Thompson’s breakout summer?


VIDEO: Klay Thompson discusses USA’s win over Lithuania

MADRID — Stephen Curry  calls it the “USA vibe,” that flow NBA players get into during competition summers with USA Basketball.  

Those are the summers of sacrifice, of committing yourself to a culture unlike the one you are used to in the NBA, where there are journeyman and role players scattered among stars, superstars and global icons throughout locker rooms around the league.

No one has to worry about those distinctions with USA Basketball. Curry and Mason Plumlee are equals here under the watchful of eye of Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing director, and head coach Mike Kryzyewski.

If they’ve learned anything over the course of the past nine years it’s that a tiered system on the U.S. National Team doesn’t work. It can’t. Especially when guys like Curry’s Splash Brother from Golden State, Klay Thompson, plays the way he has during the FIBA World Cup.

Thompson, you could argue, has been the most consistent and best two-way player on the U.S. roster, not named Kenneth Faried or Anthony Davis. And he’s done it without starting a single game in the lead up to Sunday’s gold medal game.

“I thought Klay’s play in the first half was the biggest reason we were leading at halftime,” Coach K said after Thompson led the U.S. rout of Lithuania in Thursday’s semifinal with 14 points before the break and 16 for the game.

Thompson’s contributions off the U.S. bench, a role he probably hasn’t had to play at any point in his basketball career since before high school, if ever, could pay huge dividends when this tournament is over and he goes back to his role as one of the stars for the Warriors.

“You expose yourself to different stages of basketball,” Curry said of the benefits Thompson will gain from this medal run with the U.S. National Team. “It’s beneficial because you’re being called on to play a different role, to be a scorer off the bench and it’s just different. It adds a little bit of character and charisma to your game. And that should translate to even more success when we get back to Golden State.”

This has definitely been a character building summer for Thompson and other guys used to starting and the spotlight that comes with it in the NBA. He’s perhaps a better defender than anyone imagined. He’s stepped up to the challenge on defense night after night, while serving as the team’s most consistent scoring threat off the bench as well, averaging 12.8 points while shooting 66 percent on his 2-point shots and 41 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

We’ve gotten a glimpse of his game, the entire scope of his game, in ways we don’t normally get to see in the NBA.

“He’s been a lockdown defender for us, no doubt,” James Harden said. “Scoring is never going to be a problem for him. It’s not an issue for this team. So it says something when you see guys working hard on defense and trying to make an impact any way they can.”

That’s the spirit of the program, the one Colangelo and Coach K have tried to foster from the start. And the results have worked beautifully. The U.S, takes a 62-game win streak into Sunday’s gold medal game, having put together a flawless run in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition dating back to 2006.

They also boast a number of breakout stars from every cycle of international competition. This is where new All-Stars, MVPs and scoring champs play their trade every two years, sharpening their skills for the NBA by representing their country and strengthening its basketball tradition.

“The fact is the historical record of the guys who have participated with us shows they go back to their teams and that season immediately following their experience with us they have great results,” Colangelo said.

He cited the 2010 team that won gold at the World Championship in Turkey as the shining example of this experience is all about. That team produced the MVP (Derrick Rose), scoring champ (Kevin Durant) and three new All-Stars, not to mention a NBA champion in Tyson Chandler.

“They all had a great experience in Istanbul and great seasons that followed that journey,” Colangelo said. “We’ve been preaching this gospel, that this is a great experience, you learn to become a better player, in some ways, we think, by exposing them to this culture. They take that back to their teams and their teams are better for it. And the NBA is the ultimate beneficiary of it. So there’s 110 reasons why it’s good for the players to participate.”

Thompson could be one of those players whose next step is the one that launches him into that next level of stardom. He’ll have a new coach, Steve Kerr, and a new system. And that boulder sized chip on his shoulder after surviving a summer filled with trade rumors linked to Kevin Love, who was instead dealt to Cleveland.

Thompson is the one U.S. player who seemed perturbed from the very start that this U.S. team was being doubted and considered an underdog because bigger stars defected, declined to participate or were injured.

“I don’t care who you are, you never want to be counted out or disrespected,” Thompson said. “I never need any extra motivation. I’m always playing my hardest and to win. That will never change.”

