MVP Irving takes Serbia to school, USA to World Cup gold


VIDEO: USA takes gold with rout of Serbia

MADRID – Maybe it’s LeBron James that will have to adjust more to playing off the ball this season, because Kyrie Irving is going to need it quite a bit.

Irving arrived at USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas on July 28, looking sharper than any of the other 30 guys in the gym. While other guards may have offered the roster better passing or two-way play, Irving’s one-on-one skills were impossible to ignore.

“Coach called me about three times [before camp] and kept asking me if I was in shape,” Irving said. “So there was a little bit of pressure there. But coming in, being ready and throwing myself in there, whatever happens happens and living with the results.”

The results speak for themselves. Seven weeks later, Irving was dropping 26 points on Serbia in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gold medal game on Sunday and earning tournament MVP honors.

After Serbia built an early lead and Anthony Davis was sent to the bench with two fouls in the first four minutes, Irving went to work, scoring 15 points as the U.S. turned an eight-point deficit into a 14-point lead by the end of the first quarter.

Especially against slower defenders, Irving can always slice and dice his way to the rim. And he did that a couple of times in that first-quarter run.

But Irving is also a dangerous shooter off the dribble. When his jumper is falling, he’s basically impossible to guard. And it was falling, and falling, and falling on Sunday. Irving shot 6-for-6 from 3-point range, including 3-for-3 in that first quarter.

Before the game, there may have been questions about how well Irving could defend Serbia’s star point guard, Milos Teodosic. That didn’t really matter, because by the end of that first quarter, it was clear that Teodosic had no chance in trying to defend Irving.

“He made so many plays and kept the pressure on their guards to defend him,” Stephen Curry said of Irving. “He gave us what we needed, him and James [Harden] in the first half, to open up the game.”

When the U.S. is hitting its 3s, their opponent’s main defensive strategy basically goes out the window. That was the scenario in the gold medal game as, led by Irving, the Americans shot 11-for-16 from beyond the arc in the first half.

“That made the difference,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said. “I don’t think anything worked, what we planned.”

The U.S. didn’t stop at the break, scoring 38 points on 19 possessions in the third quarter, rolling to a 129-92 victory and an average margin of victory of 33 points in its nine World Cup games.

“They really kicked our butt tonight,” Djordjevic said.

The U.S. didn’t have Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Russell Westbrook at point guard. And Derrick Rose was shaking off the rust of not having played since November and Damian Lillard was left at home so the team could carry an extra big man.

None of that mattered, because Irving held it down at the one. When Rose took a few days off after the first exhibition game in mid-August, Irving took over the starting point guard spot and never gave USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski a reason to go back to his original lineup.

“Playing with this team,” Irving said, “you have so many pieces to go to. It’s easy for me to take a back seat when Stephen Curry’s hot or James Harden is hot or AD is in the post and he’s killing another big man. It’s easy for me to do that.”

Irving may never be a true, makes-his-teammates-much-better point guard. But good luck staying in front of him. And good luck trying to defend him at all when his jumper is falling. Uncle Drew will be taking you to school today, kids.

“I’m doing whatever’s needed to win, playing with the best in the world,” Irving said. “I feel like that’s where I want to be and where I should be. Going back to Cleveland, I’m just going to have the same mind set, just being myself, working extremely hard every single day, and maintaining my confidence that has made me who I am and who I want to become.”

The Cavaliers have Kevin Love. They have the best player in the world. And now they have best player at the World Cup, who is only 22 years old.

U.S. rolls Serbia, captures FIBA World Cup gold after strong run

Team USA celebrates after the buzzer sounds on their beating of Serbia.

Team USA celebrates after the buzzer sounds on their beating of Serbia.

MADRID — After being asked about it for weeks, they can answer honestly and without the least bit of arrogance.

They are indeed unbeatable, the U.S. National Team, winners of 45 straight games in World Cup/World Championship and Olympic competition.

Yes, the best from the U.S. is way better than what anyone else can offer up on basketball’s global stage.

Those NBA players who sported red, white and blue on Sunday in the gold medal game of the FIBA World Cup backed it all up by decimating Serbia early and rolling to a 129-92 win and repeating as champs after winning the 2010 World Championship in Turkey.

Serbian pride was supposed to carry the day and make the final the biggest and best test for a team of U.S. stars who weren’t even considered the “B-Team.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said outspoken U.S. forward Kenneth Faried, who made the five-man All-Tournament team, trying to be mindful of U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s edict to respect the process and opponent. “I know what you are asking. So no, we are not ‘unbeatable.’ But we seemed to prove that theory in a different way tonight. We handled our business and got that gold medal.”

Serbian pride was no match for American hustle, muscle and raw athleticism that Kyrie Irving and the U.S. “C-Team” unleashed on the crowd at the Palacio de los Deportes. The U.S. lead was up to 31 at one point before halftime, a virtually insurmountable lead for a team of 12 NBA players against a Serbian crew that doesn’t boast a single player currently on an NBA roster.

“This is by far the biggest accomplishment in my life so far,” said Irving, who was a perfect 6-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line and flat-out spectacular against Serbian guard Milos Teodosic. “This feels amazing. It’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt. All the emotions haven’t come to me yet but I did this with a group of guys I can call my brothers for the rest of my life.”

With the win the U.S. captured its fifth title and this team put the U.S. in elite company, joining Brazil (1959 and 1963) and Yugoslavia (1998 and 2002) as the only nations to repeat as champs.

For weeks this U.S. team, devoid of superstars like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, not to mention Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George, heard about how vulnerable it was. Spain, and not the U.S. was being touted as the favorite early on.

