Rio 2016

Australia gives Jokic a lesson in physicality

RIO DE JANEIRO — Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was the MVP of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Serbia last month, leading the home country with 17.8 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Jokic earned First Team All-Rookie honors last season, but the qualifying tourney was his first action for the senior national team, a veteran-laden squad that won silver at the 2014 World Cup and finished fourth at least year’s Eurobasket. On the international stage, it was a coming out party.

On Monday, however, Jokic looked like a rookie again in Serbia’s 95-80 loss to Australia in Group A pool play. Jokic was playing behind former NBA player Miroslav Raduljica and was unable to make much of an impact off the bench. His numbers (seven points, three rebounds, two assists in 17:55) don’t tell the whole story, because his body language made it look like he didn’t want to be there.

Australia has a starting frontline of Aron Baynes (Pistons) and Andrew Bogut (Mavericks), who are backed up by the Pistons’ Cameron Bairstow and former NBA player David Andersen. They play physical and that was a problem for Jokic, a skilled big who needs to get tougher.

“They played man basketball,” Raduljica said afterward. “This is a man’s sport.”

“Obviously, the intensity of the big guys from Australia is huge, second to none,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic added. “Baynes, Bogut, Andersen and Bairstow know how to play a tough, physical game and maybe [Jokic] felt it a little bit. But he has to respond.”

Jokic didn’t get many touches in the Serbia offense. But he was pushed away from the basket by Bairstow on a post-up in the second quarter and his jump-hook was well off the mark. On a key fourth-quarter possession (in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated), Jokic let Andersen back him down for a basket that put Australia up six.

Djordjevic immediately took Jokic out of the game after that defensive possession, but brought him back after Stefan Bircevic fouled out. Jokic later took a hard foul from Australia’s Joe Ingles (Jazz).

“He’s young and this is great experience for him,” Djordjevic said. “He’s a very smart player, so we need more from him, obviously. But maybe it’s normal, a player like him, he’s a quick learner. This is a good thing. Yes, he had a good qualifying tournament, but I believe and I hope that no one is living in the past, because every day is a new practice. Every day is a new game. Every day is a new challenge.

“We need his creativity. He’s very smart. I believe that in the tournament, he’s going to become instrumental.”

More challenges await Jokic this week. Serbia will face France (with Rudy Gobert, Boris Diaw and Nuggets teammate Joffrey Lauvergne) on Wednesday and the United States on Friday.

Saric seals Croatia’s upset of Spain

RIO DE JANEIRO — In the Men’s Basketball competition at the Olympics, Group B is the tougher group, with five good teams, one that won’t make the quarterfinals. And the group’s depth and quality was on display in its first day of action, as Croatia upset Spain, 72-70 on Sunday night.

Incoming Sixers rookie Dario Saric, who had a quiet night statistically (five points, seven rebounds, five assists, 1-for-7 shooting), sealed the game by blocking a short jump hook from the Spurs’ Pau Gasol at the buzzer.

“It’s a gift for the whole team,” Saric said of the final play. “That block was like cherry on the cake, because the team fought all the time.”

Spain led by as many as 10 points late in the first quarter and by as many as 13 early in the third. But twice, Croatia was able to chip away at the lead when Gasol went to the bench, a symptom of the absences of bigs Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

The Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic hit two huge shots in the last five minutes and led Croatia with 23 points. Gasol led all scorers with 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting, but fouled Bogdanovic on a 3-pointer on a critical play late.

The Wolves’ Ricky Rubio was on the bench for most of the fourth quarter, as the Sixers’ Sergio Rodriguez and Rockets’ draft-stash Sergio Llull finished the game in the backcourt. But both of those guys had costly turnovers down the stretch, with Rodriguez also missing two important 3-point attempts when Gasol was double-teamed in the post.

Spain has lost early in big tournaments before. In the 2012 Olympics, it lost to both Russia and Brazil in pool play before recovering to scare the U.S. in the gold medal game. And in last year’s Eurobasket, Spain lost its first game to Serbia and its third game to Italy before going on to win the tournament.

“This year, hopefully, it’s going to be the same,” the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic said after scoring 19 points in the loss. “We started [last year with a loss], but most important is how you finish. I trust in this team and I know that we’re going to play much better next game.”

Lithuania survives vs. Brazil

The first game of the day was almost as much of a thriller, though it looked nothing like one early on. Lithuania led by 29 at halftime and by as many as 30 midway through the third, but Brazil cut the lead to 18 by the end of the period and was within four with just over two minutes to go.

