Posts Tagged ‘Boris Diaw’

Numbers preview: Spurs-Mavericks

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters preview the Mavericks-Spurs series

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Spurs-Mavericks is the enjoy-it-while-it-lasts series. For the sixth time in their Hall-of-Fame careers, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki will face off in the playoffs. They’ve been representing the same teams for 17 and 16 years respectively.

The Spurs have won four of the five previous meetings and are the favorites to advance again this year. San Antonio registered the league’s best record, was the only team to rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and swept the season series, 4-0.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the No. 1 and 8 seeds in the Western Conference, as well as the four regular-season games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

Pace: 97.1 (12)
OffRtg: 108.2 (6)
DefRtg: 100.1 (4)
NetRtg: +8.1 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Dallas: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs notes:

Dallas Mavericks (49-33)

Pace: 95.7 (17)
OffRtg: 109.0 (3)
DefRtg: 105.9 (22)
NetRtg: +3.0 (11)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Mavericks notes:

The matchup

Season series: Spurs won 4-0
Pace: 97.4
SAS OffRtg: 115.2 (4th vs. DAL)
DAL OffRtg: 103.5 (10th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Spring and Spurs are back in the air

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bill Land and Sean Elliott chat about the Spurs’ streak of 15 straight 50-win seasons.

It happens every year. After all the wind and sleet, the snow drifts and frozen highways, the crippling storms and blinding blizzards, spring arrives.

So do the Spurs.

The Heat cool off, the Pacers wobble and the Thunder roll in and out. But the Spurs simply hum. Electricity through a power line.

Every year they’re supposed to get older. Every season they seem only to get wiser. And better. About managing their minutes. About healing their aches and pains. About avoiding the lows and managing the highs.

The Spurs stepped on the necks of the Lakers on Wednesday night, for the second time inside of a week, pushing their win streak to 11 in a row, their longest of the season, heading into Friday night’s game at Sacramento (10 ET, League Pass).

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

They are 13-1 since the All-Star break and have extended their NBA-record streak of 50-win seasons to a mind-numbing 15 in a row. The Spurs even won 50 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, finishing 50-16.That is the real March Madness.

So while Phil Jackson gobbles up the headlines in New York, the Spurs keep their heads down and chins up. And now look who’s sitting on top of the standings with the best overall record in the league, 1 1/2 games up on slumping Indiana.

All of which is as surprising to coach Gregg Popovich as gravity.

“That’s what we usually do, right?” Popovich told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News. “Historically, we’ve always tried to play our best ball after the All-Star break. This year it also coincided with everybody getting healthy, but we’ve done that before. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be the last team standing, but it’s what we usually try to strive for.”

It’s been a habit for nearly a decade to write off the Spurs. That seemed valid after they let the 2013 championship slip through their fingers in those final 24 seconds of Game 6 in Miami. The players have acknowledged that it’s still kicking around in the back corners of their minds. Popovich admits that it rides like an 800-pound gorilla on his back every day. Yet they don’t let it chase them into dark corners each time they step out onto the court.

That ability to stay in the present has been constructed from those 15 consecutive years of 50-win excellence.

“It’s better than losing 50 I guess,” Popovich said, “but we are thinking about other things. We’ve just had a great group of guys for a long time, I guess, and that is the reason we have been able to win. Records and that sort of thing, streaks, aren’t really on anybody’s mind.”

What’s on their mind is getting back to The Finals, though not with a sense of vengeance or redemption. It’s the only goal that matters.

These Spurs are deeper, more balanced, just plain better than a year ago. They have nine different players averaging between 17.6 (Tony Parker) and 8.3 (Tiago Splitter) points per game. There are eight players with a Player Efficiency Rating — ranging from 21.3 (Tim Duncan) to 15.2 (Marco Belinelli) — above the weighted average of 15.0. They have a deep bench led by Manu Ginobili, who is back to his former Sixth Man of the Year level,  and a corporate knowledge that allows them to assimilate new pieces into the mix easily.

Belinelli has been a perfect addition, hitting career highs in shooting percentage, rebounding and, soon, assists. Patty Mills has stepped into Gary Neal’s old backcourt role off the bench and has been at times a distributor, a spark plug and a basket filler. Over the past month or so, Boris Diaw has virtually turned back the clock years to his old Phoenix days.

All that comes on top of the continued under-the-radar growth of Kawhi Leonard, who can attack the basket, pull up and stab in shots from the perimeter, completely disrupt passing lanes with his long arms on defense and barely bat an eye or show a twitch of emotion when he puts the wraps on the likes of LeBron James.