Atlanta paper lands Ferry audio recording discussing Deng

The depth of the hot water Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in could deepen after his Luol Deng comments were released.

The depth of the hot water Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in could deepen after new audio was released.

NBA.com staff

Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has obtained the audio recording of the already infamous conference call that landed Hawks general manager Danny Ferry in hot water, and in it … well, you’ll just have to listen to it and make up your mind.

Was Ferry, as he claimed, reading off scouting reports on free agent Luol Deng when he says the player “has a little African in him”? Or was that Ferry simply winging it, speaking off the top of his head, in his own words, as many on Twitter surmised Thursday night after the AJC snagged the audio?

Whatever the case, the heat is being turned up on Ferry, at least in some corners. Though Ferry has his backers who say he is not a racist — our own David Aldridge is among them, and commissioner Adam Silver told USA Today that, in his opinion, Ferry’s comments do not merit his firing — others are insisting that Ferry step down. One of the owners of the Hawks, Michael Gearon Jr., called for his dismissal back in June. Gearon, among many other Hawks’ front-office executives, was on the call with Ferry.

One of the more thoughtful takes on the whole ugly situation has come from Toronto general manger Masai Ujiri, who spoke directly to Ferry about the incident, as reported in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Ujiri (who is from Nigeria) knows Deng (who hails from South Sudan) well. They have traveled through Africa together.

I spoke to Danny myself about this. He started off by apologizing to Luol. He apologized to me and apologized for any insult he’d offered to African people in general. He explained the incident as best he could to me. There are some things about that conversation I would like to keep between the two of us, but I came away feeling like I’d understood what he had to say.

Here is what I have to say:

I have no idea what is happening in the Atlanta Hawks organization, but I do know how the scouting world works. We all have different ways of sharing information about players and different vocabularies to do so. It crossed a line here.

That said, we are all human. We are all vulnerable. We all make mistakes.

You discover a person’s true character in their ability to learn from and then move on from those mistakes. One of the truly important things we must learn is how to forgive.

Danny’s mistake will remain tied to him for a long time. What he’s said can’t be unsaid, but we must measure his heart. If he has made an honest, isolated error, we should forgive and move on.

Will that kind of thinking be enough to save Ferry’s job?

Here’s the audio from the AJC. There’s some NSFW words in there.


SOURCE: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 

 

 

France and Serbia both playing their best at the right time


VIDEO: France and Serbia advance to the semifinals

MADRID – We knew that Spain’s road to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup final was tougher than that of the United States. France proved that with its 65-52 upset of the hosts on Wednesday.

That wasn’t the only surprising result in the quarterfinals in Madrid. After looking like the third best team in the tournament through its first six games, Brazil got hammered by Serbia 84-56. So instead of Spain-Brazil in the semis, we’ve got France-Serbia on Friday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

France and Serbia finished third and fourth in Group A. But they’re both playing their best at the right time, and at least one of them will be winning a medal. Their first meeting went down to the wire, with France winning 74-73 thanks to a no-call on one end and a foul call on the other.

Serbia was upset about that finish. And they were upset about the way they lost in the semifinals of the last edition of this tournament. Up 82-81 on host Turkey with 4.3 seconds left, Serbia just needed a stop to advance to the final and guarantee itself a medal. They forced a loose ball, but Turkey point guard Kerem Tunceri picked it up and drove for a layup to win the game.

The issue? Replays showed that Tunceri’s foot was on the sideline when he first touched the ball. And that was just one of many calls that Serbia, who lost to Lithuania in the bronze medal game, was upset about. So they’re out for some revenge on Friday, in more ways than one.

The winner will face the U.S. for the gold medal on Sunday, and will be the toughest opponent the Americans have faced in the World Cup. The loser will face Lithuania for bronze. Here are five things to watch…

Offense vs. defense

Serbia had the World Cup’s fourth most efficient offense through the quarterfinals, having scorched Brazil’s defense (which had ranked third through the round of 16) in the second half on Wednesday. France comes in with the fourth best defense in the tournament, having shut down Spain’s No. 2 offense in the quarterfinals.