The home crowd was loud, chanting “We believe!” in Portuguese. But incoming Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis sealed the win for Lithuania with a tough, reverse and-one off a pick-and-roll feed from Renaldas Seibutis. Sabonis finished with 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting, while incoming Knicks rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas added eight points and five rebounds in Lithuania’s 82-76 win.

Jonas Valanciunas (six points, three boards) had a pretty quiet afternoon, but it was a team effort as Lithuania shot 21-for-29 (6-for-9 from 3-point range) in the first half. Brazil’s starting backcourt of Marcelo Huertas (Lakers) and Alex Garcia couldn’t keep Lithuania out of the paint and played a total of 23 seconds (all from Garcia) in the second half.

With Group B so competitive, the first day of action was huge for Croatia and tough for the hosts. If things hold to form, the final spot in the quarterfinals could come down to a game between rivals Argentina and Brazil, who play on Saturday. But with what happened on Sunday, it’s probably best not to look too far ahead.

Argentina takes care of business

In Sunday’s final game, Argentina handled its business against Nigeria, Group B’s weakest team. Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili combined to score the game’s first nine points and Argentina led by as many as 29 on its way to a 94-66 victory.

Facundo Campazzo led five Argentina players in double-figures with 19 points. Incoming Spurs rookie Patricio Garino had 15 points on just six shots, adding six rebounds.

Bogut looks fresh in Australia’s win over France

RIO DE JANEIRO — Andrew Bogut didn’t know if he’d be able to play in the Olympics until Friday. Bogut, who injured his left knee in Game 5 of The Finals, played less than 10 minutes in just one of Australia’s six exhibition games leading into the games, and wasn’t going to make a final call on his status until the day of the opening ceremony, when final rosters were due.

“If it wasn’t right yesterday, I’m going to fly back home,” he said Saturday. “But it was good enough to play.”

Not only that, Bogut looked to be 100 percent in leading Australia to an easy, 87-66 win over France in the opening contest in Rio. Bogut tallied 18 points on 9-for-10 shooting, elevating for several dunks, even one where he ran a pick-and-roll (as the ball-handler) with teammate Joe Ingles setting the screen.

Australia looked terrific. France, thought to be a medal favorite, did not. Tony Parker scored 18 points, but didn’t get much help. Boris Diaw shot 4-for-11 and Nicolas Batum took just three shots, as France couldn’t handle the physical play of Australia.

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Andrew Bogut finished with 18 points in Australia’s win over France in the 2016 Olympics opener.

“Before this tournament, we said our identity’s going to be we need to be ***** defensively,” Bogut said. “We need to be in guys. We need to be physical. That’s the only chance we have to beat a lot of these teams that are a little more talented than us.”

France needed some aggressiveness from someone other than Parker, but it’s not necessarily in them to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.

“It’s not our game to play one-on-one,” Diaw said. “That’s not us. We got to move the ball.”

More concerning was their defense, which got beat back door early and often. Even with Rudy Gobert on the floor for France, Australia controlled the paint.

And Bogut was a huge part of that. If he couldn’t play, there would be a big void in the Australia offense, which counts on him more than the Warriors did (and the Mavs will).

“Obviously, with the Warriors, he doesn’t have the ball as much,” Ingles said. “He’s more of a screener and a ball-mover. With us, we want him to have the ball as much as possible. Between him and Patty [Mills], we’re trying to get them [going] and play off it.”

Mills led Australia with 21 points, while Matthew Dellavedova dished out a game-high 10 assists. Bogut added five dimes himself, as Australia registered 29 assists on its 35 field goals.

“He’s the best big passer in the NBA, probably in the world,” Ingles said of Bogut. “The more the ball’s in his hands, the better for us.”

Bogut’s play is an encouraging sign for Australia, which should have no problems qualifying for elimination out of Group A with a win already in hand and games against China and Venezuela still to come. France certainly has the ability to bounce back, but will likely need a win against Serbia to avoid finishing fourth in the group and facing Group B’s top team in the quarterfinals.

USA lineup numbers and notes

HANG TIME, N.J. — The United States Men’s National Team wasn’t tested on either end of the floor in its exhibition schedule leading into the Olympics. Four of the team’s five games were against the three worst teams going to Rio: China (twice), Venezuela and Nigeria. And both Venezuela and Nigeria were missing their only players that played in the NBA last season.

So there’s not much to be gleaned from the data coming out of those five games. The U.S. outscored its opponents by 43.0 points per game and 53.2 points per 100 possessions. The offense scored 127.5 points per 100 possessions (15.1 more than the Golden State Warriors scored last season) and the defense allowed just 74.4 (22.2 fewer than the San Antonio Spurs allowed last season).