There was a time earlier this season when the Spurs were 1-10 against all of the top level playoff contenders and yet there were no team meetings (a la the Pacers) and no talk of being in “uncharted territory” (the Heat).

When they embarked on their annual Rodeo Road Trip, starting shooting guard Danny Green was just coming back from an injured wrist. During the trip, seven other players missed games due to injury or, in the case of Parker, overall aches and pains. Yet they still came home 6-3. Since then, they haven’t lost a game.

“We stuck with it,” said Duncan. “Through ups and downs, we try to play as steady as we can. It helps that we’re back to full strength. We have all the guys out there. We’re starting to, I think, turn that corner.”

An annual rite of spring.

Noah sears his way into MVP talk

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

JoakimNoah_March13_575x275

CHICAGO – When Joakim Noah switched on screens a couple times Sunday to find himself against LeBron James, the world saw the Chicago Bulls’ adrenalized, frenetic 6-foot-11 center seizing the moment, squaring up and – wait, no, really? – clapping his hands almost in James’ face.

Here he was, isolated against the NBA’s three-time MVP, who had the ball in his hands, the rim 20 feet away and a game to win. Noah might as well have been throwing rocks at a grizzly bear or wading into traffic on the Kennedy.

Noah, though, didn’t see it that way. For an instant on the court at United Center, in some recess of his mind, he was back in Teaneck, N.J., a dozen years ago. James was a high school underclassman from Akron, Ohio, already having his every movement scouted and stalked as the NBA’s next big thing. Noah? He was the gawky kid with the frizzy hair shagging rebounds for James.

LeBron James, Joakim Noah (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James, Joakim Noah (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

“I was a ball boy,” Noah said after a Bulls practice this week, asked about the famous Adidas ABCD basketball camp he first attended as a sophomore. He hadn’t done enough to earn a spot as a player, so he went with his high school coach and rebounded for James, Lenny Cooke, Sebastian Telfair and other phenoms.

Every once in a while, you hear about an NBA player who spent time as a ball boy, helping and staring a lot while navigating wet towels and giant men in locker rooms. This was different, though.

“At least they’re fetching things for guys who are in the NBA,” Noah said. “I was fetching things for guys who were my age. I didn’t have my own bed – slept on the floor.

“I could have been in France with my father [tennis star Yannick Noah], I could have been traveling with my mom [Cecilia Rodhe, Miss Sweden 1978] in the summertime. But I knew that was where I needed to be if I wanted to make it. My dream was to play at that camp, to play in college and to play one day in the NBA.

“Y’know, I think it gives me my underdog mentality. I cherish those times because those are the sacrifices I had to make. Even as a ball boy, it wasn’t humbling – I just knew I had to be there, because it gave me an opportunity to see where I needed to get to.”

James, Noah said, has not mentioned their initial brush in the years since and probably doesn’t remember it.

“I wasn’t ready,” Noah said. “Physically I was a late bloomer. Y’know, I was 6-5 and 140 pounds. They used to call me ‘Stick Man.’ “


VIDEO: Noah’s All-Star journey

> Bringing it every night

James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Miami Heat might have called Noah a few other things Sunday, after he helped Chicago beat them 95-88 with 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks in 42 matinee minutes. The Bulls outworked Miami, getting 27 second-chance points, and Noah outworked everyone else in the building.

In fact, with his father beaming along with other family member in the stands, and with the red meat of the team he “hates” most as the opposition, the ever-emotional Noah seemed about to boil over a few times. He picked up one technical foul in the third quarter for playing keep-away on a dead ball with Miami guard Mario Chalmers. But the dude abided after that, with help from his friends.

“Sometimes I talk to him because you don’t want him to get another tech,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “But he knows his limit. He’s been doing that for years. You really can’t tell him much. He’s ‘Joakim Noah.’ He’s going to do it regardless. But he knows his limits.”

Most of the time, anyway. There was the game at Sacramento Feb. 3, when Noah got bounced in the third quarter after arguing a phantom foul whistled against him. The anger seized up on him and he appeared to drop an F-bomb on each of the three officials before he was hustled off the floor. Noah apologized after the game, but it still cost him a $15,000 fine. It at least gave Noah the distinction of being the first player penalized under new commissioner Adam Silver.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, before Tuesday’s game at United Center, was asked if his roster of adults could accommodate a player who runs as “hot” as Noah.