What is basically an under-25 squad of U.S. stars silenced their critics with one dominant performance after another. Not all of them were as pretty as Sunday’s gold medal game, when Irving set the tone early by connecting on his first five shots and piling up 15 points by halftime. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, saving his best showing for the final game in Spain. He led the U.S. charge with a game-high 26 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

The U.S. started pool play in Bilbao, plundering through Group C without playing their very best and still smashing the opposition in all five games. They weren’t tested deep into any of their three games in the medal round in Barcelona, smashing through Mexico, Slovenia and finally Lithuania in the semifinals. They won their first eight games by an average of 32.5 points.

Still, the Serbs, who outlasted the bronze medal-winning French team that upset Spain in the quarterfinals to claim their spot in Sunday’s final, were supposed to present more of a challenge. And they did momentarily, storming to an early lead in the first five minutes.

But it was short lived. With Anthony Davis in early foul trouble, DeMarcus Cousins came into the game and changed things with his energy and activity. The U.S. erased an early eight-point deficit with an Irving-fueled 13-0 run and then it was off to the races.

“I thought DeMarcus had about five plays right in the middle of the first half that really turned a positive eight to 10 points for us and then our whole team jelled,” Coach K said. “Obviously Kyrie and James (Harden, 23 points, 3-for-5 from deep) were amazing. But this has been a great group to work with. They always wanted to work. They were well prepared. And I’m proud of them. There were a lot of interruptions. But they stayed focused on the team that they played next. They respected the process and the process turned out really good.”

Good?

More like unbelievable Sunday.

Serbia ended up taking the worst beating the U.S. handed out during the competition. The U.S. led 102-65 with 90 seconds to play … in the third quarter.

“You can sit back and think about it now,” Cousins said of all the doubters. “But it really wasn’t on our minds throughout the tournament. We were confident in ourselves as a group from the beginning and we knew we could do it. It just shows you that doubters never really know what they’re talking about. “

Not only was this game and the entire competition a showcase for an up-and-coming group of young NBA stars — Faried, Davis, Cousins, Klay Thompson and even a young All-Star like Irving will all return home to greater expectations with their respective NBA teams — it serves as proof that whatever leaks there have been in the USA Basketball pipeline in recent years have been plugged.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and Coach K  have made sure of it with their resuscitation of the program over the past nine years.

“Coach K told us before the game that we were going to play our best game tonight,” Thompson said. “And we proved him right. I can’t put this into words, man. I haven’t won a title since high school, certainly nothing this big.  Winning in high school was great, but this is something I’ll hopefully be able to show my grandkids one day. I’ll cherish this the rest of my life.”

The journey that began with Durant and Love opting not to lead this team, a training camp and exhibition run that was marred by George’s horrific injury, ended the way Faried, Thompson and several other first-timers knew it would.

And that’s with the U.S., proud C-Teamer’s that they are, with gold around their necks on the medal stand when it was all over.

“We wanted to prove a lot of people wrong.,” Thompson said. “They said we were undermanned and that we lacked the so-called stars. But this isn’t a game of stars. This is a game about team. It’s FIBA, so it’s different from what we’re used to. You really have to play well as a team and that’s what we did. I’m proud of every one of these guys because you have to sacrifice so much. We had a young team, probably the youngest team in the tournament. But it’s all about sacrifice, and sacrificing for a common goal. And that was to get this gold medal.”

USA-Serbia gold medal live blog


VIDEO: GameTime: FIBA Finals Predictions

MADRID – After 16 days and 75 games, it’s time to bring the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup to a close with the gold medal game between the United States and Serbia (3 p.m. ET, ESPN 2).

The U.S. has suffocating defense and a 44-game winning streak on the line. Serbia has a potent offense and a three-game streak of pulling off upsets to go from 2-3 in group play to earning at least a silver medal.

The winner not only gets the gold, but also an automatic berth into the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Read NBA.com’s preview here.

Pre-game

Tip-off

End of first quarter: USA 35, Serbia 21

Halftime: USA 67, Serbia 41

End of third quarter: USA 105, Serbia 67

Final: USA 129, Serbia 92

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 14


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about Sunday’s gold medal match against Serbia

NEWS OF THE MORNING
U.S., Serbia match up for gold | France beats Lithuania for bronze | Rose makes an A | Melo says players will avoid Atlanta

No. 1: U.S., Serbia match up for gold — Later today in Madrid, Team USA will play in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. While Team USA was a near-unanimous choice to qualify for the gold-medal game, their opponent, Serbia, was not; most suspected the host country, Spain, would play their way into the final. But after Spain was eliminated by France, Serbia stormed their way into today’s championship game. And as our guys Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann write, some of the team USA players believe neither Serbia nor the U.S. were supposed to be here…

It’s the U.S. and Serbia squaring off instead, two teams, according to the words that have been dancing around U.S. forward Kenneth Faried‘s head for weeks, that weren’t supposed to leave here with gold.

“This team is different,” Faried said of Serbia after practice on Saturday. “They made it to the championship round when others thought they couldn’t. We made it to the championship round when others thought we’d fall. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the floor just to win the gold.”

Faried and the U.S. fighting off the favorite’s tag now seems a bit preposterous, what with the way the U.S. National Team has mowed down the competition. They’ve won their eight games leading up to this point by an average of 32.5 points, a number skewed a bit by the 59-point blowout of Finland in their opener.

“I never knew we were a heavy favorite,” Faried said. “That surprises me because before, when we first started, everybody said we were going to lose and we’re not that good. So as far as being a heavy favorite, we just have to take that for what it is and go out there like we’re the underdogs still.”

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

“They underrated us from the beginning, as I heard,” Miroslav Raduljica said after his team’s win over France on Friday. “We showed everybody that we can compete and play basketball, in a good way.”