Both performances were impressive. The other end of the floor will matter too, but if France can slow down the Serbian offense, they’ll be in good shape.

Another (big) game for Milos?

Milos Teodosic is one of the most entertaining basketball players in the world. The 6-foot-5, 27-year-old combo guard was coming off the bench for Serbia in its first four games, but has started the last three. And he saved his best performance for the quarterfinals, dropping 23 points on Brazil, with 16 of those coming in what was a tight first half.

Teodosic will take some crazy shots, but they often go in. And if he’s hitting from the outside, Serbia’s pick-and-rolls become very difficult to defend and other things open up in their offense.

France’s young bigs

It’s difficult to say that France is “missing” Joakim Noah, because the Bulls’ center has only played in one tournament (2011 Eurobasket) for them. They are missing two centers from last year’s Eurobasket championship team: Alexis Ajinca and Johan Petro, as well as the Pacers’ Ian Mahinmi, who injured his shoulder before the World Cup began.

That left 22 year olds Joffrey Lauvergne and Rudy Gobert to man the center spot. The 6-foot-10 Lauvergne is a natural power forward who was a non-factor on last year’s team. Gobert wasn’t on the roster.

But the two young guys have held their own and played their best games against the Gasol brothers on Wednesday. For Gobert in particular, it was a breakout performance, as he outrebounded Pau and Marc 13-12.

Having played two years for Partizan Belgrade, Lauvergne has some extra motivation against this particular opponent. In the first meeting, he (19 points, six rebounds) went toe-to-toe with former Milwaukee Buck Miroslav Raduljica (21 and seven). And it was Lauvergne’s free throw after a foul call on Raduljica that won the game for France with 4.8 seconds left. It’s a fascinating matchup of quickness vs. size.

Batum vs. Bogdanovic

Teodosic’s move to the starting lineup sent Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic to the bench. But the 22-year-old, who will be playing in Turkey this season, responded well. He scored 21 points in Serbia’s Round of 16 win over previously unbeaten Greece and has shot 12-for-20 (6-for-12 from 3-point range) in his two games in Madrid.

Bogdanovic is clearly shorter than his listed height of 6-foot-6 and French forward Nicolas Batum has a few inches on him. But Batum considers Bogdanovic a serious challenge.

“He’s one of the guys I hate to play against,” Batum said earlier this week. “I hate guarding him, because he can really score.”

Bjelica vs. Diaw

These two teams have two of the most skilled power forwards in the tournament, providing another fun matchup.

Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica, whose draft rights are held by the Minnesota Timberwolves, is a tantalizing player. He’s 6-foot-10 with terrific all-around skills. He didn’t score a lot in the quarterfinals, but beat Brazil’s bigs off the dribble to create for others, dishing out five assists, while scoring eight points and grabbing eight boards.

Boris Diaw has the size and quickness to match up well with Bjelica. His passing skills are well known, and he was more aggressive against Spain on Wednesday, taking 12 shots and hitting three of his seven 3-pointers.

Faried wanted to face Spain on its home turf in FIBA World Cup final


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about Team USA’s win over Lithuania

BARCELONA — Basketball fans around the world aren’t the only ones upset they won’t get a chance to see the U.S. National Team and their counterparts from Spain in Sunday’s gold medal game of the FIBA World Cup.

U.S. forward Kenneth Faried wanted a piece of that action as well, and didn’t hide it after the U.S. punched its ticket for Madrid with a somewhat surprising blowout 96-68 blowout win over Lithuania in the semifinals Thursday night at Palau Saint Jordi.

Faried said he wasn’t sure if and where he would watch Friday’s semifinal in Madrid between France and Serbia. And he certainly wasn’t surprised that Spain fell to France in the quarterfinals in Madrid Wednesday night.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” he said. “There was too much hype around them. It was arrogant, borderline disrespectful to us, saying they’re better than us, we’re not going to be able to match up with their bigs and all this other arrogant stuff. I just took it as, ‘okay, alright. Once we meet them in the finals we’ll see what happens. We can’t even see what happens.”