The U.S. outscored its opponents by at least 41 points per 100 possessions with every player on the floor.

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Mixing and matching

With coach Mike Krzyzewski starting players in their NBA or home city, the U.S. used five different starting lineups in the five games, and all 12 players started at least once. In total, Krzyzewski used 83 different lineups on the exhibition tour. Only six of those lineups played in more than one game, and none played in more than two. No five-man unit got extended run together.

The USA’s three most used lineups all included Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. Still, what could be the starting lineup when pool play opens against China on Saturday — those three plus Klay Thompson and Carmelo Anthony — has only played 9:03 together so far.

The good news is that it outscored its opponents (Argentina and China), 25-5, in those nine minutes.

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Small-ball for defense

If you look at the cumulative offensive statistics (pdf), Draymond Green was the United States’ worst player in the exhibitions. He shot 4-for-18 and led the team with 11 turnovers, even though only three players got fewer minutes than he did. Some of his shots and turnovers were downright ugly.

The U.S. centers, meanwhile, looked dominant against smaller frontlines. Cousins bullied opponents in the low post and DeAndre Jordan just jumped over them.

Yet, the U.S. was at its best with both Cousins and Jordan on the bench and with Green playing center. They outscored their opponents, 71-37, in just over 27 minutes with Green at the five.

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Less than 28 minutes against bad teams isn’t much to go on, but the positive impact that Green made on the U.S. defense was as clear as how out of synch he was offensively. How the U.S. plays with its different centers will be something to keep an eye on going forward.

One point guard at a time

This is the first time since 2006 that the U.S. is taking only two point guards on its roster. While we’ve seen a lot of two-point-guard lineups in past years, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry played just 1:36 together in the five exhibition games.

The U.S. played more than 28 minutes with neither on the floor, using Paul George as its third point guard until he injured his calf in the third game. With both George and Lowry out against Nigeria on Monday, Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan (and even Green) played the point in the 13 minutes that Lowry rested.

It’s doubtful that we’ll see many no-point-guard minutes against good teams in Rio. Irving was the MVP of the 2014 World Cup (scoring 26 points in the gold medal game) and hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history just six weeks ago. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been at its best defensively with Lowry on the floor.

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That may be because Lowry is defending the opponents’ reserves. But it’s also fair to wonder if Lowry better complements the other likely starting perimeter players (Thompson, Durant and Anthony), who are all as flammable as Irving.

Two-man data

With Irving and Lowry getting those 96 seconds together, the only two players who didn’t share the floor in the exhibitions were Cousins and Jordan. And it’s safe to guess that Krzyzewski won’t be playing any twin-tower lineups in Rio.

Other than Irving-Lowry, the only two-man unit that had a negative plus-minus was the combination of Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who were a minus-4 in 14.5 minutes together. With Barnes looking like the team’s 12th man, that combination probably won’t see any meaningful minutes together going forward.

Among the 30 two-man combinations that played at least 30 minutes together, the U.S. was at its best offensively (143.0 points scored per 100 possessions in 52.8 minutes) with Thompson and Durant on the floor. It was at its best defensively (54.2 points allowed per 100 possessions in 46.6 minutes) with Lowry and Green on the floor together.

More blowouts coming

Again, we’re looking at small sample sizes against mostly bad teams. But that’s all you get with the Olympics. And then suddenly, you’re playing a 40-minute elimination game against other NBA talent, and you have to know what’s going to work best.

It’ll be another week before the U.S. faces any more NBA players, because it will play its first two pool-play games against China and Venezuela. The competition will get stronger each game after that, as pool play wraps up with games against Australia, Serbia and France.

France completes Olympic field

HANG TIME, N.J. — Both Canada and France blew chances at Olympic berths last summer. Canada led Venezuela by seven with three minutes to go in the FIBA Americas semifinals, but lost in the final second. France, meanwhile, led Spain by nine with six minutes to go in the Eurobasket semifinals, but lost in overtime.

Only one of the two would be able to make up for their 2015 collapse, as both Canada and France were placed in the same Olympic qualifying tournament and faced off in the final on Sunday.

And it was France that earned the final ticket to Rio, beating Canada 83-74 in Manila. The Spurs’ Tony Parker led the way with 26 points, scoring 15 of them in the fourth quarter. His step-back 3-pointer that gave France a seven-point lead with 2:13 left was the biggest shot of the day. Former Spur and Raptor Nando De Colo added 22 points and was named tournament MVP.

