9 after that (missing a couple of open 3s late), with three turnovers and no assists over the final three periods.
  • So it was interesting to see Serbia put the ball in the hands of the 22 year old, instead of veteran Milos Teodosic (who was also on the floor) for the final possession. “He can finish the game,” Djordjevic said of Bogdanovic. “The other players believe in him. He believes in himself. I believe in him. That’s his job.”
  • Nenad Krstic has long been one of Serbia’s best players, so it was a bit startling to see the 31 year old not playing at all on Sunday. He’s recovering from knee surgery, but Djordjevic called it a “technical decision.” “The way Raduljica played, we didn’t need Krstic in this game.”

Other games of note…

Group B: Croatia 90, Argentina 85

Croatia barely squeaked by the Philippines on Saturday, while Argentina blew out Puerto Rico. So it was a bit of a surprise to see this result a day later.

Dario Saric continues to look like a fascinating NBA prospect, even without a pretty smile. Reportedly, Saric had six teeth knocked out by an elbow from Andres Nocioni (of course). But he continued playing and finished with 17 points and nine rebounds in just 25 minutes. He’s a big dude who moves well and has skills. And it’s a shame the Sixers won’t get him for another two years.

The Nets waited three years for Bojan Bogdanovic. The incoming rookie had another solid game, leading Croatia with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting (3-for-6 from 3-point range).

Luis Scola led Argentina with 30 points. The guy who averaged 27.1 points in the 2010 World Championship is now averaging 27.0 after two games in Sevilla. #FIBAScola is a legend.

Group B: Senegal 82, Puerto Rico 75

Maybe Argentina’s Day 1 win wasn’t that impressive, because Puerto Rico is clearly the biggest disappointment of the World Cup so far. And now, with an injury to Carlos Arroyo, they look to be in danger of finishing fifth or sixth in their group and not qualifying for the knockout rounds.

After scoring 11 points in the first quarter, #FIBAArroyo sprained his right ankle in the first minute of the second and was sent to the hospital for testing. Puerto Rico won the first quarter, 29-21, but scored just 46 points after that, with J.J. Barea shooting 4-for-12.

Gorgui Dieng had another big game for Senegal, scoring 18 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and blocking two shots. Senegal looks good for the knockout rounds if it can beat the Philippines on Thursday.

More Day 2 notes

  • Incoming Bulls rookie Cameron Bairstow shot 6-for-7 in Australia’s easy win over Korea. Restricted free agent Aron Baynes has totaled 34 points and 17 boards in two games.
  • The Dragic brothers combined to score 40 points on 14-for-16 shooting (5-for-6 from 3-point range) in Slovenia’s 89-68 win over Mexico. Slovenia’s effective field goal percentage through two games? A ridiculous 67.3 percent.

Big games on tap for Monday

Groups C (Bilbao) and D (Gran Canaria) have the day off. But there will be a couple of intriguing games wrapping up action in Sevilla and Granada.

  • Puerto Rico is now desperate for a win. They’ll face 2-0 Greece (2 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in Group B action.
  • Spain gets its first real test, facing Brazil in the Granada nightcap (4 p.m. ET).
  • NBA TV will also have #FIBAScola and Argentina vs. Andray Blatche and the Philippines at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA starts strong | Brazil beats France | Spurs interested in Ray Allen? | A new hope in Minnesota

No. 1: Team USA Starts Strong — After weeks of practices and exhibition games, Team USA finally started tournament play Saturday in Bilbao, Spain, in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. And they did it with style, blowing out Finland 114-55 in a game that included a 29-2 run for Team USA. NBA.com’s Sekou Smith was on the scene in Spain and writes that despite the long and winding road they traveled, the U.S. players are embracing their roles in Coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s system…

With no Kevin Durant or Kevin Love or Paul George, superstars who were expected to serve as the leaders and anchors for this competition, the U.S. put on an absolute defensive showcase in their opener, smashing Finland 114-55.

It was a show of force that this particular crew was eager to display, if only to remind themselves what they are capable of when they lock down defensively and spread the wealth offensively the way coach Mike Krzyzewski demands.