“I think so,” Popovich said. “He is a highly emotional guy, but he brings it every night. It’s something that infuses the whole team. He sets a standard on the court for the team. Each of us is different, our personalities. He’s like the opposite of Timmy [Duncan] in that respect. Tim is the most introspective and non-emotional guy on the court, but the fire’s burning, just in a different way. … As long as it’s directed for the good of the team, which it obviously is 100 percent, I think it’s great.”

So does the Bulls’ marketing department, which sells the “heart of Chicago basketball” with a commercial that’s nothing more than super-slo-mo video of Noah in full emotional eruption. All spasm and gyrations, sweat and spittle, primal scream, arms pumping, body quaking.

“Does it sometimes go over the edge? Yeah,” former coach-turned-ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said over the weekend. “But would you ever ask him to tone it down? Absolutely not. You have to accept that 99 percent of the time it’s a positive. The 1 percent of the time it’s a negative, you don’t overreact to that. Him and [Tom] Thibodeau, they’re both intense, passionate people. That’s why I think they’re perfect for each other.”

Thibodeau, who signed on as Bulls coach four years ago, had watched Noah from afar and seen the same frenzied guy. Then he went to work with Noah.

“You never want to take that away from a player,” Thibodeau said. “That’s his make-up. It’s who he is. When we were in Boston with Kevin Garnett, Doc [Rivers] once talked to him about [toning down his intensity]. By halftime, Doc was screaming, ‘Go back to being who you are.’ Whatever it is that makes you go, that’s what you’ve got to stay with.”

Noah’s game used to run on emotion and little else. He was a glorified energy guy chosen No. 9 by Chicago in the 2007 Draft, picked after Al Horford and Corey Brewer, his teammates with the Florida Gators. They had won NCAA titles together in 2006 and 2007, but Horford’s and Brewer’s games allegedly translated better to the NBA.

What people didn’t grasp was that Noah, a slow hoops learner in high school and college, would have the same trajectory as a pro. In his sixth NBA season, he became an All-Star. In his seventh, he did it again and has heard his name dropped in MVP and Defensive Player of the Year conversations.

“I think Noah is the best ‘non-scorer’ in the NBA,” Van Gundy said. “He’s not ever going to average 16, 17 points, but you have to take into account his defense, his rebounding, his passing. Tom’s not trying to force him to be something he’s not by scoring in the low post. He’s got him in the high post, initiating offense. It opens up the basket area for the rest of the guys, which really helps.

“Let’s face it, the special teams have those guys who can force double-teams. Chicago doesn’t have that. But you want hard-playing, unselfish, low-maintenance players, too, and that’s exactly what Noah is.”

> Learning to play smart

For someone whose game isn’t best measured by numbers, Noah, 29, has put up some stellar ones. With three triple-doubles in the last month, he became the first center to post three in a season – with assists as one of the categories – since David Robinson in 1993-94. Noah is averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists – 7.1 in his last 16 games – and is trying to join Garnett (six times), Charles Barkley (three) and Anthony Mason (once) as the only players since 1990-91 to average 12.0, 11.0 and 4.5 over a full season.

His knack for facilitating the offense and finding cutters has earned him a “point center” reputation of late, and Noah has gone beyond that.


VIDEO: Noah notches a triple-double against the Knicks

“He’s just playing smart,” Thibodeau said. “He’s playing from the high post a lot and when people get up on him, now he’s reading: Are they sitting on the pass and backing off? If they are, he’s going to make another play. So I think you have to play him honestly. If you try to take the pass away, he’s going to score. That’s what I like, he’s making quick decisions, that’s probably the most important thing.”

Thibodeau said that, contrary to some elite players who add particular moves or skills each summer, Noah has ratcheted up his game across the board. After four years of continuity with Thibodeau’s system, he has blossomed.

“He’s not getting a lot of iso’s or plays where he gets on the block and gets post-ups,” said San Antonio forward Boris Diaw, Noah’s teammate in international competition on France’s national team. “He’s getting points a different way, which is hard. But he’s a hard roller [on pick-and-rolls], he’s getting in the slots all the time. He’s smart, getting always in the right place at the right moment. And getting a lot of offensive rebounds and second chances.”

Said Noah:

“I’m just being myself. I’m working on my game. I’ve never felt so confident as a basketball player. Derrick [Rose] gives me a lot of confidence, too, always telling me what I need to work on, what type of shots I’ve got to take for when he comes back.”