The Raptors’ Cory Joseph led Canada with 20 points and six assists, but also had seven of his team’s 21 turnovers. The Cavs’ Tristan Thompson dealt with foul trouble in the first half and finished with just eight points and seven rebounds. Canada was without several of its other NBA players, including Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Olynyk.

Serbia and Croatia earned trips to Rio by winning their qualifying tournaments on Saturday. Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic and Philadelphia 76ers draftee Dario Saric were named their respective tournament MVPs.

After France’s win, France and Serbia were placed in Group A of the Olympic field with Australia, China, the United States and Venezuela. Croatia was placed in Group B with Argentina, Brazil, Lithuania, Nigeria and Spain. The Olympic basketball competition tips off on Saturday, Aug. 6.

The United States’ roster is headlined by Kevin Durant and will be looking to earn its fifth straight gold medal in major international competitions. France, Serbia and Spain should also be competing for medals.

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Serbia, Croatia earn trips to Rio

HANG TIME, N.J. — Serbia and Croatia earned bids to the 2016 Olympics on Saturday, winning their respective qualifying tournaments.

Serbia cruised to a 108-77 victory over Puerto Rico after a 37-11 first quarter on its home floor. They were led by the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (23 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (26 points, eight assists, 6-for-10 from 3-point range), whose draft rights are held by the Sacramento Kings. Jokic was named the tournament MVP.

After leading Italy by as many as nine points in the first half and by six with less than four minutes to go, Croatia needed overtime to punch its ticket. The Brooklyn Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic led all scorers with 26 points and hit the biggest shot of the night, a right-wing three with 1:14 left in OT off some nice ball movement. Philadelphia 76ers draftee Dario Saric was named tournament MVP and had 18 points, 13 rebounds and a big steal in the final minute.

Danilo Gallinari and Marco Belinelli combined to shoot just 9-for-28 for Italy. Gallinari fouled out in regulation and Italy (coached by Spurs assistant Ettore Messina) was left with little offensive firepower in the extra period.

The final spot in the Olympic field will be determined in the Philippines on Sunday (9 a.m. ET on Watch ESPN), when Canada and France face off.

Two of the qualifying tournament winners will be played in Group A with Australia, China, the United States and Venezuela. One will be placed in Group B with Argentina, Brazil, Lithuania, Nigeria and Spain. The Olympic basketball competition tips off on Saturday, Aug. 6. The U.S. will be looking to extend its 45-game winning streak and earn its third straight Olympic gold.

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USA roster taking shape

HANG TIME, N.J. — Kawhi Leonard became the latest player to withdraw his name from consideration for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team this summer. Leonard joins a long list — LaMarcus Aldridge, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, John Wall and Russell Westbrook — of players from the team’s pool of 31 names who won’t be going to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Leonard made his decision official Thursday afternoon with a statement released by the Spurs. Jody Genessey of the Deseret News reports that Gordan Hayward has also declined an invite.

Reports from the AP, ESPN and Yahoo have 10 of the USA’s 12 roster spots taken by the following players …

Point guards: Kyle Lowry (TOR)
Wings: Jimmy Butler (CHI), DeMar DeRozan (TOR), Klay Thompson (GSW)
Forwards: Carmelo Anthony (NYK), Kevin Durant (OKC), Paul George (IND)
Bigs: DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Draymond Green (GSW), DeAndre Jordan (LAC)

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Kyrie Irving and LeBron James have the other two spots if they want them. James indicated Wednesday that he’s likely to say “no,” but has yet to give a definitive answer.

Remaining players in the pool: Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love. Lowry was not in the pool of players released in January, but was needed with so many point guards unavailable.

The full roster is expected to be announced next week and training camp will open on July 18 in Las Vegas. The U.S. will play five exhibition games at various locations before traveling to Rio for the Olympics, which begin Aug. 6.

If James officially declines, Anthony would be the only player going for his third Olympic gold medal (and fourth Olympic medal overall). Of the 10 names on the list so far, Anthony (2004, 2008, 2012) and Durant (2012) are the only ones with Olympic experience. Cousins, DeRozan and Thompson won gold at the 2014 World Cup in Spain (with Irving), while Butler, George, Green, Jordan and Lowry will be making their debuts for the Senior National Team in international competition.

Canada faces tough road to Rio

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — FIBA held the draw for its three Olympic qualifying tournaments on Tuesday, putting Canada in a tough spot in its quest for an Olympic berth.

Nine teams have already qualified for Rio 2016. They are the United States (2014 World Cup champ), Brazil (host), and seven teams who finished first or second at their regional events last summer.