One of the breakout stars on this U.S. team, a player many people didn’t think would make the roster, let alone come here and shine the way he has, Faried let loose even more about his disappointment about missing out on the chance to battle Spain on their home soil.

“I am disappointed,” he said. “I wanted to beat them in their own country.”

Faried’s words are exactly the kind U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski has stayed away from throughout this competition. And with Serbia and France still having to fight it out for that spot opposite the U.S. in the gold medal game, he certainly doesn’t want to add any bulletin board material to the party.

Neither did Faried’s teammates.

“Kenneth is crazy,” James Harden said and then smiled when told of Faried’s comments. “He’s crazy.”

The veterans of the program know better than to cross that line, having adopted Coach K’s respect the process (and the opponent, at all times) mantra.

“It honestly doesn’t matter,” said Steph Curry, who won gold in Turkey four years ago. “You know so many people were predicting that matchup. But it obviously didn’t happen. It was on people’s mind, with the history we have with them in the Olympics and then this idea of playing their home floor. We’re just happy to take care of our business, which we set out to do, and make it to the finals. Whoever matches up against us Sunday we’ll be ready for them.”

U.S. trounces Lithuania 96-68


VIDEO: U.S. uses big third quarter to rout Lithuania

BARCELONA — Any team with designs on knocking off the U.S. National Team before it gets to Madrid and collects gold here at the FIBA World Cup better be ready for the wave.

That wave would be a star-studded second unit capable of generating as much energy and plenty of production on any given night.

Klay Thompson lit the flame in Thursday’s 96-68 semifinal win over Lithuania, carrying the U.S. early, before a quick 10-0 run after halftime turned a tight game into yet another rout at Palau Saint Jordi.

With James Harden and Stephen Curry struggling with their shots, fouls and defense, Thompson served as the emotional spark the U.S. needed to avoid the upset bug that bit Spain a night earlier in a quarterfinal in Madrid. He had 14 points by halftime, when the U.S. held a 43-35 lead, and was locked in on defense from the moment he hit the floor.

He helped turn what was supposed to be the toughest test of the competition, to date, into a laugher minutes after halftime. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski was the first person up off the U.S. bench at the dead ball that ended that 10-0 run, fist-pumping his team’s energy and effort during yet another break out stretch.

The U.S. has had one in each and every game they’ve played throughout this competition, overwhelming the opposition at one point or another with their athleticism, speed, length and defensive intensity.

“We’re relentless,” Kenneth Faried said. “We’re relentless.”

That’s exactly what they were during that third quarter run, which ran all the way up to 18-2 and eventually knocked out a Lithuanian team that has historically played the U.S. tougher than most, dating back to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

But once the U.S. got rolling, there was no chance this one stayed close. Thompson finished with 16 points. Harden matched his 16, all of them coming during that burst after halftime. Curry added 13 and Kyrie Irving led the U.S. with 18, giving Faried and Anthony Davis a night off, at least in the scoring department.

“It had nothing to do with energy,” Irving said of the U.S. second half blitz. “Whatever is needed, we make the necessary adjustments and then just try and go for the win.”

Sunday’s gold medal game (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Madrid is an opportunity for this team to make history by allowing the U.S. to become  just the third country to repeat as World champions. Brazil (1959 and 1963) and Yugoslavia (1998 and 2002) are the others

That marquee matchup between the host nation team and the team filled with NBA stars was hijacked Wednesday night when France upset Spain 68-52 in the quarterfinals in Madrid. Sunday’s final won’t have that sizzling subplot, but that’s not something the U.S. contingent seems to care much about.

They avoided talking about Spain for weeks, no matter how many different ways people tried to get them to address the topic. Now they’ll get to two days to prepare for either France or Serbia, who square off in the other semifinal Friday night in Madrid.

Summer Dreaming: First-time All-Stars

The regular season will only be a few weeks old when the ballots will go out for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. Most of the voters won’t even have to think about the first handful of names they’ll fill in:

LeBron James. Carmelo Anthony. Kevin Durant. Kobe Bryant.

Everybody wants to see the marquee stars. Nothing at all wrong with that.