It is a long way off, but Thibodeau and Noah are eagerly awaiting the day Rose returns from his second season lost to knee injuries. Maybe, Rose can throttle back some of his explosive fury thanks to facets added this season by Noah.

“That’s the plan,” Noah said. “I feel like I can affect the game in a lot of different ways. And I think Derrick can as well. I’m not worried about none of [the doubts about Rose's future], because I know his mind is in the right place and he knows my mind is in the right place. All the other stuff – the accolades and all that – it’s bigger than that.”

> Getting his due

The MVP talk – even if he’s destined to be no higher than No. 3 on anyone’s ballot, slotting in somewhere after Kevin Durant and James – makes Noah uncomfortable. He’d welcome the DPOY, though he’d never campaign for it, nor for all-NBA center status that will focus both on him and his matchup Thursday against Houston’s Dwight Howard.

Howard told NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan that he was looking forward to the matchup and planned to have fun against Noah when the Rockets and Bulls clashed. Noah talked about Howard as a guy he has known since high school, too, and who finally looks happy and healthy in Houston.

Noah, while healthier than he’s been in years (mostly avoiding plantar fascitis foot issues), isn’t quite ready to be happy. Not the way he’ll be if he, Rose, Thibs and the rest – minus friend Luol Deng (a midseason blow emotionally when he was traded) – get someday what Miami has.

In the meantime, he’ll get low in his defensive crouch and, whether it’s against point guards, centers or the best player on the planet, clap excitedly in the other man’s face. So what if he is risking the most glaring sort of embarrassment in those moments? (For the record, Noah and James split their little showdowns, Noah getting a stop and triggering a fast break once, James cutting by him for a left-handed layup on the other.)

“It’s the life we choose,” Noah said smiling. “Being in the public eye, playing basketball in front of a lot of people who are watching. I’m an emotional guy, that’s who I’ve always been, if there were 10 people at an AAU game or now. I’m not going to change who I am.

“I feel lucky. There’s not a lot of jobs where you can just make a play and scream as loud as you can. There’s nobody sitting at the office who’s going to stand up and scream. It’d be like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ “

It’s all going on for Noah these days, and he can’t help but share it.

Banged-Up Spurs Find Footing After (Another) Solid Rodeo Road Trip


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talks about Kawhi Leonard’s expected return to the lineup

OK, so maybe Tim Duncan wasn’t just a frisky young colt the last time the Spurs played a game at the AT&T Center. It could be that Manu Ginobili didn’t have his long, flowing hair that flopped in the wind when he flopped on the court or that Tony Parker was still coach Gregg Popovich’s favorite teenaged whipping boy.

It just seems that long ago.

When Rudy Gay’s last ditch 3-pointer missed on Feb. 1, the Spurs were able to claw past the Kings to end a three-game losing streak, hoping to crawl out of town in search of recuperation and recovery.

That’s exactly what the Spurs found on their annual rodeo road trip that might once more have saved their season. The Spurs have been forced to vacate their arena for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo for an extended stretch each season since 2003 and have never brought home a losing record in their luggage.

This time, the Spurs traveled 8,989 miles through four time zones and left with a broken lineup that had been missing three starters — Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — and before the journey left the East Coast in Boston, Parker and Tiago Splitter had to take their turns on the shelf.

Yet they returned with an unlikely 6-3 mark that keeps them No. 2 in the Western Conference entering their first home game in 25 nights against the Pistons (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It was an experience that while testing their depth, resolve and supply of bandages in their medical kit could once again give the Spurs the faith in the full roster and the necessary belief in themselves again down the stretch toward the playoffs.

“We’ve been looking for some consistency, and I saw more of that on the trip,” Duncan told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News. “I saw the effort and execution. We’re still making a lot of mistakes, but that might just be me being around Pop too long and trying to be a perfectionist.

“We’ve improved, our confidence is there, and to see we’re operating with our 10th, 11th and 12th guys just like we are with the first guys will be huge for us and pay dividends down the stretch.”

Popovich for years has monitored and kept a lid on the minutes of his core players while maximizing virtually every man on his roster. But this Rodeo Trip might have been his best work yet. Green returned for the first game of the trip, but Leonard (nine), Ginobili (six), Splitter (four), Duncan (one) Boris Diaw (one) and Aron Baynes (one) each missed games during the trip. Parker missed the last three games because of assorted aches and pains and Popovich said he will continue to rest “for the foreseeable future.”

