London 2012

U.S-Argentina Game Blog!

LONDON – That gold medal rematch of the 1972 Olympic final that folks have been buzzing about around here for two weeks is not going to happen.

There still could be a rematch Sunday. It just won’t include Russia. David Blatt‘s team held a 13-point lead over Spain but couldn’t hold off Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Marc Gasol and the rest of a seasoned Spanish team that rallied for a 67-59 win in the first semifinal of the day.

The U.S. Men’s Senior National Team squares off with Argentina in the second semifinal (4 p.m. ET, NBC). If the U.S. wins we’ll get that rematch, but of the 2008 gold medal game in Beijing, won by the U.S.

Pau Gasol led Spain with 16 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Russia, capping a crazy day in which he found out the Dwight Howard trade was finalized during warm ups from TNT’s Craig Sager.

“Craig Sager came to me before the game, chasing me, telling me it was official, and telling me he wanted to get some thoughts while I’m stretching before the Olympic semifinal,” a smiling Gasol said from the podium afterwards. “I told him, ‘look, I’m trying to be focused here.’ And he said, ‘I wouldn’t do this to you if it wasn’t official,’ so I had to give him a little something to he would go away and I could stretch.”

Gasol and his Spanish teammates can stretch out tonight and watch the U.S. Argentina to see who they’ll have to fight with for that gold medal Sunday.

We’ll be here, too, chronicling the action play-by-nearly-every-play. Get your predictions in now …

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A Rivalry Renewed: U.S. And Argentina Set To Face Off … One Last Time?

LONDON – After a decade of circling each other, five times in five different tournaments during that span, it comes down to this for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and their counterparts from Argentina.

Only one of them will play for a gold medal here Sunday in the Olympics.

And whoever gets that chance will have to go through their bitter rival in the semifinals Friday afternoon (4 p.m. ET) at North Greenwich Arena.

It’s a fitting crossroads for the two programs. After all, Argentina is the outfit that shocked the USA Basketball system a decade ago at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis, shattering a previous decade of domination by NBA players on the national team rosters by embarrassing that team on home soil.

They’re reaffirmed the initial blow two years later by going through the U.S. Team in the semifinals on the way to gold in the Athens Olympics. That death-blow jolted USA Basketball into a complete reorganization of the program that saw both managing director and chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski come on board.

When the U.S. finally returned the favor in Beijing four years ago, finishing off Argentina in the semifinals on the way to Olympic gold, it was clear both sides would spend the next four years pining for a moment like the one that is upon them now.

Argentina’s aging core group, led by Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino, is believed to be making this one last stand together. The instigators of a basketball revolution in their native land, this could very well be the last time they take the floor together in Olympic competition.

“We know who those guys are,” said Ginobili, Argentina’s fearless leader. “We are not intimidated when we play against them.”

That fact only adds to the intrigue for the core of the U.S. Team, guys like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and even Kevin Durant.

They’d love to put the Argentina chapter of USA Basketball’s history to rest.

“Why not? Why not?” Anthony said without so much as a whiff of cockiness in his voice. “We have to play them. Something has to happen. Why not end it [now]?”

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Possible Conclusion To The Dwight Howard Odyssey?

LONDON – The end of the Dwight Howard Odyssey could-could-be over soon for the Orlando Magic.

The team is in serious discussions with the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers about a potential deal that would send Howard to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Magic, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets and Andrew Bynum to the 76ers. Other players and Draft picks would be included in the deal as well, with the possibility that Gasol or could be flipped for additional assets.

In this scenario, first reported Thursday by Yahoo! Sports, forward Al Harrington would go from Denver to the Lakers, and guard Arron Afflalo would go from Denver to the Magic. However, the final version of the deal, if it happens, would certainly involve additional players — or, perhaps, some of these players winding up in different places.

Two sources said Thursday that this deal could happen, although with so many teams and so many moving parts, the potential for the deal collapsing is ever-present. Another source had indicated to NBA.com earlier in the week that a “blockbuster” deal was on hold because at least two of the teams involved did not want to move forward.