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The other three spots in the field will go to the winners of the three qualifying tournaments that will take place July 4-10. The Philippines, Italy and Serbia will host those tournaments, which will include 15 teams that qualified last summer and three wildcards awarded last week.

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Canada was placed in the Manila tournament. If it gets through group play against Turkey and Senegal, it will likely have to face France – the best team that didn’t qualify last summer – for the Olympic berth.

Both Canada and France looked like the best teams at their 2015 tournaments … until the semifinals. Then Canada blew a seven-point lead with three minutes to go against Venezuela, losing on a free throw with less than a second to go. Six days later, France blew a nine-point lead with six minutes to go against Spain, losing in overtime.

They each have a second chance at earning a trip to Brazil, but only one of the two countries will ease its pain in Manila in July. With young talent like Andrew Wiggins, Cory Joseph, Trey Lyles, Kelly Olynyk and Tristan Thompson, Canada looks like it will contend for medals at the Olympics and World Cup for the next 10 years. But if it can’t get past France, it will have to wait at least another three (the next World Cup is in 2019) before it can make a splash on the international scene.

Host Serbia is the clear favorite to win the Belgrade group, while the Turin group could come down to Greece and host Italy.

The Olympics take place in Rio from Aug. 6-21. Last week, the United States announced a 30-player pool from which it will select a 12-man roster for the tournament. The U.S. has won the last four major international tournaments and 45 straight games under head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will step down after the Olympics.

USA Basketball announces 30 finalists for 2016 Olympic team


VIDEO: Jerry Colangelo talks about USA Basketball’s preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The group of 30 players vying for one of the 12 spots on the U.S. Men’s Senior National team that will compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio is filled with plenty of familiar faces.

From program stalwarts LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis — all multiple-time gold medal winners in either the Olympics of FIBA World Cup competition — and a legion of other NBA All-Stars, they will all be in the mix for one of those roster spots.

In fact, the real news is not the players who will compete for spot on the roster for Rio, but the players who will not be involved in the process.

Retiring Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant announced over the weekend that he would not pursue a spot on the team. Earlier this season he said he would keep open the possibility of finishing his playing career in the Olympics, a move USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo endorsed.

Bryant won gold alongside James, Anthony, Durant and Davis at the Olympics in London in 2012.

Derrick Rose and Mason Plumlee, two members of the team that won gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, are not on the 30-player list, which was announced by USA Basketball this morning.

“It seems like I say this each time we have to narrow down a roster, but I am struck by the remarkable commitment the players in the USA Basketball National Team program continue to display and the enthusiasm they have for representing their country,” Colangelo said in a statement.

“The depth of talent that exists in the national team program is extraordinary. Repeating as gold medalists at the 2016 Olympics will not be easy, but we feel confident that we have 30 finalists who offer amazing basketball abilities and special versatility. We’re also fortunate that the roster is comprised of so many veterans of international basketball. In addition to 18 players who have won Olympic and/or World Cup gold medals, there are 16 finalists who have played between 20 and 72 games for USA Basketball. That experience is extremely valuable and something we’ve not always had available to draw upon.

“Obviously selecting the official roster of 12 players for the Olympics in 2016 will be a very, very difficult process. As has been the case with past USA Basketball teams, the goal once again is to select the very best team possible to represent the United States.”

The entire list of 30 players (and their NBA teams):

LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs); Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks); Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors); Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards); Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls); Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies); DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings); Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors); Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans); DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors); Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons); Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder); Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets); Rudy Gay (Sacramento Kings); Paul George (Indiana Pacers); Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors); Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers); James Harden (Houston Rockets); Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz); Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets); Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors); Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers); LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers); DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers); Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs); Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers); Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers); Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors); John Wall (Washington Wizards); and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder).

 

China earns Olympic bid

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — China won its 16th FIBA Asia title and is heading to the Olympics for the ninth straight time, thanks to a 78-67 victory over the Philippines on Saturday. China is the ninth team to secure a trip to Rio next summer.

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After a hot start from the Philippines, China took control in the second quarter, led by as many as 16 points, and held on for a 11-point victory to wrap up FIBA action for the summer. Yi Jianlian had 11 points and 15 rebounds for China, while Andray Blatche finished with 17 points and five boards for the Philippines.

The Philippines’ Olympic dream isn’t completely dead. They will play in one of the three qualifying tournaments next July, where the final three bids will be earned. But they would have a hard time beating any team from Europe or the Americas.

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FIBA will determine which three teams host the three qualifying tournaments and which three get the wildcard spots. The Toronto Star reported earlier this week that Canada has decided not to make a bid to be a host.