The Spurs even got a big win at Portland on a night when they played without the starting trio of Duncan, Parker and Leonard.

“Good trip for us,” Duncan said. “We would love to have played better (in Phoenix), but we’ve got a couple days to rest now, and hopefully we can continue to add people back to the squad and get ready for some home games finally.”

After a solid 35-6 record a year ago, the Spurs have already lost eight home games this season. They were staggering and lacked sharp execution, which made rediscovering their cohesiveness and how they play more important than where they play.

Returning home doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the lineup for Parker. After playing so deep into June in The Finals with the Spurs, Parker spent last summer playing for the French national team and led an unprecedented charge for a first-ever championship. Though the summer play kept him sharp for 2013-14, it also clearly sapped his energy and might have led to his nagging injuries. That’s why Popovich is sitting Parker now and remains determined not to put him back into the lineup until Parker is fully recovered, rested and playoff-ready.

It means Parker’s teammates will have to keep the rodeo trip attitude rolling, especially backup point guard Patty Mills.

“I think as long as the emotion, the passion, is always there, you can get it done,” Popovich said. “Look at (Russell) Westbrook, how long he was out. Look at Chris (Paul), what the Clippers did when he was out.

“When you’re on a team with a bunch of guys who care and want to be the last team standing, it’s not so much turning it on and off. It’s just the team rolls without you, just keeps going. Then you plug yourself back in. That’s what good teams do.”

Once again, the long road of the rodeo trip has brought the Spurs home with a deeper sense of who they can be.


VIDEO: Patty Mills discusses the Spurs’ big win over the L.A. Clippers

Without Westbrook, Ibaka Keeps Soaring

VIDEO: Serge Ibaka talks about OKC’s winning ways on Arena Link

OKLAHOMA CITY – How many Western Conference power forwards do you check off before getting to Serge Ibaka?

Blake Griffin. Kevin Love. LaMarcus Aldridge. Dirk Nowitzki. Tim Duncan. Anthony Davis. Zach Randolph. David Lee. Hard to quibble. All are All-Stars, recent past or present.

“There [are] so many good power forwards, and so many good point guards, in the West that he does kind of get lost in the shuffle,” Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “But we understand what he brings to our team. He’s definitely [at] an All-Star level in my eyes and what he does for our team: He rebounds, he blocks shots, he alters shots, his rebounds have gone up, his shooting percentage is high, his points have gone up.”

Ibaka is also only 24 years old, which makes his progression to a career-best 15.0 ppg (11th in the league among power forwards), career-best 8.8 rpg (8th), 2.5 bpg (2nd) and 19 double-doubles (10th) midway through his fifth season seem astronomical, and his potential off the charts. That the chiseled, 6-foot-10 force of nature, taken 24th in the 2008 Draft (his first NBA season was 2009-10), is under contract with the Thunder through the 2016-17 season at a rate that never eclipses $12.35 million is another feather in management’s already blooming cap.

Ibaka and Russell Westbrook have developed such a lethal connection that when the point guard left the lineup after the Christmas Day game to undergo a third surgery on his right knee, there was some trepidation that Ibaka’s offensive contributions would suffer.

That has not occurred because Ibaka and Kevin Durant have been terrific together. Durant’s has assisted on one-third of (54-for-160) Ibaka’s baskets since Westbrook went down. Since, Ibaka has averaged 15.9 ppg on 56.7-percent shooting.

“We have a better connection in the halfcourt offense,” Ibaka said of he and Durant whereas he and Westbrook work so well together in the open floor. “He has confidence in me. I know when he is going to pass to me. I just have to catch the ball. My first part of this is I owe it to him to get him open, so when he can get open, the defense starts to go to him, so then I know, ‘OK, now it’s my turn.’ I am going to get open and I know he is going to pass it to me, so I am going to make plays for myself and for my teammates.”

Ibaka’s midrange game continues to be one of the best in the league. He is hitting 47.8 percent of his shots taken outside the paint and inside the 3-point arc. Coming off a screen, Durant typically gets doubled and he finds Ibaka for the pick-and-pop jumper he loves from the top of the circle, or Ibaka rolls to the basket, an aspect of his game Brooks says has vastly improved.

“When he does roll, he’s ready to catch and finish right away and he’s seeing the pickers much quicker,” Brooks said.”That sounds easy and looks easy, but there’s a lot of work that goes into that. You have to be able to catch the ball on the fly and put yourself in a position not to get a charge and, if there is a guy, you have to make sure you make the right pass, and you have to do that all within a second.