But with only 24 roster spots in a league with 450 players, a few deserving players get overlooked. Sometimes for an entire career. It happened over 17 seasons, 1,199 games and 19,202 points for one of our all-time favorites, Eddie Johnson.

So in honor of Eddie, here in the Summer Dreaming headquarters, we’re going to pour a frosty drink and raise a toast to the players most deserving to make their All-Star debuts at New York in February:


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs – Go figure. He’s got the Bill Russell Trophy for being named MVP of the NBA Finals sitting on his mantle, yet Leonard has not yet been named to an All-Star team in three years in the league. Of course, a big part of that is the cap that coach Gregg Popovich puts on the minutes of all of the Spurs. That doesn’t allow for those eye-popping stats that get the attention of voters. But you’d think the coaches would recognize all the things he does at both ends of the floor and add him as a reserve.


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins puts up 29 points, nine boards and six steals on Suns

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings – Let’s just admit it. The 2014 All-Star Game was played in New Orleans and that was what got the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis the Western Conference substitute nod over Cousins. You don’t have to dive into advanced metrics. Just know that Cousins outscored Davis 22.7 to 20.8, out rebounded him 11.7 to 10 and ranked third in the league in double-doubles with 53. Of course, Boogie hasn’t gotten the respect because he hasn’t always had his head in the game, or been the best of teammates. But if he just goes back to work, it will be time to end the Kings All-Star drought that goes back to Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller in 2004.


VIDEO: Mike Conley has grown into a solid leader for the Grizzlies

Mike Conley, Grizzlies — He’s been flying beneath the radar for far too long, playing at an All-Star level for at least the past two seasons. The No. 4 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has steadily grown from a tentative young player into a solid quarterback that can run the show, get to the hoop and hit 3-pointers at a respectable rate. The trouble is a numbers game. For one, he plays in the Western Conference, which is teeming with top flight point guards — Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard. For another, his rep takes a backseat to the 1-2 front court punch of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. It’s about time Conley got some love.


VIDEO: Al Jefferson spends time with Dennis Scott

Al Jefferson, Hornets — If only the voters who gave Jefferson’s spot on the Eastern Conference team last season to Roy Hibbert could have known that the Pacers center was preparing to do a swan dive down the stretch. Much credit to first year coach Steve Clifford for giving the former Bobcats an identity and to Kemba Walker for delivering, as usual. But it was Big Al who set himself up in the middle in Charlotte and went to work, toiling and scoring and rebounding the way he has for 10 seasons. He averaged a double-double (21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds). Sometimes the guys who carry their lunch buckets to work every day should be invited to the banquet and given a chance to sit at the head table.


VIDEO: ‘The Serge Protector’ turns away eight shots against the Pelicans

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. It’s almost like they’re a single entity, because you rarely hear one name mentioned without the other. Meanwhile there’s that jumping jack just out of the spotlight who is deserving of All-Star billing, giving the Thunder the “Big Three” punch to be a top title contender year in and year out. Until the Thunder break through and win a championship, it’s not likely that fan voters or the coaches are going to give Ibaka much respect. They should. The Spurs did in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals. He’s led the league in blocks twice, is a three time All-Defensive First Team member, dunks like he’s mad at the rim and, oh, there’s also that jumper.


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers — It’s funny how your numbers and value to the team can go up when you simply get more minutes. Coach Doc Rivers came to town and got in Jordan’s ear and his head and demanded more. The former part-time highlight reel star delivered with a solid 35 minutes a game. Maybe the All-Star voters and the coaches still questioned whether he could keep it up at the midway point of last season. He did, leading the league in rebounds (13.6), finishing third in blocked shot (2.48) and eighth in double-doubles (42). Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the engines in the Clippers’ machine, but it’s Jordan delivering consistently as a defensive stopper that can fuel a rise to a championship.

Parsons ‘Definitely wanted to be in Spain’

(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Chandler Parsons says his brief time with Team USA was beneficial. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

ARLINGTON, Texas – Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a sparsely attended Texas Rangers game on a 100-degree September evening wasn’t exactly how new Dallas Mavericks small forward Chandler Parsons had this planned.

“I definitely wanted to be in Spain right now,” he said. “I wanted to play.”

