Crawford reflects on old, ushers in new

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime talks with Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Rarely does a player get to know his team’s owner (let alone become friends) before the owner actually becomes the owner.

But that is the case with reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. His Seattle roots afforded him the opportunity years ago to cultivate a relationship with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. This, of course, was long before Ballmer, a 6-foot-5, bounding ball of infectious energy, ever dreamed he’d cough up $2 billion to buy one of the all-time sad-sack organizations in all of sports.

“We’ve done a lot of [charity] events together in Seattle, so I’ve known him before he was actually the owner,” Crawford said. “We were texting throughout the year and emailing each other and staying in contact and continuing to work together with charities around Seattle. It’s exciting. I don’t know how many people have actually known their owner before they actually played for the team they were on. So it’s pretty cool.”

Times they a-changin’ in Clipperland and Crawford is singing Ballmer’s praises and predicting heady days ahead for the franchise. In his final years, disgraced owner Donald Sterling had finally started to loosen his air-tight grip on the purse strings, allowing for All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to sign long-term deals and to bring in coach Doc Rivers. It hardly made up for decades of valuing frugality over winning, but it does set up Ballmer well to elevate the Clippers into perennial contenders.

The 6-foot-6 Crawford, who averaged 18.6 ppg and shot 36.1 percent from deep in his 14th season, has been telling his teammates what they can expect from their new owner.

“I just told them he’s very open-minded, he’s very ambitious and aggressive,” Crawford said. “He’s someone who’s also there to have your back, always positive energy, positive reinforcement. He’s someone obviously that is a huge, huge, huge fan of basketball. He didn’t just buy the team to be profitable; I think he’s doing OK without owning the team. I think it’s more so staying connected and he loves the game, enjoys the game.

“In this league, you only get a certain number of chances to really go after it and when you have those moments you have to take advantage and be aggressive in those times, and I think that is exactly what he’ll do. If we feel like we need to add a piece or we need to add this or that, going over the luxury tax or any other restrictions or trying to be cautious about different things, that’s not him. He’s aggressive and he’s going to go after it.”

Crawford, 34, recently got married and this week he and his bride are honeymooning in Kauai. Then it’s back to Los Angeles to begin working out with teammates as the official countdown to training camp begins. Before flying out over the Pacific, Crawford granted NBA.com a few minutes to reflect on the early days of the Sterling controversy and where the Clippers could be headed under Ballmer.

NBA.com: What did last month’s sale of the team, the ending of the Sterling era, signify to you?

Crawford: Now we can focus on what’s important, and that’s trying to put one of the best teams on the floor, trying to play for one of the best organizations out there and trying to win a championship. Everything else is behind us and we can move forward. I think it’s kind of, in a way, a fresh start for everyone. We’re all excited about moving forward.

NBA.com: We had heard through the court proceedings that Doc Rivers wasn’t sure if he’d return if Sterling remained the owner when the 2014-15 season started. What do you think the players’ response would have been had the sale not gone through?

Crawford: At that point, if the sale didn’t go through, we would have to revisit it and all decide collectively what we were going to do. But I’m sure everything would be on the table at that point.

NBA.com: Was the day the Sterling tapes came out one of those days you’ll never forget where you were or what you were doing when you heard the news?

Crawford: For sure, it was a monumental time. I’ve said if you want to work on your jumper, you can get some extra shots up, or if you want to be a better ballhandler, you can put some cones down and go through drills, but to actually go through what we went through, there’s no guide or manual for that. You just have to go through it and lean on your faith and fight through it and lean on each other. I think we did a good job of that. We handled it the best we could, especially having Doc as the leader and the voice for us, I think that made our jobs a whole lot easier. Because here we are, we’re worried about Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and those guys and we have to deal with that; but it’s something I think that brought us closer together and hopefully we can use that this season and really continue to lean on each other and move forward.

NBA.com: The news broke in the middle of the first-round playoff series against Golden State. The Clippers managed to win in seven games, but how difficult was it to focus on playing the games?