***

No. 2: France takes bronze: In the FIBA third place game yesterday, France defeated Lithuania 95-93 to win bronze, their best-ever finish at the event. France was led by Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum, and the final seconds of the game were basically a foul-shooting contest…

The European champions seemed to have clinched the issue with about a minute left in the game, but Adas Juskevicius’ three-point play brought Lithuania within one, 86-85, with 16 seconds to play.

The teams were then involved in a tactical exchange of fouls and France stayed ahead with every exchange.

Jonas Maciulis was fouled with a second left. He made his first free-throw to get Lithuania within 95-93 and then strategically missed the second in order to give himself and his team-mates a chance at an offensive rebound and a quick shot. However, no Lithuanian player was able to control the ball, which went to Florent Pietrus who sprinted past halfcourt to run out the clock and seal the game.

In all, the final 16 seconds of the game saw 11 fouls committed, resulting in 22 free-throws attempted.

Down 71-64 at the end of the third quarter, France found their savior in Boris Diaw. The 32-year-old, who strove to find his rhythm in the first three periods, found his form as he accounted for eight of France’s 31 points in the final period. He finished with 15 points.

Nicolas Batum was at the fore-front of France’s offense throughout the game and finished with a game-high 27 points.

***

No. 3: Rose grades an A: Throughout the FIBA World Cup, many eyes have been trained on Derrick Rose. After missing most of the last two seasons with injuries, Rose has used the World Cup to get into competitive shape for the upcoming season. While he may have started slow, Rose has been increasingly aggressive throughout the tournament. Rose says he feels great heading into camp, and for him, the World Cup has been nothing but a success…

“I would give it an A in my mind,” Rose said. “Just coming off of what I had to go through and actually getting a spot on the USA team after missing two years of basketball? Like, c’mon man. It shows that I at least worked somewhere and hard work pays off. If anything, it gives me more confidence to head into the regular season.”

Rose said he will enter Bulls training camp in just over two weeks in the best physical condition he ever has entered a camp. And this is after back-to-back knee surgeries.

“I think I’m going to be far ahead of people, especially on my team,” Rose said. “Nobody in the world is getting this type of competition right now, where you’re playing against different people every night, a different style of play every night, chasing people around.”

Rose, who won a gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, said playing for Team USA has only enriched his already-high confidence level.

“I think I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish but winning this championship. And that’s (Sunday),” he said. “After that, that’s the icing on the cake.

“But looking back at it, my whole mindset was just getting on the team. You had younger players who had great years since I been out, great guards who had great years. Just trying to show them that I’m still one of the best out there. I think I was going into camp with a chip on my shoulder.

***

No. 4: Melo says players will avoid Atlanta: While the Atlanta Hawks work to undo the damage caused by Danny Ferry’s race-related remarks on a conference call, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony spoke out strongly yesterday to the New York Post about how NBA players now view the Hawks’ franchise…

“[There] ain’t nobody [who] would want to go there,” Anthony said at the Citi Carmelo Anthony Basketball ProCamp at Baruch College Saturday morning. “At the end of the day, Atlanta … I think it puts Atlanta back even further now, from that standpoint.”

The Hawks franchise has been under fire after the Hawks and the NBA announced Sunday morning that the team’s majority owner, Bruce Levenson, was selling his controlling interest in the franchise after an internal investigation uncovered a racist email he sent to other team executives in 2012. That investigation began after general manager Danny Ferry said on a conference call with the team’s ownership group in June that potential free agent target Luol Deng, “He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”

Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from the Hawks on Friday, but the damage to the franchise already has been done in the eyes of one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

“Atlanta is a great city, a great market, great people, great atmosphere,” Anthony said. “But as far as the comments were made, I think it was uncalled for. From an owner, from a GM, those are not things you play with.

“As a player, as an athlete, we’re looking for a job, we’re trying to find a place where we can move our family, we can make our family comfortable, where we can be comfortable in a comfortable environment, but those comments right there, we would never look at. I’m speaking on behalf of all athletes. We would never look at a situation like that, I don’t care what it is.”

With Levenson already agreeing to sell the team and the possibility Ferry already has served his last official day on the job, the franchise is taking steps toward moving on from the issue. But Anthony said, given the amount of time over which this has taken place, it’s going to take more than a couple of faces changing to fix the problems in Atlanta.

“It’s going to take a collective effort,” Anthony said. That’s not going to change overnight. I don’t think that just happened overnight. That’s been an accumulation over the past couple years. A lot of people think that it just happened, but it’s been going on for the past two or three years now … these are conversations that have been ongoing.

“We just have to stop it. We have to stop that. This is not the league for that. As players coming in, we want to play and make a good career out of everything, and from [former Clippers owner Donald] Sterling to this situation, just pushing everything back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gay has a fractured jaw and a broken tooth … Boris Diaw celebrated France’s bronze medal by posting a selfie … Charlotte coach Steve Clifford says Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has “transformed” his jump shot … The one member of Team USA who has had staying power? Mike Krzyzewski … Longtime NBA big Melvin Ely has signed with Japan’s Gunma Crane Thunders.

U.S., Serbia chasing World Cup Gold


VIDEO: Coach K on Serbia after Saturday practice

By Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann

MADRID — Twelve NBA players against a team without a single player currently on a NBA roster is, at least on paper, a mismatch of epic proportions.

This was supposed to be epic in a different manner, the defending champion U.S. National Team facing the host nation, with a raucous crowd behind it, with a gold medal on the line.

It never happened, of course. France ended that global hoops lover’s dream when they upset the Spaniards in the quarterfinals.

It’s the U.S. and Serbia squaring off instead, two teams, according to the words that have been dancing around U.S. forward Kenneth Faried‘s head for weeks, that weren’t supposed to leave here with gold.