Orlando, however, is determined to end the Howard saga as soon as possible — provided it gets what it wants. It has been adamant that it wants a combination of future picks, young players with short or otherwise reasonable contracts and the removal of some of their its contracts in exchange for Howard.

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U.S.: “Still Haven’t Shown Our Best”

LONDON – We’ve seen its flashes, those breathtaking bursts of fury the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team can unleash on the opposition.

Sometimes it comes in the form of the 3-point storm Carmelo Anthony helped unleash on Nigeria in pool play. Or sometimes, it is the one Kobe Bryant put on Australia in the quarterfinals or a LeBron James/Kevin Durant-induced knockout blow on either end of the floor, an occurrence in more than a couple of games here so far.

Yet, as good as they have been on their grind towards the medal round of this Olympic tournament, the scary part for Argentina, Spain and Russia is that the U.S. team hasn’t played their best. To a man, the U.S. Team is convinced that they haven’t come close to playing up to their immense potential.

“That’s the crazy part, man,” Durant said. “We have another level we can go to on both ends of the floor. We’ve shown it here and there. For us to sustain it throughout a whole game, though, we still haven’t seen that. The challenge is us trying to do it. We’ll get another crack at it against Argentina and we’ll see if we can do it.”

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Bryant Catches Fire, U.S Set For Semifinal Showdown With Argentina

LONDON — Kobe Bryant normally lives for these moments.

The big moment, on the big stage, with the whole world watching.

But save for a vintage few minutes in a win over Nigeria during pool play, his time here for the Olympics had been more about his presence away from the court than it had been on his in-game exploits with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team.

He popped in at Wimbledon to see some tennis, strode over to the beach volleyball venue to see friends get after it and he even made it to the velodrome Tuesday night to cheer on fellow athletes chasing gold in their respective disciplines.

It wasn’t until the second half Wednesday night, with Australia making a run against the U.S. in a quarterfinal matchup at North Greenwich Arena, that the Bryant Los Angeles Lakers and NBA fans have known for the better part of the past decade made his debut in this competition.

His six straight 3-pointers, a staggering four in 75 seconds during a backbreaking fourth-quarter run, proved to be the sparked needed to push the U.S. past Australia 119-86 and into a Friday night semifinal rematch with rival Argentina, an 82-77 winner over Brazil in the first game of the evening session.

“We we were right there with them,” said Australian forward David Andersen. “And then Kobe starts shooting and making those [3-pointers] and it’s raining down on us. No team really has answers for that. “

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U.S.-Australia Game Blog!

LONDON – In the interest of fair play and a drama-free evening here at North Greenwich Arena, we’re going to have both the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and Australia sign a petition to stick to basketball and leave the rabbit punching to others.

After yet another sucker-punching incident at the end of the Spain-France game involving Nicolas Batum’s right hand and Juan Carlos Navarro‘s groin area, we’ve officially seen enough of the below the belt antics. Play ball folks.  Chris Paul and Facundo Campazzo kicked things off Monday night.

But there is Olympic gold (silver and bronze, too) on the line gentlemen. It’s time to cut out the flopping, the foolishness and the fisticuffs and just play ball. Kevin Durant and Patty Mills, two of the hottest scorers in the field, would appreciate it kindly.

We can do without the silly stuff. The winner of this U.S.-Australia game has a date with Argentina waiting on them.

We’re following every bounce of tonight’s final quarterfinal game (with our nearly every) play-by-play. Game tips off in 25 minutes. So get your predictions in now if you want them on the record …

– FOURTH QUARTER –

0.0: 119-86. See you Friday night. Maybe there will be a bit more suspense then … maybe not!

1:26: James Harden batting clean up tight, with seven points in the last 70 seconds. 117-84.

2:07: The U.S. is still firing, Andre Iguodala for 3. 112-84.