Parsons was one of the final cuts from Team USA on Aug. 23, about a week before the start of the FIBA World Cup. The U.S. has cruised into the final four and will play Lithuania today (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) for a spot in Sunday’s championship game. He said he’s been watching the games.

“I’m rooting for them,” Chandler said after the former pitcher and shortstop, wearing a Rangers home white jersey with his name on the back, fired in a strike. “As much as I wanted to be there and was frustrated about it, I’m still cheering for them.”

Chandler’s new boss, the one who sprung him out of Houston with a stunning three-year, $46 million contract offer the Rockets ultimately decided not to match after long-suggesting they would, wasn’t terribly upset to see his newest asset let go.

Forever a vocal critic of handsomely paid NBA players risking injury playing for their country, Mark Cuban said he told Chandler he’d begrudingly support his bid to make the team. Chandler confirmed he got an earful from Cuban.

“Yeah, he made that clear to me,” Parsons said. “He did. He’s great … He obviously told me how he felt. He told the world how he felt about his guys playing for USA Basketball. But at the same time he understood it was something that I was really passionate about and it was something that I really wanted to do. So, I was planning on making the team and playing for the team. You take a risk of getting hurt anytime you step on the floor.”

One of Cuban’s arguments against Chandler playing for Team USA is that if he wasn’t likely going to be a rotation player he wouldn’t see many game minutes and his offseason training would actually suffer. Chandler said the four weeks he spent with Team USA served him well.

“I think I got better going there and I got in shape,” said Parsons, who has moved to Dallas and has been working out with teammates in recent days. “Just being able to play against those guys every single day, it’s not often that you get to learn and play and practice with those type of players every single day in the summertime. I took it as a positive and just tried to work on my game, stay in shape and just be ready. That was an unbelievable feeling just having that ‘USA’ on my chest for that short period of time.”

But, Chandler said…

“I think it’s a blessing in disguise not making the USA team, giving me a chance to come here and be a leader and get to know the young guys and work with the coaches. I think that’s going to be a good thing for us going forward, that I was able to come here a month early and get my feet wet, so everything’s not brand new when training camp opens up.”

Training camp is now less than three weeks away. Acquiring Parsons was key in making this easily the most anticipated camp since the 2011 championship season for a re-tooled, and in many ways, re-energized Mavs organization.  

Favored U.S. keeps focus on Lithuania


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

BARCELONA — That fine line between confident and cocky, the one the favorites always walk, is being navigated carefully by the U.S. National Team here at the FIBA World Cup. Upsets have a way of forcing reality onto teams, even one filled with NBA stars who believe, no matter the odds, that they won’t come all this way without leaving with gold.

Mike Krzyzewski‘s unyielding respect for the process and the rest of the field makes much more sense now that France has toppled Spain on the other side of the bracket, leaving a golden opportunity in front of the U.S. as the Americans square off with Lithuania today (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the right to advance to the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid.

“We know what a great team Lithuania is and how well they’ve played the whole tournament,” U.S. guard Steph Curry said during a Thursday morning news conference alongside Coach K. “We obviously knew what happened (to Spain) but it didn’t affect in anything in our preparation. Nobody  really expected it, they beat pretty well in pool play. But that’s the beauty of the tournament. Everybiody gets another chance to get to the medal round and then it’s a one-and-done process. And that makes it even more important for us to come out and focus and take care of our business. Everybody knew about it (France upsetting Spain). But our job is to beeat Lithuania and worry about who we’re going to play in Madrid. That’s the mentality, it was yesterday and it stays the same today.”

During pool play, any mention of Spain drew a polite but curt no comment from Coach K, who  dutifully reminded anyone willing to listen that a place in Madrid had to be earned. Ask about a potential opponent two games away and Coach K wouldn’t let the questioner finish. He’d reiterate that his and his team’s sole focus was on the team they’d face next.

Peppering the players with similar questions resulted in similar responses.

“We’re not focused on Spain or anyone else but … “

It doesn’t seem so strange now, not after seeing Spain crumble under the weight of expectations Wednesday night in Madrid.