“We prepared the last couple of weeks for this moment and every single moment that we play in,” James Harden said. “Practices are the same way. We go hard and when it’s time to go out there we take care of business. We don’t go out there to pace ourselves. We go out there with intensity from the beginning of the game.”

It certainly helps to have talent like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and even former NBA MVP Derrick Rose backing up the starters.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Harden continued. “That’s why I said we don’t pace ourselves. We go out there with the intensity from the beginning of the game and guys come off the bench with the same thing. It’s the beauty of this team. We’ve got 10-12 guys willing to go out there and contribute in any type of way.”

***

No. 2: Meanwhile, elsewhere in FIBA — Of course, while Team USA may be one of the favorites in Spain, they weren’t the only team tipping off yesterday. The loaded Group A began play in Granada yesterday, where NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was in attendance. According to Schuhmann, one of the big winners on the day was Brazil, who held on to beat France, 65-63…

Brazil was the big winner on Saturday, holding on for a 65-63 victory over France in the second game of the day in Granada. It was an ugly game throughout, with the two teams combining for 19 turnovers in the first half and shooting just 11-for-35 from 3-point range for the game.

But point guard Marcelo Huertas had enough in his bag of tricks to get the job done in the fourth quarter.

France actually led by nine late in the first, but scored just 10 points on its final 20 possessions of the first half, as Brazil took a two-point lead into the break. The Brazilians led by as many as eight early in the fourth, but couldn’t put France away, because they couldn’t put together more than two straight scores.

“The zone was back all the time,” said Tiago Splitter, who scored just six points on 2-for-5 shooting. “Nobody was getting easy shots. And our shooters didn’t have a good game outside. “

Huertas was basically the only guy who could get anything going offensively. He scored 11 of Brazil’s 19 points in the period, hitting a three off a Nene post-up, finding space around the foul line for a couple of runners against the sagging French defense, and sealed the game at the free-throw line in the final minute.

“They were deep into the zone,” he said afterward, “so we could attack, either for a shot or to find the open man.”

France got a big game from Boris Diaw (15 points, six rebounds, five assists), but Nicolas Batum (13 points) didn’t shoot well and the other French bigs didn’t get much done inside after the first quarter. Though they closed to within one in the final seconds, they never got a chance to tie or take the lead.

***

No. 3: Spurs interested in Ray Allen?LeBron James may have left Miami, but while Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen have stayed behind, the future plans of Ray Allen have remained a bit cloudy. Allen has said publicly he’s still unsure of what he’s going to do, but plenty of teams have expressed interest, including Cleveland and the Clippers. And now, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, we can add the defending champion San Antonio Spurs to the mix as well:

ESPN.com has learned that the Spurs are trying to barge their way into the race to sign Allen … which first, of course, requires one of the 39-year-old’s suitors to persuade him to play next season.

Allen announced last month that he’s still deciding if he wants to play what would be his 19th NBA season.

The uncertainty, mind you, has had zero impact on interest. The reigning champs from San Antonio join Doc Rivers‘ Los Angeles Clippers and, of course, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on the list of elite teams pursuing Allen. The Dallas Mavericks have also tried to make a play for Allen this summer, and there are surely other suitors yet to be identified since he remains available.

The Spurs have only one open roster spot at the moment but, as ESPN.com reported Friday, have also registered interest in Mexico star center Gustavo Ayon while remaining hopeful of re-signing reserve center Aron Baynes, whom Australia is relying on heavily at the FIBA World Cup in Spain with Andrew Bogut absent.

***

No. 4: A new hope in Minnesota: The Timberwolves may have traded away Kevin Love, one of the NBA’s best players, but in return they received a haul of talented young players, including Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. Add to that crew first-round pick Zach LaVine and incumbent point guard Ricky Rubio (who is still just 23 years old), and the Wolves have a core of exciting young talent that has fans excited, writes the AP’s John Krawczynski 

After completing the long-rumored trade that sent Love to the Cavaliers and brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota, the Timberwolves have sold more than 300 full season-ticket packages in the last week.