“This team is different,” Faried said of Serbia after practice on Saturday. “They made it to the championship round when others thought they couldn’t. We made it to the championship round when others thought we’d fall. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the floor just to win the gold.”

Faried and the U.S. fighting off the favorite’s tag now seems a bit preposterous, what with the way the U.S. National Team has mowed down the competition. They’ve won their eight games leading up to this point by an average of 32.5 points, a number skewed a bit by the 59-point blowout of Finland in their opener.

“I never knew we were a heavy favorite,” Faried said. “That surprises me because before, when we first started, everybody said we were going to lose and we’re not that good. So as far as being a heavy favorite, we just have to take that for what it is and go out there like we’re the underdogs still.”

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

“They underrated us from the beginning, as I heard,” Miroslav Raduljica said after his team’s win over France on Friday. “We showed everybody that we can compete and play basketball, in a good way.”

As part of Yugoslavia, Serbia has won five World Championships, including back-to-back titles in 1998 and 2002. So it’s appropriate that this is the opponent as the U.S. tries to win its fifth title and repeat as World Champion for the first time.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest factors for both teams in this gold medal tussle:

A defensive stopper on Teodosic

This U.S. team didn’t have a designated perimeter defensive stopper when the roster was finalized but will no doubt need one with Serbia’s guards playing lights out the past three games.

Derrick Rose has been fantastic on the ball defensively and Klay Thompson has been arguably the best defender on the U.S. team. But they are both coming off the bench. That means the immediate pressure will be on starters Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and James Harden to set the tone early on Serbian catalyst Milos Teodosic., who torched France in the semifinals.

“He’s the head of the snake, a great player,” Rudy Gay said of Teodosic. “We brought up a couple of things today, but we’re really going to have to prepare for him.”

Not one of the American starters on the perimeter would pass for a true defensive stopper, not even in this competition. Thompson, however, is ready and willing.

“Whoever the best perimeter player is, I love guarding them,” Thompson said. “I’ve guarded some of the best in the NBA, so that’s prepared me for now and you gotta know your opponent is going to score on you a couple of times. It’s just about containing them and making him work for it every time he touches the ball.”

“He’s been consistently excellent on the defensive end,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said about Thompson. “The fact that he’s tall, he’s been able to play, defensively, the two and the three. So he’s become our most versatile defender. And in the last two games, he’s given us such a huge offensive lift too. He’s had a terrific stay with us.”

If there’s a team that can stop the Serbia offense, this is it

With Teodosic starting games strong and Bogdan Bogdanovic finishing them strong, the Serbian offense has been unstoppable in its last three games. After ranking 11th in group play, it has improved to second in efficiency, behind only the U.S., through the semifinals.

In fact, the Serbian offense has been more efficient (123.5 points scored per 100 possessions) in the knockout rounds than the U.S. offense (118.6), even though Serbia has faced teams that were higher ranked defensively through group play. Greece, Brazil and France had ranked fifth, third and seventh defensively before the knockout rounds, while Mexico, Slovenia and Lithuania had ranked 19th, 16th and fourth.

“They have some great guards that are shooting well,” Curry said. “It just seems like they know where each other is, and they run their plays at a high level. Execution is very high and they keep attacking. So we have to stick to our game plan of taking away their first looks.”

In its three elimination games, Serbia has shot 26-for-57 from 3-point range. More important in regard to playing against the U.S. is that it has turned the ball over just 11.7 times per 100 possessions, down from 19.9 in group play. The U.S. has had the No. 1 defense in the tournament, but this will be a new test.

“With them, you’ve got to pick your poison,” Rose said. “If you play fast, they can get some long rebounds and head the other way. They have great shooters on their team. It’s going to be a challenge for us. We haven’t played a team like that in the tournament, and we’re willing to take that challenge.”

USA on the glass

In the knockout rounds, the U.S. has grabbed an incredible 41.5 percent of available offensive rebounds. For some perspective, the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the NBA last season (Detroit) grabbed 31.4 percent of available offensive boards.

Serbia has been above-average, but not a great defensive rebounding team. So, even if the U.S. doesn’t shoot well from the perimeter, Faried (13 offensive rebounds in the last three games), Anthony Davis (nine) and DeMarcus Cousins (seven) will give their team second chances at scoring.

Home-court advantage?

No, the U.S. isn’t facing Spain in its nation’s capital. But it is playing at the Palacio de los Deportes for the first time, against an opponent that has played here three times already.

“They’ve been playing in this arena for a week now,” Curry said, “so they’re very comfortable here. This arena means success to them, so we’ve got to come in and take it from them.”

Respect your opponent

Krzyzewski preaches it relentlessly, respecting the opposition. The U.S. followed that approach to the gold medal game (for the most part). They avoided talking extensively about Spain or anyone else that wasn’t on the path to the final game.

But they are gushing about Serbia for a reason. This is the biggest and best team they’ll have faced during this run.

“I think Serbia is really as good as anybody in the tournament, and probably the hottest team, and they are playing a high level,” Coach K said. “They have stars on their team, and Teodosic is … I loved him when I saw him in the World Championship in 2010. Bogdanovic is a rising star. Their big guys are good. They are well coached, and they are strong. They can hurt you from many different positions, but they are just playing great basketball right now. Actually it’s beautiful to see. I hope I don’t see that beauty tomorrow night. They’ve been playing lights-out basketball.”

Serbia has nothing to lose

Serbia already surpassed expectations. For the U.S., nothing short of gold and a continuation of its 44-game winning streak will be accepted. This team does not want to have to qualify for the 2016 Olympics through the FIBA Americas tournament next summer (which it wouldn’t have to do if it wins Sunday). So all the pressure is on the Americans.

“It’s going to be a beautiful game for us,” Serbia center Raduljica said, “because we already got a medal. We are here to compete. Of course, nothing to lose, but we’re not going to lay down our weapons and we’re going to fight with our Serbian pride.”