In the moments after their quarterfinal win over Slovenia, after TNT’s Charles Barkley picked Spain to win it all and just before Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard and Slovenian catalyst Goran Dragic did the same, Coach K made it clear that his team is not invincible.

“We’re beatable,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

That wasn’t posturing. Coach K knows as well as anyone — Pau Gasol and his Spanish National Team teammates included — just how humbling it can be to live that reality.

The failures of the U.S. team in 2006 is fresh in the minds of those involved with USA Basketball at all levels.

“We’re not an arrogant group that thinks we don’t have to come out and play our hardest and our best every night. That’s just not who we are as a team,” James Harden said. “We respect all of the other teams here. We’re not the only group of NBA guys here, we know that. This is a tournament, a competition, and that means it’s wide open and anybody has a chance to win.”

Having a young team, relatively speaking, that doesn’t include the usual complement of superstars that was expected (Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, etc.) won’t save the U.S. from expectations now that Spain is out. The Americans go back to the top of the heap as the unquestioned favorite to capture gold.

And that means this team must compartmentalize in short order the new dynamics. Serbia and France both sprung upsets on the other side of the bracket. Who’s to say that either one of them couldn’t do it again?

So those slow starts and energy-deficient stretches this U.S. team has struggled through cannot be a part of the process any longer.

“I think we’ve played well,” Coach K said, defending his team. “I don’t know what everybody has been watching, but you know, our guys have played their butts off. They have great camaraderie. You all, some of you, think that flipping the switch, or whatever, is when we start hitting shots. If any team just had to wait for that, then they are flipping that switch all the time, because you don’t hit shots all the time. What you can do is play hard, play defense and rebound. And you can do those things all the time, and our team has done that all the time. So, then when you start hitting shots, everything looks good when you hit shots.”

Krzyzewski said he’s pleased with his team’s growth and maturity throughout the course of training camp and competition. The U.S. has maintained a sense of calm on the floor when things don’t come quickly. “So far they’ve been great about it, and I think part of it is how we handle things,” he said. “Like the mood we try to create. You want to be serious, but not to an extent where you become tight. They need to be loose.”

That was easier to do before France turned this competition upside down with that 68-52 beating of Spain. The seriousness of it all, the fact that if you don’t play your best in this one-and-done scenario could be the difference between playing to capture back-to-back titles or playing for third place.

There’s no extra motivation needed then.

“To play to get to the gold medal game, that’s the main motivation,” Klay Thompson said. “And [Thursday] is September 11, an infamous day in American history, so we just want to honor our country in that aspect.”

France shocks Spain, giving Team USA clearer path to gold


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

MADRID – The dream of a Spain-USA final at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is dead.

France ended it Wednesday with a stunning, 65-52 defeat of the Spain in the quarterfinals, playing a near perfect game to keep the hosts from even playing for a medal.

The USA’s chances to win its fourth straight international gold increased dramatically with Spain’s ouster. The Americans still have to get through Lithuania in the semifinals on Thursday and the winner of Serbia-France in the gold medal game on Sunday.

After a 2-3 performance in Group A, Serbia has played fantastically in the knockout rounds, beating 5-0 Greece and 5-1 Brazil by a total of 46 points to reach the semis. And if France continues to play the defense that it played on Wednesday, it can beat anybody.

But Spain was obviously the biggest threat to the USA’s winning streak, now at 43 games after Tuesday quarterfinal win over Slovenia. In fact, Spain looked like the World Cup favorites, with a full roster and a raucous home crowd behind them. Group A was the toughest pool in the tournament, as evidenced by its 4-0 record against Group B in the round of 16, and the hosts rolled through it, beating Brazil, France and Serbia by an average of 19.7 points.

On the other half of the bracket, Australia made a clear effort to avoid the U.S. until the semifinals and better its chance for a medal with who and how they played in their final pool-play contest. France had the opportunity to do the same with Spain, but played its final Group A game to win.

“We know, being third, we could cross with Spain in the quarterfinals,” France coach Vincent Collet said after his team’s win over Iran last week. “That’s basketball.”

Australia played to lose and then lost to Turkey in the round of 16. France played to win and pulled off the biggest upset that we’ve seen in a long time in international basketball. They simply outplayed Spain on both ends of the floor.