“He’s understanding, with all the work that we’ve put him through in practice to simulate those opportunities, and I think it’s really paying off.”

Ibaka’s true shooting percentage (adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws) is 54.0 percent, fourth-best among power forwards behind Amir Johnson, Kenneth Faried and Boris Diaw. But Ibaka averages, at the minimum, four more shots per game and almost five more points per game.

According to NBA.com/stats, Ibaka is connecting on 49.2 percent of his shots from 10-14 feet; 46.3 percent from 15-19 feet; and 38.9 percent from 20-24 feet. He’s 13-for-37 for 35.1 percent from beyond the arc, a percentage plenty of guards could live with.

So, what happens when Westbrook returns as he is scheduled to do after the All-Star break? Ibaka smiles.

“I am going to have Russ and I am going to have Kevin,” Ibaka said. “We are going to be more dangerous. You know, Russ is more go-go, ‘I’m open;’ me and Kevin [are] more halfcourt. I think it is going to be great, man. I can’t wait to have Russ back. I can’t wait.”

Spurs Bury Past By Playing For Today


VIDEO: Charles Barkley gives credit to Spurs before joking on city of San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — It’s still there, rattling around inside their heads like a ghost in the attic.

Whether you’re Danny Green willfully using the harsh memory as a painful everyday fuel or you’re Manu Ginobili trying hard to push it back into the shadows, it’s as much a part of what they take onto the court as their sneakers and jerseys.

Those 28 seconds at the end of Game 6 in the NBA Finals when the Spurs let a five-point lead over the Heat and a fifth franchise championship slip through their hands is now who they are and, maybe because of that, what they can be. Again.

They are the same old Spurs for whom the camouflage uniforms they wore against the Wizards were redundant, since nobody ever seems to notice them until they get to the end of yet another 50-win season. It’s a league record 14 in a row and counting.

These Spurs have won six straight, running their record up to 8-1, which trails only the unbeaten Pacers in a year after when it might seem natural to have a hangover.

“I’m sure it crosses everybody’s mind once in a while,” Green said. “I’m sure it gets brought up in a lot of conversations, not just with (media), but with mutual friends, family.

“This is a new year, a new season. You try to let that go, but I think it’s a good motivational tool that could keep us at it. February, March, sure. Let it keep pushing us.”

The veteran Ginobili takes the opposite approach.

“If somebody asks me, you can’t force not to remember it,” he said. “But if not, I’m just focused on … the next game and my health and the next game and trying to get better. I really don’t think about what happened last year.

“It’s something that we’re going to have in the back of our heads forever. It’s not that it’s going to leave. I still remember the semifinals I lost in 1997 with the Under-22 team (in Argentina) because it was a game like that. So it is going to stay there forever. You’re going to bring it when you need to, not on an everyday basis because it doesn’t help.”

What helps is simply getting back to the basics, getting back to what the Spurs do best, which is to play the game to their own selflessly exacting standard that comes together like a symphony.

“San Antonio runs offense perfectly,” said Wizards center Marcin Gortat. “It was like listening to Mozart. It’s just ridiculous how they play.”

What would seem insanely impossible anywhere else is that the Spurs have sprinted out of the starting gate while other would-be contenders — Grizzlies, Nets, Clippers, Rockets — stumble, all with perennial All-Star Tim Duncan struggling to find his shot.

When Duncan went 1-for-12 against the Wiz, it was the third time this season that he scored a single field goal. He is shooting 32 of 83 (.386) to open his 17th NBA season and matched his single-game career low with two points. Nevertheless, the Spurs have trailed for a total of only 11 seconds in their last four wins over Golden State, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

It has been about Tony Parker setting the pace with his scoring, passing and constantly attacking style on offense, about Green getting back his shooting stroke following a bumpy start, Kawhi Leonard continuing to bloom and Ginobili coming back healthy and confident to begin the season. The Spurs are also getting production up and down the lineup from Tiago Splitter to Marco Belinelli to Boris Diaw.

While everyone on the outside keeps looking at the calendar and the clock and thinking that the time running out on the Spurs Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili would make them lost in the fog of what got away last June, the point that’s missed is the sense of urgency they take into each season, each game, every possession at both ends of the court.

The Spurs simply keep playing the game according to the Xs and Os you would expect to see drawn up in a coach’s textbook, based on an organizational style and philosophy that is plainly demanding and with an inherent sense of responsibility to the whole.