Advanced chemistry

Serbia is working with chemistry that is years old while the U.S. is working on chemistry that is barely six weeks old.

Talent versus chemistry is always an interesting battle. Developing chemistry among this group has been the biggest challenge for the U.S. It’s not something that can be fast tracked. These are NBA stars playing out of position, in some cases, and certainly playing roles they are not used to.

Coach K admitted earlier this week that the one thing he wishes is that this team “knew each other a little better.”

Situational sloppiness during this competition has been more about this group’s unfamiliarity with each other than it has anything else. Those slow starts are proof that it takes time to develop the kind of intuitive flow some of these teams they have faced have been working on for years.

The U.S. is still searching for that one game when they put it all together, when all of their stars are clicking from the opening tip to final buzzer. Their ninth and final game of the World Cup is exactly when they need their chemistry to finally come together.

“No question, because this is the gold medal game,” Thompson said. “This is what we’ve worked for. We’re going to play as hard as we can for as long as we can and bring it back for our country.”

National pride works both ways for U.S.-Serbia in FIBA World Cup final


VIDEO: The GameTime crew looks at the USA-Serbia matchup and makes picks

By Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann

MADRID — Serbia will have a decided advantage in terms of the numbers of fans they’ll have in the crowd for Sunday’s gold medal game here at the FIBA World Cup. The Serbian crowd was loud and large during its semifinal win over France and the Serbian players interact with them constantly throughout games. 

“Serbian pride” is the one advantage big man Miroslav Raduljica claims his side will have against the U.S. National Team when they face off for gold.

Members of the U.S. National Team, which hasn’t played to a decidedly pro-U.S. crowd  in this competition from Bilbao to Barcelona and now Madrid, would beg to differ.

National pride works on both sides, even though this particular group of U.S. players haven’t worked together for the years and years their Serbian counterparts have.

“We’re playing for something bigger than ourselves right now,” Kenneth Faried said after practice Saturday. “We’re playing for our country. putting on that USA jersey means more than anything. It’s like you’re playing for the Army, Navy, the Marines … guys who fight for you every day”

Dramatics aside, just earning a spot on the U.S. National Team speaks volumes, considering the number of potential candidates.

“There’s no question,” Klay Thompson said. “It’s a privilege to play for the U.S.A. There are so many talented players that it’s truly an honor to get chosen to play on the world stage for the U.S.A. I’ve had one other competition experience with (the National Team), but nothing compares to this. We’ve been working for this all summer. So we have great pride in what we’re doing out there.”

Getting a feel for the gym

The U.S. team had an extra day between its semifinal win (Thursday) and Serbia’s (Friday). But the U.S. had to travel about 400 miles from Barcelona to Madrid. And Saturday was their first exposure to the Palacio de los Deportes in Spain’s capital.

“It wasn’t really an extra day of rest,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It was a travel day. That’s one thing about coming from Barcelona, we have to get a comfort level for this court quickly, where whoever we played would have had a week playing on this court and not travel.”

No excuses, though.

“That’s not going to decide the game,” Krzyzewski added. “The game will be decided on whether we can play defense well enough to stop their very potent offense and score against their very good defense.”

Rematch

Since the break up of Yugoslavia, the United States and Serbia have never played each other in a senior-level, international competition. But this is a rematch of the championship game of the 2007 U19 tournament, when Serbia, playing at home, avenged a preliminary-round loss and beat the U.S., 74-69, for gold. Two Serbian players from that team, Raduljica and Stefan Markovic, start for the senior team now. And Stephen Curry was on that U.S. junior team.

“That’s a bad feeling,” Curry remembered. “It was tough winning silver in that game, so hopefully we can be on the other side of it this time around.”

France wins bronze

Nicolas Batum led France with 27 points as they edged Lithuania 95-93 in the bronze medal game Saturday night. Boris Diaw gave France the lead for good with a nifty reverse with 1:27 to play.

Jonas Valanciunas paced Lithuania with 25 points and nine rebounds.

Playing through the pain

Rudy Gay will get the U.S. iron man award, no matter if they take home gold or silver. The Sacramento Kings forward suffered a bruised jaw, a chipped tooth and might need a root canal when he returns home.

That skirmish at the end of the semifinal win over Lithuania was the aftermath of a cheap shot Gay took in the third quarter from one of the Lavrinovich twins, Gay wasn’t sure which one of them it was.

Gay will, however, be ready to play in Sunday’s gold medal game but he’ll do so while dealing with considerable pain.

Future star

Some of the U.S. players were afraid to try pronouncing the names of their Serbian opponents, but there’s a clear respect for how well Serbia has been playing. In particular, these guys know how hot Milos Teodosic (20.0 points per game, 74.2 percent effective field-goal percentage) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (15.3, 80 percent) have been in the medal rounds.

When asked about Bogdanovic, who was drafted by the Phoenix Suns this year, but will play in Turkey for at least two years, Krzyzewski was effusive.

“I think he has NBA potential now,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a very gifted player. He has great length for a guy who can shoot like that. I think he’s going to be an outstanding player in the NBA.”