3:52: Okay, fun is over. Kobe finally misses one. But the damage has been done. He was scoreless at halftime and goes to the bench with 20. LeBron has a triple-double (what USA Basketball officials believe to be the first in Olympic history) and the U.S. is headed for a rematch with Argentina in the semifinals. The Boomers are going home. 107-80.

4:13: LeBron with the behind-the-back pass to Love for a dunk and the runaway. 107-80.

4:33: And again, for good measure. 105-80.

4:53: On the pull-up 3 now  just to show off. 102-90.

5:10: Kobe for 3. 99-80.

5:48: LeBron finds Kobe on the right wing for a deep 3 and a 96-78 lead.

6:16: K. Love with a little big boy basketball under the rim. Gets a rebound, fouled and goes to the line for two. But not before getting a standing ovation from the bench for his hard work. 93-78.

7:49: LeBron in one corner turns and flings a one-handed dart to D. Will in the opposite corner and he swishes a 3. 90-75 just like that. LeBron erases so many of the U.S. deficiencies on both ends of the floor it’s not even funny.

8:32: David Barlow for 3 after an Andersen layup over Durant. 87-75.

9:16: CP3 with the step back 3. 87-70.

– THIRD QUARTER –

0.0: Wasn’t a particularly sharp 10 minutes for the U.S. But when you can lean on LeBron, Durant and even that Kobe fella, it’s tough to give up too much. 84-70.

22.1: ‘Melo converts the layup but misses the free throw off of a steal and break. 84-70.

1:02: One member of the U.S. press contingent (he shall remain nameless) insists that this team is primed for an upset but admits that he’s not sure there is a team left in this competition capable of pulling it off. Australia has the heart but not the horses. Doesn’t trust Spain or Argentina. “Russia might be the only team that can do it. And they have to get there first.”

1:11: Baynes comes back with an oop of his own. 80-68.

1:23: Durant on the drive and dunk. 80-66.

1:44: We’re back to LeBron just having his way with these poor bigs assigned to try to guard him. It’s not a fair fight when the U.S. spreads the floor and he attacks like this. Too easy. (lane violation on his second free throw) 78-66.

2:19: ‘Melo scores from 3-land on a tipped LeBron pass to the corner. 77-66.

2:48: Unsportsmanlike foul on Westbrook and he didn’t even swing on anybody below the belt. 77-66.

3:07: Matt Dellavedova with a layup off of the feed from Mills. 74-64.

3;30: Mills comes right back with a driving layup. 74-62.

3:38: ‘Melo at the line, the U.S. has calmed things back down a bit now. 74-60.

4:12: LeBron rebounds the Kobe miss from 3 finishes with the baseline layup. But misses the free throw after being fouled. 72-58.

4:37: Steal and another corner 3 from Kobe, 70-58.

4:53: Kobe for 3. 67-58.

5:30: LeBron sinks the first of two free throws, 64-58. But the U.S. needs the second unit to crank things up in here. They need a spark.

5:59: Andersen scores over Durant (3 fouls) in the post. 63-58. The U.S. yawned at the start of this quarter and now they are in a fight. 63-58.

6:39: Kobe sinks two free throws for a 63-56 lead.

7:27: Bryant shuts me up with a nice dime to Chandler for the dunk. 61-53.

7:42: Kobe steps on the line after he and Chandler go after a rebound and he snags it. This isn’t one of his finer performances. He was scoreless in the first half (0-for-4 with two turnovers and struggled to stay in front of anyone). He knows he’s struggling right now. He’ll crank it up, you watch.

8:01: Durant corner 3 to calm things down. 59-53.

8:23: Ingles with another 3. An 11-0 Boomers run and now we get what we were expecting. 56-53 just like tat.

9:11: Ingles sinks the 3. 56-50. We’ve got a game folks.

9:41: Mills with the steal and layup. 56-47 after five quick points from the Boomers’ best player.