Crawford: It was a nightmare because you got to think there’s 15 personalities [on the team], and the coaching staff and then your family’s opinion, they all weigh in, and everybody has an opinion and before you know it, it wasn’t just about basketball and things of that nature and just our team anymore. In 24 hours the whole world had an opinion about it. You’re trying to take naps and stuff and get your rest, and you can’t even get some sleep because you feel like, ‘how can I play for someone like this?’ There were so many different emotions. I think getting to lean on each other, having Doc at the helm to kind of be our voice so we could concentrate the best we could was probably the best decision we made.

NBA.com: Did your emotions run the gamut from day to day?

Crawford: Yeah, I’m human. You’re angry, you’re disappointed, you’re sad, you’re confused. There’s just so many different emotions. And then when you let people inside that world, inside that circle, you start thinking even more. I think we just leaned on each other. We tried to block everything else, the rest of the world and lean on each other, the 15 guys in that locker room and our coaching staff and we did what we felt was right.

NBA.com: All that is in the rearview mirror now. There’s been some turnover, players lost and added. Do you like how the roster has evolved?

Crawford: We have a year under Doc’s system, another year he knows us. Obviously losing [Jared] Dudley, he was a guy who started half the season, he spread the floor, he guarded tougher guys, so you always hate to lose guys. We also lost [Darren] Collison, we lost [Danny] Granger, we lost Ryan Hollins. But in return you gain Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar, C.J. Wilcox. And another year of having the core guys together, hopefully health is on our side. Last year I missed a little over a month, Chris [Paul] missed a little over a month, J.J. [Redick] missed a couple months. If we can keep those guys together, Doc knows us, we know him, we know what to expect, he knows what to expect from us, and to keep trucking I think sometimes you need a little bit of luck in those situations and we’ll be ready to go.

NBA.com: There’s very little room for error in the Western Conference. How do you see the race developing this season?

Crawford: I think last year only two teams record-wise in the East would have even of made the playoffs in the West and that was Miami and Indiana, so it’s the wild West, that’s for sure. I think you had the ninth-place team approaching almost 50 wins in the West, that’s tough. It’s really open. We all understand San Antonio is the top dog, they’ve been that way, they’ve been a staple pretty much the last decade and a half. We all understand that and they’re going to be there in the end just like always, they find ways. With us, OKC, Golden State is a good team, Phoenix is on the rise, there’s so many good teams. Denver will probably be healthy this year. It will be a dogfight. Memphis will be there. It will be a dogfight, that’s for sure. We just know if we focus on what we need to do, we’ll be in pretty good shape.

NBA.com: What did you think of LeBron James returning to Cleveland and Kevin Love joining him? And any other story lines pique your interest?

Crawford: I think it’s really cool he gets the chance to go home and end it the way it started. He means more to Cleveland than just a superstar athlete, so for him to have the opportunity to go back in his prime and go back and do good things on and off the court, I think that’s great, I’m happy for him. Kyrie [Irving], Dion Waiters, [Anderson] Varejao is still there; especially in the East that’s a team that can win a lot of games. Then you throw in Chicago, if they stay healthy. Miami is re-tooling a little bit and I think D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] is going to play like he has something to prove. [Chris] Bosh, you’ll probably see more of him like he was with the Raptors, more of a focal point, so I think it’s going to be fun. Just seeing Kobe back, I’m a huge Kobe Bryant fan, so seeing him back healthy, I think he’s good for sports, period, not just the NBA because everybody wants to see the Kobe show.

There’s so many different stories this season and I think that’s really, really cool. I just want everybody to be healthy because it evens the playing field. It makes the game more exciting and I think it’s good for the league and good for the fans.

U.S. cruises past New Zealand


VIDEO: Team USA rolls past New Zealand

BILBAO, SPAIN — This was more like it, what the U.S. National Team was after. Complete control over a clearly overmatched opponent.

Not that the Americans needed much of a confidence booster in pool play. But it never hurts to remind everyone in the FIBA World Cup field that the reigning champs aren’t ready to relinquish their title just yet.