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 13



VIDEO: The GameTime crew makes predictions for FIBA final

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Klay paves the way | Korver speaks with Deng | Serbia not in awe | Billups a tough Hall call

No. 1: Thompson shows his stuff to the world — There have been few days when the multi-talented Anthony Davis and the uber-hustling Kenneth Faried haven’t been part of the highlight videos for Team USA out of the FIBA World Cup. But as the Americans prepare to face Serbia on Sunday in the gold medal game, it’s time to acknowledge that the consistent contributions of Klay Thompson to the effort. The Warriors guard started out the offseason with his name being part of trade talks to lure Kevin Love to Golden State. Now, our own Sekou Smith relates, Thompson is using the whole summer as an experience to take his game and his career to the next level:

Thompson’s contributions off the U.S. bench, a role he probably hasn’t had to play at any point in his basketball career since before high school, if ever, could pay huge dividends when this tournament is over and he goes back to his role as one of the stars for the Warriors.
“You expose yourself to different stages of basketball,” Stephen Curry said of the benefits Thompson will gain from this medal run with the U.S. National Team. “It’s beneficial because you’re being called on to play a different role, to be a scorer off the bench and it’s just different. It adds a little bit of character and charisma to your game. And that should translate to even more success when we get back to Golden State.”
This has definitely been a character building summer for Thompson and other guys used to starting and the spotlight that comes with it in the NBA. He’s perhaps a better defender than anyone imagined. He’s stepped up to the challenge on defense night after night, while serving as the team’s most consistent scoring threat off the bench as well, averaging 12.8 points while shooting 66 percent on his 2-point shots and 41 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
We’ve gotten a glimpse of his game, the entire scope of his game, in ways we don’t normally get to see in the NBA.
“He’s been a lockdown defender for us, no doubt,” James Harden said. “Scoring is never going to be a problem for him. It’s not an issue for this team. So it says something when you see guys working hard on defense and trying to make an impact any way they can.”
That’s the spirit of the program, the one Jerry Colangelo and Coach K have tried to foster from the start. And the results have worked beautifully. The U.S, takes a 62-game win streak into Sunday’s gold medal game, having put together a flawless run in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition dating back to 2006.

***

No. 2: Deng says Hawks not racist Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with Hawks guard Kyle Korver, who is also a member of the executive board of the National Basketball Players Assocation, following a conversation the veteran guard had with Luol Deng, who is at the center of the Danny Ferry controversy. Korver said he hopes the Hawks can put the issue behind them and that Deng does not believe Ferry is motivated by racism:

Q. What is your reaction to everything that has happened?
A. My thoughts are, when I got traded to the Hawks, I didn’t want to come here because all I knew was what I had heard, about bad culture and no fans and no excitement in the city. So I didn’t want to come to Atlanta. At all. I was bummed to leave Chicago. But by the next summer, I chose to re-sign and come back to Atlanta. After a year of watching what Danny (Ferry) was doing and the people he was bringing in. Everything I saw, was so attractive to me and I really believed in it. I believed that he was going to turn things around. I saw that Atlanta was an incredible city, and that there was so much potential here to both raise my family and help build a great basketball culture. I had some opportunities to go to places that were already established and played really good basketball but I wanted to come back here and be a part of building this. I think in all this, I’m hopeful that when the dust settles, it keeps on going. I really do believe in what has gone on in the two years that I have been here. I think anyone who knows the game and has watched the transformation would agree with me. But it’s just sad what’s all going on. That all this has happened has really bummed me out.
Q. You were teammates with Luol Deng. Would you care to comment about what was said about him? Have you reached out to him?
A. Yeah we did speak. Luol is such a good guy. And he’s been through so much in life that I don’t really think this has really even phased him. He told me that he didn’t think that Danny or anyone with the Hawks was racist. He said he was shocked when he heard what was said, but that sometimes things just slip out. It was pretty amazing, really. He just wants everything to move on. He wants to get back to basketball.

***

No. 3: Serbia says USA will have to earn gold medal — When France upset hometown favorite Spain in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup, the knee-jerk reaction around much of the basketball planet was that Team USA could making room in their luggage for those gold medals. However Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops says the history of international basketball and the particular pride of the Serbians could make things interesting in Sunday’s gold medal game. In other words, the Americans must be careful not to get caught in a trap:

But here they are now, playing for the gold medal after defeating the team that defeated Spain.
They are much older than the Americans. They have a player who once played for the Nets in East Rutherford, N.J. (Nenad Krstic). They have a point guard, Milos Teodosic, who is a lock for First Team All-Tournament (he scored 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting against France).
Most importantly, they have nothing to lose.
And when all the pressure is on the other team, as it will be for the United States on Sunday, it can be an enormous equalizer. Just ask Spain.
“We’re not going to be scared, for sure,” Krstic said. “Some players never get this chance — the chance to do something great in our lives.”
A previous generation of Serbians got that chance and capitalized on it in 2002, even if one of them — Divac — got a gold medal after one of the worst games of his life.
Another generation, Djordjevic’s generation, put a scare into the Americans in 1996 when everyone thought it would be another 20 years before anyone would even come close to defeating Team USA.
The Serbians played a huge role in making the basketball universe change less than two decades ago, which allows us to remind everyone of this famous quote: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Just a few words of caution heading into Sunday’s game.
Do yourself a favor and turn off the football for two hours and see what happens. When the Serbs are involved in a gold medal game, you really never know what you are going to get.
“If they beat us, when it is over I will shake their hands,” Djordjevic told me. “But we are going to play our game.”