“We don’t talk about it as a group,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “We did that the beginning of the year like we do every year. We start with the end of the season before, whoever knocked us out of the playoffs. We go through that film … We went over it in every single detail. We do it excruciatingly, honestly … We already did it, so there’s no sense doing it again.

“But you never forget that. I still remember 0.4 (when Derek Fisher’s 18-foot fadeaway for the Lakers beat San Antonio in Game 5 of the 2004 West semifinals). It goes through once every month or something.

“The Miami thing goes through my head every day. Pretty soon it will be every two days and then it will be every week and every month. That’s the way it is. Everybody remembers things good and bad. It’s not something to be dwelled on. Like I told the team, it’s just another episode in your life, one of the easier ones that you’ll face. When you think about all the things we have to face — family-wise and friends-wise and all that stuff. The things that go on in our lives, basketball, that’s a joke compared to the real stuff.”

Which is how the Spurs inch away from the past while keeping it within everything they do today.

FIBA Wrap: France Takes Eurobasket Gold

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The gold medal game at EuroBasket was a matchup of the tournament’s second best offense and its third best defense. The offense was better as France won its first ever EuroBasket title with an easy 80-66 victory over Lithuania on Sunday.

France’s offense is a thing of beauty when it’s clicking, and it was doing just that in the final. No big heroics were needed from Tony Parker, who scored just 12 points. Nicolas Batum led France with 17, while Boris Diaw added 15.

A big first quarter from Linas Kleiza had Lithuania up three, but France closed the second period on a 14-0 run to take control. They shot just 5-for-21 from 3-point range, but outrebounded Lithuania 42-35. They knocked off two-time defending EuroBasket champion Spain on Friday and backed that win up with the gold medal on Sunday, the biggest win in French basketball history.

NBA TV will air the final at 5 p.m. ET on Monday and again at 12:30 a.m. ET Tuesday.

Earlier on Sunday, Spain blew out Croatia to win the bronze medal. Spain lost four times, but finished with, by far, the tournament’s best point differential. The four losses were by an average of 5.3 points and their seven wins were by an average of 27.3.

So men’s FIBA action is wrapped up for 2013. Over the course of five events and 237 total games, 18 teams qualified for next year’s World Cup of Basketball. Here’s the field as it stands, with the U.S. and Spain having pre-qualified and four wildcards to be determined later this year…

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Mexico FIBA Americas champion
12 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas second place
13 Argentina FIBA Americas third place
14 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas fourth place
15 France Eurobasket champion
16 Lithuania Eurobasket second place
17 Croatia Eurobasket 4th place
18 Slovenia Eurobasket 5th place
19 Ukraine Eurobasket 6th place
20 Serbia Eurobasket 7th place
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

France won the biggest tournament and Spain is still the best team outside the U.S. But the most dominant team this summer was Iran, which went 9-0 at the FIBA Asia championship, outscoring its opponents by more than 42 points per 100 possessions behind the interior defense and rebounding of Hamed Haddadi.

Of course, there were some really bad teams at FIBA Asia (Malaysia shot 27 percent from the field), as well as at FIBA Africa, where Angola went 7-0 and outscored its opponents by over 27 points per 100 possessions. But we can get a decent idea of where teams were weak and strong by looking at their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers.

Overall, FIBA Americas was the most efficient tournament of the four. Here are the OffRtg (points scored per 100 possessions) numbers for each tournament…
FIBA Africa: 90.9
FIBA Americas: 105.1
FIBA Asia: 98.2
Eurobasket: 102.8

(Yeah, be happy you didn’t watch those FIBA Africa games.)

And here are the numbers for the 17 World Cup qualifiers that played at the four big tournaments this summer. We’re not including FIBA Oceania qualifiers Australia and New Zealand here, because they just played a two-game series against each other.