A little Kiss Cam (and Prince on the loud speakers) for the second half warm up music. The U.S. is shooting 7-for-21 from deep right now, giving them 83 made 3-pointers and counting in this competition.

– HALFTIME –

The Red Foxes (Ukrainian dace team) didn’t make the move from the Big White Marshmallow to this new venue. There are some very disappointed members of the crowd who had grown fond of our usual halftime entertainment. I’m partial to the Heat Dancers myself. Someone send me a picture …

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Russia And Spain Into The Semifinals

LONDON – Russia and Spain will square off in one Olympic semifinal, both of them having survived in quarterfinal action North Greenwich Arena Wednesday.

Russia survived a late Lithuania rally and held on for an 83-74 win behind Andrei Kirilenko‘s 19 points and 13 rebounds and some clutch shooting late from captain Sergey Monya. They led five players in double digits for Russia, which finished first in pool play from Group B.

“Sergey Monya, our captain, is the face of everything we do, the face of Russia,” said Russia’s coach David Blatt. “He has played in every game for Russia in the seven years I have been with the team. He came up the biggest at the right time. He made the two biggest shots of the game and maybe of our career together.”

Spain had to survive France and some late-game licks to advance. They closed the game on a 12-2 run and won 66-59 to set up Friday’s semifinal matchup against Russia.

Nicolas Batum took a nasty swing at Juan Carlos Navarro, balling up his fist and swinging below the belt with 24 seconds to play. His frustration boiled over after his team’s inability to finish with a flourish, the loss itself and Spain’s “flopping” as France exited the competition before the medal round.

It was the second or third such incident of the competition, with Chris Paul of the U.S. and Facundo Campazzo of Argentina both taking swings (or at least Paul was accused of taking one) during their last pool play game Monday night.

“I just wanted to give him a good reason to flop,” an unapologetic Batum said after the game. He was called for an unsportmanlike foul but wasn’t ejected from the game. And as players from both sides shook hands, Batum was in the middle of the mix without incident.

He objected to Spain’s tactics afterwards, though, insisting that he Spaniards resorted to acting late with the game on the line.

“That’s not basketball,” he said, haven taken particular offense to the reaction of Rudy Fernandez after he was fouled by Ronny Turiaf in front of the scorer’s table moments earlier. “Sometimes, you have to give them a good reason to flop. And I hope I did.”

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Olympic Quarterfinals: Win Or Go Home

LONDON – This is the day medal dreams go up in smoke for some teams in the men’s Olympic basketball competition. Or, as U.S. Men’s Senior National Team star LeBron James put it, “every game is like a Game 7.”

For the U.S., that means three more Game 7 wins are needed to claim a second straight gold medal in Olympic competition. For the seven other teams that harbor gold (or any other) medal dreams, it’s showtime.

Wednesday’s action-packed schedule, with the four games shifting from the Olympic Basketball Arena to the more familiar, NBA-styled North Greenwich (also known as the O2) Arena, promise to deliver drama and dashed dreams for some. The only game of the four that doesn’t qualify as a blood-feud, on some level, is the final game of the day between the U.S. and Australia. That one, however, features the best scorers of pool play (Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony of the U.S. and Patty Mills of Australia) and the always-intriguing subplot of whether someone will knock off the U.S.

Game 1 — Russia (B1) vs Lithuania (A4), 9 a.m. ET

Linas Kleiza and Lithuania gave the U.S. its toughest game of the competition and will take that confidence into this matchup against a Russian team that, after the U.S., was the most consistently impressive team in pool play. The Russians won Group B by overpowering other teams with an inside-out attack that features future Minnesota Timberwolves teammates Aleksey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko on the perimeter and the unsung and underrated Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov, who outplayed Spain’s heralded frontline in Russia’s win over the reigning European champions. Russia is confident and has every reason to be. But the Russians would be wise to ignore that potential gold medal game against the U.S., a long-awaited rematch of the controversial game from 40 years ago, and stay focused on an extremely dangerous Lithuania team fixated on finishing that near upset of the U.S. (Political ramifications also will be at play in the crowd and beyond with the former occupied Lithuania 22 years removed from declaring its independence from the former U.S.S.R.)