Read more at http://www.sheridanhoops.com/2014/09/12/sheridan-serbia-coach-on-team-usa-prove-you-are-better/#yTv5JLmTPPyalJhA.99

***

No. 4: Is Billups Hall of Fame worthy? — We all know him as Mr. Big Shot and the driving force in the middle of the Pistons 2004 team that shocked Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to win the championship. But is being the MVP of The Finals and five All-Star seasons enough to get Chauncey Billups a spot in the Hall of Fame? That’s the question raised by our Scott Howard-Cooper:

He was a leader in 17 seasons with seven teams, filled with positive intangibles that never reach the box score. He was a difference maker in attitude alone as Detroit won the title in 2004 and Denver reached the Western Conference finals in 2009, a locker-room presence chosen by the league as the first winner of the Twyman-Stokes Award in 2013 as the “player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team.”
He was even the kind of person chosen by the media as winner of the 2008 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for charity work.
Billups’ strongest attribute cannot be measured. Now, get two sets of voters — one that determines the finalists, another in a second round of voting that chooses the inductees — to put that into tangible terms on the ballot when Billups becomes eligible to be nominated for the first time as part of the Class of 2019.
Which makes two problems.
Besides the first issue, 15.2 points, 5.4 assists and 41.5 percent from the field, with one top-five finish in assists average and a lot of years less than 42-percent shooting, does not get anyone inducted.
Five All-Star appearances, three as a Piston and two with the hometown Nuggets, is a big credibility boost. Being named second-team All-Defense twice, second-team All-NBA once and third-team All-NBA twice will matter. Having a lead role on a championship team — while being named Finals MVP — and also winning a gold medal with the United States in the 2010 world championships will count for a lot.
But being a positive force of energy is what set Billups apart and made him a player to emulate more than the gaudy numbers usually required for a serious Hall bid. It’s why there is a very good chance he will be in the conversation when the time comes, but not get across the line, a good talent with unique qualities but not historic.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With the return of LeBron-mania to Cleveland, the Cavaliers will hold a lottery for the sale of individual game tickets this season…The Clippers re-signed veteran forward Hedo Turkoglu and plan to add Sam Cassell and Mike Woodson as assistant coaches on Doc Rivers staff…Tobias Harris hopes to stay in Orlando with the Magic for the long haul…Film critics and Maverick teammates Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis and others will fly to Germany next week for the premiere of Dirk Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot.
ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Teodosic, Serbia take red-hot offense into final vs. U.S.


VIDEO: Serbia holds off France to advance to gold medal game

MADRID – As the United States prepares for the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sunday, Milos Teodosic will be at the top of the scouting report, and not because No.4 is listed first on the Serbia roster.

Teodosic led Serbia to a 90-85 victory over France with 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting on Friday. He has quickly become “Medal Round Milos,” leading a team that went 2-3 in group play to an improbable trip to the final, where he will face the U.S. for the first time in his life.

Most NBA fans who have watched the 6-foot-5, 27-year-old Teodosic over the years have wished to see him bring his scoring and playmaking to the NBA. We’ll finally get a taste of what that may be like on Sunday.

Like his team, Teodosic had a slow start to the World Cup. After suffering an ankle injury, he had to sit out of practice until a week before the tournament began. He didn’t start Serbia’s first four games and scored a total of 19 points on 7-for-15 shooting in narrow losses to France and Brazil in Granada.

Then, he was put in the starting lineup, and as Serbia beat those same two teams in Madrid to reach the final, Teodosic scored a total of 47 points on 14-for-21 shooting, hitting eight of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc.

“Milos is an unbelievable player,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said. “Right now, he’s an MVP of this competition, absolutely.”

Teodosic came out firing from the start of Friday’s win, hitting a quick-trigger, catch-and-shoot jumper on the first possession of the game. He scored or assisted on 13 of Serbia’s first 18 points of the first quarter, and then on seven of their first nine of the second, helping them build a double-digit lead.

If the defense sagged, Teodosic stroked a jumper with a lightning-quick release. If it played him tight, he went to the rim. And if France double-teamed him on pick-and-rolls, he found the open man, whether he was under the basket or in the corner.

“You can’t let him free,” France forward Nicolas Batum said afterward. “He’s been doing damage in Europe for years and years now.”

Batum took on the Teodosic defensive assignment late, and France had some success defending him with length, which the U.S. will have more of. With Batum trailing, Rudy Gobert and his wingspan doubled on pick-and-rolls to get the ball out of Teodosic’s hands without giving him open passing lanes.

But at opened up things for Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the final period on a catch-and-shoot 3, a pair of drives and free throws. France made a furious comeback, cutting a 15-point deficit at the end of the third quarter down to two, hitting nine 3-pointers in the fourth.

They scored 39 points in the period, but the team that had shut down Spain just two days earlier couldn’t get enough stops against the Serbia offense. As France was making its run, Serbia still scored 10 times in a stretch of 11 possessions. Teodosic added to Bogdanovic’s fourth-quarter flurry with another pull-up 3 and two assists to Nenad Krstic.

The team that has defeated Greece, Brazil and France in the last six days is not the team that went 2-3 in Group A. Those three teams were all top-seven defenses through group play, and Serbia has shot 54 percent (46 percent from 3-point range, 61 percent effective field goal percentage) against them in Madrid.

Though Serbia doesn’t have a single player on an NBA roster, it will be the toughest test the U.S. has faced all tournament. And stopping Milos Teodosic will be priority No. 1.

“They are a great team,” Teodosic said, “but, for sure, we’re not going into the game to lose.”

Hall of Fame debate: Chauncey Billups

VIDEO: A Chauncey Billups slideshow

Chauncey Billups’ candidacy for the Hall of Fame, now that he has retired and the clock officially starts on the enshrinement conversation, begins with a problem: the greatest selling point for a ticket to Springfield, Mass., is a tough sell.

He was a leader in 17 seasons with seven teams, filled with positive intangibles that never reach the box score. He was a difference maker in attitude alone as Detroit won the title in 2004 and Denver reached the Western Conference finals in 2009, a locker-room presence chosen by the league as the first winner of the Twyman-Stokes Award in 2013 as the “player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team.”

He was even the kind of person chosen by the media as winner of the 2008 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for charity work.

Billups’ strongest attribute cannot be measured. Now, get two sets of voters — one that determines the finalists, another in a second round of voting that chooses the inductees — to put that into tangible terms on the ballot when Billups becomes eligible to be nominated for the first time as part of the Class of 2019.

Which makes two problems.