That beats the previous record in 2011 that was set when Ricky Rubio announced that he was coming over from Spain to play for the team.

“The organization, from president-level on down has just been re-energized,” Timberwolves senior vice president and chief revenue officer Ryan Tanke said. “Part of it is hope, and you have this great new hope.

“But then there’s also the reality, which is it was a long, tough summer. For it to come to the head that it came to and have it be the outcome that we had, I think it creates this perfect storm environment for us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Brook Lopez says he’s confident he’ll be healthier than ever this season … DeMarcus Cousins says he expected to make Team USA all along … Golden State has reached an agreement with Leandro Barbosa on a one-year deal … The Sixers are unsure whether Joel Embiid will play at all this seasonManny Pacquiao would like to sign Metta World Peace to play for his team in the Philippines … Congrats to Dwyane Wade, who married longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union Saturday …

U.S. Team embraces roles, style


VIDEO: Relive Team USA’s dominating win over Finland in slow motion

BILBAO, SPAIN — Forget the defections and the no-shows. The stars gathered here on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team already have. They did that in the lead up to the FIBA World Cup, sorting through different roles and a tweaked style of play that has been tailored to this group.

With no Kevin Durant or Kevin Love or Paul George, superstars who were expected to serve as the leaders and anchors for this competition, the U.S. put on an absolute defensive showcase in their opener, smashing Finland 114-55.

It was a show of force that this particular crew was eager to display, if only to remind themselves what they are capable of when they lock down defensively and spread the wealth offensively the way coach Mike Krzyzewski demands.

“We prepared the last couple of weeks for this moment and every single moment that we play in,” James Harden said. “Practices are the same way. We go hard and when it’s time to go out there we take care of business. We don’t go out there to pace ourselves. We go out there with intensity from the beginning of the game.”

It certainly helps to have talent like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and even former NBA MVP Derrick Rose backing up the starters.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Harden continued. “That’s why I said we don’t pace ourselves. We go out there with the intensity from the beginning of the game and guys come off the bench with the same thing. It’s the beauty of this team. We’ve got 10-12 guys willing to go out there and contribute in any type of way.”

It also helps to open with a Finnish side that was clearly over its heads.

A thorough beating is what was expected and that and more was delivered. It’s the ultimate sign of respect for not only the opponent but the game, something that has become the hallmark of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team under Coach K and during their 55-game win streak in World Cup (formerly World Championship) competition.

Play up to the magnitude of the moment and the results will be what they will be. No short cuts, no letting up and as we saw against Finland and have seen often in recent years, no mercy.

If you’re going to be the overwhelming favorite every time you take the floor and face hostile crowds on foreign soil, you might as well embrace that part of the process, too.

When the U.S. was busy crushing Finland with a smothering second quarter defensive display (a basket-free 29-2 surge that forced the crowd into the reality that any upset hopes were officially doomed) the joy on the floor and from the bench was obvious.

“Our coaches were encouraging us to keep up that effort by telling us every timeout, every dead ball, they only had two points or whatever,” Stephen Curry said. “That’s just motivation to keep doing what we’re doing. Defensively, that’s going to be the key for us throughout this tournament. We’re going to make some shots and we’re going to miss some shots every night. It’s just a matter of how our defensive effort is every night to get where we want to go.”

And while some teams with reasonably young and in some cases unproven stars, at least in the context of international competition, might succumb to the sort of electric crowd that greeted the U.S. Saturday, Curry loved it.

He was an integral part of the team that won gold in Turkey in 2010 and played before a hostile home crowd there in the final game.

“It was awesome,” he said of the crowd that stayed mostly silent as they piled on Finland. “They were energetic regardless of the score. It seemed like every basket Finland made was a game winner. That’s the beauty of the World Cup and it being here in Spain. A lot of teams fans can travel and see their teams play and support them. It brings a great atmosphere and one that we love to play in.”