A slow start in Sunday’s win over Turkey coupled with Monday’s off day left plenty of time for people to question this team’s potential and resolve. Their 98-71 smashing of New Zealand on Tuesday should serve as an appropriate response.

They are far from perfect. But in Group C they don’t have to be. They are still working on things, still tinkering with the right combinations and rotations and still trying to find niches for others. Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried continue to pace the U.S., combining for 36 points and 20 rebounds. The Americans overwhelmed New Zealand inside and went to the free-throw line 34 times. New Zealand was just 4-for-7 from the line.

The shooters got in on the act earlier this time around, as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 4-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line by halftime, when the U.S was already comfortably in control 57-35. The U.S. team didn’t finish particularly well from the perimeter — it was just 6-for-16 (38 percent) for the game. But the team’s strength inside enabled the U.S. to shoot 51 percent (35-of-68) overall.

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski started Derrick Rose after halftime in place of Kyrie Irving, a scoreboard move  that allowed him to get Rose extended minutes in the first of what will be back-to-back-back games.

The U.S. improved to 3-0 with the win and finishes Group C play against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday and Ukraine on Thursday. New Zealand fell to 0-3.

The U.S. ran its streak of consecutive wins in international competitions (World Championship/World Cup/Olympics and exhibitions) to 57.

Group C:  UKRAINE 64, TURKEY 58

Omer Asik finally had a breakout performance, piling up 10 points and 13 rebounds for Turkey in the first half against Ukraine. The New Orleans Pelicans big man owned the space around the basket, dominating in ways that he did not in two previous games.

He finished with 16 points and 20 rebounds, by far his best work of the competition, and got a nod of approval from his new frontcourt mate in New Orleans.

“I love it,” Anthony Davis said as the U.S. team watched the end of the game from the tunnel on the end of the court before taking the floor for their game with New Zealand.

Asik’s work alone wasn’t enough to hold off the Ukraine, still smarting from a tough Sunday loss to Finland. Ukraine got huge contributions from up and down the roster while playing without starting shooting guard Sergiy Gladyr (sprained ankle).

Olexander Mishula led the way with 19 points and was money from deep (5-for-8), Ihor Zaytsev added 12 points (including a clutch late jumper) and Pooh Jeter scored 10 points and dished a game-high six assists.

Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said he spent Monday locked in his room studying tape and looking for ways to finally figure out a way to beat Turkey after struggling against them seemingly every time his team has played them during his four years coaching Ukraine.

That was time well spent, though, as Fratello’s team looked sharp from the start and didn’t allow Turkey to dictate tempo to them the way the U.S. did early on in their Sunday win over Turkey.

“My friends who have been here and fans of the team just say great things about the city,” Fratello said of Bilbao.  “Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a whole lot of it. I’ve been seeing a lot of the inside of the hotel … but I walked, I took a walk late [Monday night]. I went around 11 o’clock, just to think, and what do I do, I run into a bunch of Turkish fans. Just what I needed.”

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player

More Summer Dreaming: MVP | Coach | DPOY | Sixth Man | Most Improved | Rookie

Now we’re into the part of our Summer Dreaming series where we’ve saved everybody eight months of waiting and handed out all of the official NBA awards for 2015. Next up is a look at a few off-the-record categories, starting with Comeback Player of the Year, which the league has not handed out since the 1984-85 season.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant showed some magic before his injury last season

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — Go ahead, point to those 36 candles he just blew out on his birthday cake. Point to the torn Achilles’ tendon, the fractured kneecap, more miles on his body than an old pickup truck. But you might want to do that pointing from a distance, because the most relentless, driven, refuse-to-face-reality player in the league is apt to bite off that finger. There are all sorts of reasons to doubt that he can return as the player he once was. But, truth is, he won’t even try. While he’s got to carry the load for this revamped — OK, stripped-down-for-spare-parts Lakers team — he’s likely to do it closer to the basket. New coach Byron Scott wants Kobe to use his post skills and smarts to go to work on the inside and put less wear and tear on his body. It’s not likely that Bryant can work miracles and get the Lakers to the playoffs. But he’ll show a lot more than anybody has a right to expect from a  player in his 19th NBA season.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2011