Besides the first issue, 15.2 points, 5.4 assists and 41.5 percent from the field, with one top-five finish in assists average and a lot of years less than 42-percent shooting, does not get anyone inducted.

Five All-Star appearances, three as a Piston and two with the hometown Nuggets, is a big credibility boost. Being named second-team All-Defense twice, second-team All-NBA once and third-team All-NBA twice will matter. Having a lead role on a championship team — while being named Finals MVP — and also winning a gold medal with the United States in the 2010 world championships will count for a lot.

But being a positive force of energy is what set Billups apart and made him a player to emulate more than the gaudy numbers usually required for a serious Hall bid. It’s why there is a very good chance he will be in the conversation when the time comes, but not get across the line, a good talent with unique qualities but not historic.

“The Hall of Fame would be a big dream,” Billups told Yahoo! Sports in making his retirement announcement. “It marks you down as one of the greatest players ever. It’s not what I shot for, but that would absolutely be a dream. I know in my heart I had a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. If you look at most Hall of Famers, I don’t know how many of them started off the way I started off and made it to the top.”

There is also that, how Billups is a reminder not to give up on top picks too soon, the way he was traded around and played for four teams the first three seasons after going No. 3 in the 1997 draft and didn’t find a real permanence until signing with the Pistons in 2002. He didn’t give up on the dream of a real career in the NBA. Same thing now. He will keep pointing to Springfield.

Hawks’ Ferry takes leave of absence, apologizes; scouting reports surface

ferry

Danny Ferry says his focus is to rebuild trust with the community and with fans. (NBAE via Getty Images)

Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry is taking an immediate and indefinite leave of absence from the team, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin announced Friday.

“This afternoon, Danny Ferry requested, and I have approved, taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately. This has been an incredibly difficult time for him and his family and it is my hope that this time away from the Hawks organization allows him the privacy he needs to listen to the community, to learn about his mistakes, and to begin the long process of personal healing.  As a human being, manager and friend, I wish him well as he undergoes this process.”

(You can read the entire statement here.)

Koonin said coach Mike Buldenholzer has assumed control of the basketball operations department and will report directly to him.

Ferry’s decision was announced shortly after Atlanta television station WSB TV and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the Hawks’ controversial scouting report on former free agent Luol Deng. Ferry has said he was reading from that scouting report — and not using his own words — during a conference call earlier this summer when he said that Deng, who is from South Sudan, had “a little African” in him.

On Thursday, AJC beat writer Chris Vivlamore obtained the audio recording of of that June 6 call in which Ferry, majority owner Bruce Levenson, co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. and others took part. Many in the media and outside of it seized on the audio, saying that it did not appear as if Ferry was reading a report.

In the five-page transcript obtained by the Atlanta news outlets Friday, the names of the personnel who wrote separate scouting reports on Deng, as well as portions of the reports, were redacted. The main statement at the center of the controversy is in one of the reports — evidently one obtained from the Cleveland Cavaliers, one of Deng’s former teams — and reads:

“He’s a good guy on the cover but he’s an African. He has a little two-step in him = says what you want to hear but behind closed doors he could be killing you. Con isn’t bad but it’s there. African-like store front looks great but there’s a black market section in the back.”

Since word broke of Ferry’s words during the call, many have called for his firing — co-owner Gearon among them. If Ferry was, indeed, reading from the scouting reports, though, that could make a difference, at least in some people’s minds. Columnist Mark Bradley of the AJC thinks so, and said as much Friday in a piece for the paper’s Web site:

Ferry still should have known better than to have read such sentiments — apparently they came from someone who’d worked with Deng as a Cleveland Cavalier — in a business setting, but they were on paper. (Even the regrettable part about the “store front (with) the black market section in the back.”) That might not be an excuse, but it is a bit of an explanation.

Until the report came to light, the strongest pieces of documentation that existed were the partial transcript of the call, which emerged Wednesday, and the audio tape, which Vivlamore obtained Thursday. Neither seemed to favor Ferry. Hearing the tape, I didn’t believe it sounded as if he was reading. Turned out he was reading almost verbatim.

Shortly after Koonin released his statement, Ferry released his own:

“No words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng.

Luol is a good man who I have known for many years and he has done a tremendous amount of good for his country and around the world. I apologize to Luol and I apologize to all that I have offended. As I have said, while these were not my words, I deeply regret repeating them. Almost all the background information I provided during the lengthy presentation regarding Luol was positive and my personal and professional recommendation during the call was very much in favor of adding Luol to our team but I never should have uttered those offensive remarks and for that I apologize.

My focus moving forward is to tirelessly work to rebuild trust with this community and with our fans. I realize that my words may ring hollow now and my future actions must speak for me. I will maximize my time during this leave to meet with community leaders and further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity, and inclusion. I will find a way to make a positive difference in this area, and further learn from the sensitivity training that I will go through.”

In Koonin’s statement, he also cited problems among the owners of the team, something that both Vivlamore of the AJC and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports have explored. Levenson already has said he will sell his majority stake in the Hawks after the team unearthed a racially insensitive e-mail he wrote to Ferry and others back in 2012.

From Koonin’s statement on Friday:

“While the issues related to race are deeply troubling, at the heart of this dispute is an unfortunate disagreement amongst owners. That said, we have taken several steps to address what we can do as an organization to be better and stronger, including working with a diversity consultant to examine us and to train us to ensure something like this never happens again, we are committed to hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, and we have and will continue to meet with community leaders in an ongoing way to ensure our values reflect the community in which we play and work.  The process of selling the team, which is to remain in Atlanta, is already underway.”

Also Friday, according to a report by the AJC, Hawks forward Kyle Korver has talked with Deng. He said Deng does not believe Ferry and the Hawks are racist.