Things get a bit trickier now with back-to-back games, the U.S. faces Turkey Sunday. But if any team in this competition is prepared for that grind, it’s the U.S.

“We’ve got to bring the same energy and effort against a good Turkey team we have a lot of history with,” Curry said. “So we’re looking forward to it.”


VIDEO: James Harden talks about the U.S. rout of Finland in the FIBA World Cup

 

 

Brazil gets biggest win of Day 1


VIDEO: USAB: Rose on FIBA Schedule

GRANADA, SPAIN – Group A of the FIBA Basketball World Cup not only has the most NBA players, but also four of the best teams in the tournament. So every day of pool play in Granada will bring at least one big game. Four teams from the group will advance to the knockout rounds, but a higher placement will likely get you an easier opponent in the round of 16.

So Brazil was the big winner on Saturday, holding on for a 65-63 victory over France in the second game of the day in Granada. It was an ugly game throughout, with the two teams combining for 19 turnovers in the first half and shooting just 11-for-35 from 3-point range for the game.

But point guard Marcelo Huertas had enough in his bag of tricks to get the job done in the fourth quarter.

France actually led by nine late in the first, but scored just 10 points on its final 20 possessions of the first half, as Brazil took a two-point lead into the break. The Brazilians led by as many as eight early in the fourth, but couldn’t put France away, because they couldn’t put together more than two straight scores.

“The zone was back all the time,” said Tiago Splitter, who scored just six points on 2-for-5 shooting. “Nobody was getting easy shots. And our shooters didn’t have a good game outside. “

Huertas was basically the only guy who could get anything going offensively. He scored 11 of Brazil’s 19 points in the period, hitting a three off a Nene post-up, finding space around the foul line for a couple of runners against the sagging French defense, and sealed the game at the free-throw line in the final minute.

“They were deep into the zone,” he said afterward, “so we could attack, either for a shot or to find the open man.”

France got a big game from Boris Diaw (15 points, six rebounds, five assists), but Nicolas Batum (13 points) didn’t shoot well and the other French bigs didn’t get much done inside after the first quarter. Though they closed to within one in the final seconds, they never got a chance to tie or take the lead.

The French are missing Tony Parker and a couple of their NBA centers. They don’t have any time to recover from this first loss, because they play a very tough Serbia team in Sunday’s first game.

Brazil gets Iran on Sunday before facing tougher tests against Spain (Monday) and Serbia (Wednesday). It’s passed the first one, knowing that any win in the first game was important.

“For us, it’s a big win, even if it wasn’t France,” Huertas said. “It’s not a definite step, but it’s a great step.”

More notes from Brazil 65, France 63 …

  • Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn is in Granada to see Evan Fournier (whom the Magic got in the Arron Afflalo trade in June) play. But Fournier was the 11th guy to get in the game for France, entering with 3:06 to go in the first half. He went scoreless with two turnovers in just 8:25 of action.
  • Utah’s Rudy Gobert has potential. He didn’t look comfortable when there was someone between him and the basket, but he had a couple of athletic dunks off feeds from Florent Pietrus and blocked two shots. A few seconds after missing an ugly jump hook, he actually blocked Splitter without leaving his feet.
  • Nene got a couple of buckets off pick-and-roll feeds from Huertas late in the third quarter and grabbed eight rebounds, but otherwise had a rough night. He shot 2-for-6 and committed four turnovers.

Other games of note …

Group A: Serbia 85, Egypt 64

As expected, this was an easy win for Serbia, which pulled away with a 25-12 third quarter. Milos Teodosic led the way with 15 points, hitting four of his six 3-pointers.