Derrick Rose, Bulls — How quickly they turn. In 2011 he was the toast of Chicago as the youngest player ever named MVP. They were starting to line up artists to create the statue that would go up next to Michael Jordan outside the United Center one day. Now Rose has played just 10 games in the past two seasons due to injuries to both knees and a lot of the so-called loyalists are ready to turn the page and call him injury-prone. Remember, though, that he’ll be just 26 in October and that puts him a decade ahead of Kobe Bryant … plenty of time to return to form. He’s coming back to a team that’s added Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott to a core of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. It says here that playing with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup will prove to be a benefit in the long run, getting Rose needed minutes and a chance to get back on track before dueling it out with LeBron James and the Cavs for Eastern Conference supremacy.


VIDEO: A coaching change in Brooklyn could be right to Brook Lopez’s liking

Brook Lopez, Nets – A broken right foot last December sidelined him for the season. A short time later then-coach Jason Kidd went to a small-ball lineup that turned the Nets’ season around and got them to the playoffs. But Kidd is gone to Milwaukee, replaced by Lionel Hollins, who got the most out of the Grizzlies by going into the low post with the grind-it-out talents of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Lopez is Hollins’ kind of center, a big man with solid fundamentals who knows his way around the basket. Lopez has reportedly dropped 15 pounds during his rehab, looking noticeably lighter and a bit quicker in workouts. However, you can expect Hollins to slow the pace of the offense and make the most of Lopez’ ability, especially at the defensive end.


VIDEO: Al Horford sat down with NBA.com’s Sekou Smith early last season

Al Horford, Hawks — Just when the hard work was starting to pay off with back-to-back selections to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2010 and 2011, Horford virtually lost of two of the next three seasons due to an unusual injury — torn pectoral muscles, left side in 2012 and right side in 2013. In his absence, first-year coach Mike Budenholzer got the Hawks to buy into his share-the-ball beliefs that he brought over from San Antonio, and that got Atlanta into the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. The Hawks have definitely overpaid to put Thabo Sefolosha out on the floor as a needed wing defender. But if they’re going to take a step back up in the improving Eastern Conference, it will be Horford getting back to his old double-double self (17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds per game) from the 2012-13 season. His injuries have definitely drawn less attention then Bryant, Rose and maybe even Lopez, but his loss was just as significant to his team.


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert was a Defensive Player of the Year nominee

Roy Hibbert, Pacers — No broken bones, no torn ligaments, just a shattered confidence and reputation and a franchise left in pieces. Hibbert’s crisis of self-doubt resulted in his game falling faster than a piano off the rooftop of a skyscraper. When he was one of the league’s top rim-protectors in 2012-13, Hibbert solidified the Indiana defense, enabling the Pacers to sniff at the heels of the then-defending champion Heat. When he felt neglected in the offense over the second half of last season, the Pacers were a disjointed mess. Now they’ve lost the injured Paul George, likely for the season, and Lance Stephenson took the free-agent dollars and fled to Charlotte. That means the Pacers clearly don’t have the talent to compete at the top of the Eastern Conference. Still, this is an opportunity for Hibbert to accept the challenge and the burden as a leader and to start to lay a new foundation for the future. This time, at least, he should get his shots.


VIDEO: Deron Williams turns around Chris Paul in this play from 2013-14

Deron Williams, Nets — It wasn’t that long ago when some scouts would have tabbed Williams as the best all-around point guard in the league. He has size, the ability to break down defenses and he can both get to the rim and nail his open jumpers. But that hasn’t been on display much since he joined the Nets. Now the soon-to-be 30-year-old is trying to overcome a series of ankle surgeries that have clearly slowed him down and made his whopping contract one of the most unrewarding in the league. New coach Hollins is not one to baby his players. He’ll lean heavily on Williams to run the offense and be the leader. But a slower tempo could be just what’s needed for a return to previous All-Star form.

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.