“For Spain, it was not that easy to play against us a second time,” Collet said afterward. “I think the big spread (24 points) of the first game was something important for us, because it was more motivation. We used it. We showed the players how bad we looked during the first game sometimes.”

The French players said they came in with a nothing-to-lose attitude and felt that all the pressure would be on Spain if the game was close down the stretch.

“It’s tough sometimes for a team to play at home,” Boris Diaw, who led France with 15 points, said. “I think we had the motivation to win and they had the motivation to not lose.”

But the pressure wouldn’t have been on the hosts’ shoulders down the stretch had France not played terrific defense. It started in transition, with France holding Spain to two measly fast break points.

In the half court, the Spanish guards mostly got nowhere on pick-and-rolls, as the French bigs hedged and then recovered quickly to their man. France’s rotations were sharp, keeping Spain from getting clean looks at the basket. As a result the hosts shot a brutal 2-for-22 from 3-point range.

Inside, the Spanish frontline of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka was neutralized by Diaw and France’s pair of young centers, Joffrey Lauvergne and Rudy Gobert, who both played the games of their lives.

Pau Gasol scored a game-high 17 points, but didn’t dominate like he had in earlier games. His brother and Ibaka both shot 1-for-7.

Lauvergne played the Gasols strong in the post, forcing them into tough shots away from the basket, and grabbed 10 rebounds in less than 17 minutes of action. Gobert outrebounded the Gasol brothers, 13-12, himself.

Gobert, the 22-year-old who played in just 45 games as a rookie for the Utah Jazz last season, has had a limited role on this team, backing up the smaller Lauvergne at center. But at 7-1 with a 9-foot-7 standing reach and a lot of bounce, he has a world of potential. He played a tourney-high 23 minutes on Wednesday and was, for the first time, on the floor down the stretch of a close game.

“He has a real desire to do good,” Collet said. “I think the dunk early in the game tonight gave him special energy and, for sure, he did an incredible job.”

Gobert had a strong Summer League. But this was a much bigger stage. He started to realize some of that potential on Wednesday, taking on the challenge of defending Pau Gasol and holding his own. He came up with one incredible block of an Ibaka tip-in and later swatted Gasol at the rim.

“He was incredible on defense,” France point guard Antoine Diot added. “When he plays like this, with his head, he’s fantastic.”

“For myself, I always knew I could help the team win,” Gobert said. “All my teammates played great offensively and I just had to guard Pau, because Pau is one of the best players in the world. If you stop him, they’re not the same team.”

Indeed, Spain played awful, and not just on offense. While France’s defense was near perfect, Spain’s guards got beat back-door countless times, leading to layups, open shots and offensive rebounds for France.

“We weren’t well prepared for this game,” Juan Carlos Navarro said.

Spain had looked determined to win this tournament on its home soil and to avenge gold-medal-game defeats to the U.S. in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Both Gasols showed up in Granada for pool play in terrific shape, while Navarro looked sharper than he did for FC Barcelona last season. Spain was a juggernaut through its first six games, jumping out ahead early and bullying its opponents into submission.

But when it was forced to play from behind and feel the pressure of a nation of fans on its shoulders, the team crumbled under all that weight. After trailing by seven at the half, Spain forced turnovers on France’s first four possessions of the third quarter and took a one-point lead into the fourth. But France answered with a 7-0 run and put the building on high alert.

“We kind of knew if we stay close,” Nicolas Batum said,  “at the end of the game, they’re going to doubt, because they can’t lose that game.”

They did lose that game. There will be no USA-Spain final, because the hosts failed to do their part.

“It was a painful loss, disappointing,” Pau Gasol said. “This team had such high expectations. We had played an incredible tournament up to this point. It just wasn’t our night.”

Reaction from France’s shocking World Cup upset of Spain

NBA.com staff

Sorry, Charles Barkley, Spain won’t be beating Team USA anytime soon.

In a shocking upset (and scoreline), France stifled Spain 65-52 in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals to advance to take on Serbia on Friday in the semis for a place in the tournament’s championship game. Needless to say, the Twitter-sphere was the place to look for the dizzying reaction…