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U.S. Focused On Faults Or Facts?

LONDON – LeBron James probably can’t remember the last time he walked off of the court after a 29-point thrashing of a quality opponent and had to answer questions about why the game was so close during the first 20 minutes and if his team is defending well enough to win it all.

Well, then again, before he led the Miami Heat to a Larry O’Brien trophy, he probably fielded questions of that sort on a regular basis.

But with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team an overwhelming favorite by most to capture the gold medal here at the Olympics and the world wondering if anyone, or anything, can stop them, the U.S. Team’s “flaws” have become a hotter topic than any of the facts surrounding this group.

Aside from that 99-94 win over Lithuania, the U.S. basically demolished the competition in their five games of pool play. The U.S averaged 117.8 points in those five games, the all-time U.S. Olympic record belonging to the original Dream Team (117.3). A staggering 77 made 3-pointers and a 46 percent shooting stroke should impress anyone, but not the critics of this team, who suggest that maybe the U.S. shoots too many.

If this is the basketball world’s way of doing its duty and trying to keep the U.S. humble, they’re wasting their time. James and his teammates already understand their own hoops mortality. They realize that a subpart performance against Australia Wednesday in the quarterfinals means an early trip home, the same fate for any team that doesn’t show up focused and ready for the elimination round.

“We’re very beatable.  We don’t feel unbeatable,” he said. “We’ve just got to continue to get better, continue to work our habits, both offensively and defensively. But every team is beatable in this tournament and we know that as well.”

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Deng Seeks Win-Win After Brits’ Loss

Luol Deng got what he wanted and now, from the sound of it, the Chicago Bulls will get what they want, too. Namely, Deng ready and available for Bulls training camp and the start of the 2012-13 NBA season.

The concern heading in to the 2012 London Olympics was that Deng’s participation for host Great Britain, as its best player and NBA ambassador in its first men’s basketball competition since 1964, would cut into his day job. Specifically, fans and some team personnel worried about Deng’s busy schedule and crowded timeline as it related to torn ligaments in his left wrist; if he were going to get those surgically repaired, waiting until after the Olympics could push his recovery well into the regular season.

And life already figured to be tough enough without Derrick Rose, rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in his left knee in Chicago’s playoff opener.

Initally, some were frustrated that Deng didn’t pounce on the Bulls’ early elimination from the postseason as the time for his surgery. But the 6-8 small forward was determined to play for Great Britain, gobbling up more than three months of the offseason. Now, however, Deng likely will skip surgery and play 2012-13 with the wrist as is.

“Did I look like I needed [surgery]?” Deng said Monday after his squad won its final Olympic game. “I’m fine right now. I feel great. There are a lot of things I want to improve in my game that I want to focus on now. I want to be a better player than I was last year. … I have time to make decisions and be healthy by the time we start [training camp].”

Uh, considering Deng made only 31.4 percent of his shots in the tournament, the answer to his question might not be the one he was going for rhetorically. He averaged 15.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists.

But Kobe Bryant has been able to play with similar damage to apparently “optional” ligaments. Bulls team surgeon Brian Cole thinks that might work for Deng,  and the fact is, Deng played most of last season’s second half despite the injury.

Deng said he had absolutely no second thoughts about his Olympic experience, though at 1-4 Great Britain didn’t get within sniffing distance of a medal. “If the Olympics were next month, I’d play again,” he said. “This is something no one will ever take away. I’m always going to remember this moment, walking out for the opening ceremonies and playing with guys I played with my whole life.”

What he might have second thoughts about, though, is shouldering so much of the load this season for the Bulls in Rose’s absence. Even Deng’s surgeon hasn’t weighed in yet on how his bum wrist will hold up under that burden.