  • Miroslav Raduljica is a hoss, and much bigger than anyone on Egypt’s roster. Starting at center for Serbia, he racked up 10 points and six rebounds in just 12:32 of playing time. He made like Moses Malone on a first-quarter possession that was going to end with either a layup by him or a foul, because he kept missing and Egypt had no chance of outmuscling him for the rebound. It properly ended with an and-one.
  • Raduljica was waived by the Clippers (via the stretch provision) on Friday, just three days after they had acquired him from Milwaukee. After one season in the league, he said he wants to stay (though it was “a little cold in Milwaukee”). He said he’s only heard rumors about any other teams that may want him and “I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen next.”
  • Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic is listed at 6-6, but appears to be a bit shorter. He played neither great nor poorly on Saturday. He dished out four assists and was a game-high plus-23, but took just three shots (all 3-pointers). And it would have been hard to tell how NBA-ready he really is against this opponent anyway. France (Sunday), Brazil (Wednesday) and Spain (Thursday) will provide better tests.
  • After Brazil’s win over France, Splitter was asked about Serbia. His response: “I would say they are more talented than France. France is a very talented and athletic team, but Serbia, they know how to play basketball. They have a very good school of basketball, always.”

Group B: Croatia 81, Philippines 78 (OT)

This was the game of the day, as the Philippines came back from 15 points down to take a three-point lead with a little more than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. After Croatia came back to tie it, the Philippines’ Jeff Chan missed a jumper at the buzzer that would have given Gilas the huge upset.

They took a two-point lead in overtime, but Bojan Bogdanovic put Croatia up for good with four free throws and the Philippines didn’t get a foul call on the game-tying three at the buzzer.

  • NBA free agent Andray Blatche, playing for the Philippines, scored the team’s first two points, but was 1-for-9 from the field early in the second quarter, settling for jumpers. He then got the Croatian big men to bite on a couple of his shot fakes, got to the rim a bit more, and hot nine of 15 shots after the slow start. He was 3-for-4 from 3-point range, hitting a big one to tie the game late in the fourth. He finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds.
  • Croatia’s Bogdanovic, not to be confused with Serbia’s Bogdanovic, looks like he could be a solid player for the Brooklyn Nets this season. He led Croatia with 26 points on 7-for-14 shooting, getting his buckets in a variety of ways.
  • The Philadelphia Sixers look like they’ll be getting a player (eventually) in Dario Saric, too. He’ll have better tests later in the tournament and was able to take advantage of the size discrepancy (the Gilas power forwards aren’t very big) in this game. But he he also made some nice off-the-ball cuts and showed an ability to handle the ball in the open court, as he did in this highlight from Tuesday’s exhibition win over Lithuania.
  • Pacers incoming rookie Damjan Rudez had one smooth-looking, step-in jumper, but didn’t look too good otherwise. He shot 0-for-4 from 3-point range and finished with just four points in 14 minutes

More Day 1 notes

  • Serge Ibaka sat out Spain’s game against Iran. According to Spanish TV, he has a sore hamstring.
  • Group B saw a matchup of #FIBAArroyo and #FIBAScola, who are both *better than their NBA counterparts. Carlos Arroyo didn’t have it on Saturday though, and Luis Scola led Argentina to a 98-75 win over Puerto Rico with 20 points (on just 10 shots) and nine rebounds. J.J. Barea led Puerto Rico, which totaled only five assists, with 24 points. Pablo Prigioni had 10 of Argentina’s 22 assists.
  • * The opposite is true of #FIBANene
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo took just two shots from the field, but filled the box score with 11 points, five rebounds and three steals in Greece’s 87-64 win over Senegal. Gorgui Dieng led Senegal with 21 points and 14 boards.
  • Goran Dragic paced Slovenia to an important 90-80 win over Australia in Group D with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting. The Cavs’ Matthew Dellavedova shot just 1-for-7 for the Aussies.

Big games on tap for Sunday

  • Dominican Republic-New Zealand (6:30 a.m. ET) could ultimately be for fourth place (and a trip to the knockout rounds) in Group C.
  • Argentina-Croatia (7:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV) will be an important game for seeding in Group B, though it could be a mismatch given the way the two teams played on Saturday.
  • Serbia-France (9:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV) will be the day’s big matchup in Granada, with France needing to rebound from Saturday’s loss to Brazil.
  • If Dieng’s Senegal team is to have any chance of making the top four in Group B, it probably needs to beat Puerto Rico (1:30 p.m., ET).