World Cup of Basketball qualifiers, 2013 stats

Event Team OffRtg RK AdjO ORK DefRtg RK AdjD ORK NetRtg RK
Africa Angola 104.2 2 +13.3 3 77.0 3 -13.8 5 +27.2 1
Africa Egypt 86.8 9 -4.1 39 89.6 6 -1.3 24 -2.8 8
Africa Senegal 84.9 11 -6.0 46 87.1 5 -3.8 14 -2.2 7
Americas Argentina 110.9 2 +5.9 13 102.9 4 -2.2 19 +8.0 2
Americas Dominican Rep. 108.7 4 +3.6 18 102.8 3 -2.2 17 +5.9 5
Americas Mexico 111.8 1 +6.7 12 104.1 6 -1.0 25 +7.7 3
Americas Puerto Rico 109.5 3 +4.4 16 103.1 5 -2.0 20 +6.4 4
Asia Iran 117.7 1 +19.5 1 75.6 1 -22.6 1 +42.1 1
Asia Korea 111.4 2 +13.2 4 86.8 2 -11.4 6 +24.6 2
Asia Philippines 107.6 5 +9.3 7 95.3 5 -3.0 16 +12.3 4
Eurobasket Croatia 102.0 13 -0.7 34 101.9 8 -0.9 26 +0.2 8
Eurobasket France 110.5 2 +7.8 10 100.6 5 -2.2 18 +10.0 2
Eurobasket Lithuania 104.1 11 +1.4 28 96.1 3 -6.7 11 +8.1 3
Eurobasket Serbia 105.5 7 +2.8 22 108.1 21 +5.4 51 -2.6 11
Eurobasket Slovenia 104.7 10 +2.0 27 104.0 12 +1.2 32 +0.8 7
Eurobasket Spain 109.8 3 +7.1 11 88.7 1 -14.0 4 +21.1 1
Eurobasket Ukraine 100.8 16 -2.0 38 105.7 16 +2.9 40 -4.9 16

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
AdjO = Points scored per 100 possessions, compared to event average
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
AdjD = Points allowed per 100 possessions, compared to event average
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
RK = Rank within that event
ORK = Rank among 65 teams in four events

Four teams – Egypt, Senegal, Serbia and Ukraine – qualified with negative point differentials. And there were teams that played better overall, but failed to earn an automatic bid.

Wildcard candidates, 2013 stats

Event Team OffRtg RK AdjO ORK DefRtg RK AdjD ORK NetRtg RK
Africa Nigeria 109.4 1 +18.5 2 93.8 9 +2.9 41 +15.6 5
Africa Tunisia 98.8 3 +7.9 8 81.7 4 -9.2 7 +17.1 4
Americas Brazil 94.9 9 -10.2 58 107.4 7 +2.3 38 -12.5 8
Americas Canada 107.0 5 +2.0 26 97.6 1 -7.5 10 +9.5 1
Asia China 110.7 3 +12.4 5 90.2 3 -8.0 9 +20.4 3
Eurobasket Greece 110.6 1 +7.8 9 104.0 13 +1.3 33 +6.6 4
Eurobasket Italy 105.2 9 +2.4 25 102.5 10 -0.3 28 +2.7 6
Eurobasket Latvia 105.3 8 +2.6 24 99.7 4 -3.1 15 +5.6 5
Eurobasket Russia 97.8 19 -5.0 43 104.5 15 +1.8 36 -6.8 19
Eurobasket Turkey 103.5 12 +0.7 30 113.3 24 +10.6 59 -9.9 22

Again, the Africa and Asia teams look the best by the numbers, but Canada, Greece and Italy are probably the most deserving, given the competition that they faced. It’s pretty amazing that three teams in the top six in NetRtg at EuroBasket failed to finish in the top seven.

Brazil played terribly at FIBA Americas, but by adding a few of its NBA players — Leandro Barbosa, Vitor Faverani, Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao — it can make the most upgrades to its roster for the WCOB. Canada, with Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk, can make some too.

Along with Brazil (9), Greece (4), Russia (6), Turkey (7) and China (11) all had places in the top 11 of FIBA’s rankings before the summer began. Those rankings will change now, but picking four wildcards will not be easy.

Parker Leads France To World Cup Berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With an impressive, quarterfinal win over hosts Slovenia, France became the 15th team to qualify for next year’s World Cup of Basketball and set up what could be a terrific EuroBasket semifinal matchup with Spain on Friday.

Slovenia and Serbia, who got crushed by Spain, now head to the loser’s bracket. They’ll play Thursday (8:30 a.m. ET) with another WCOB berth on the line. The loser of that game will head to the critical seventh place game on Saturday.

France-Slovenia was a pretty ugly game in the first half, but France took control with a 10-0 run early in the third quarter. Slovenia got back to within three, but couldn’t tie or take the lead. France opened things up again in the fourth quarter behind their NBA big three and held on for a 10-point win.

Tony Parker led the way with 27 points on 9-for-20 shooting, while Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw combined for 24. Slovenia got 18 points from Goran Dragic, but shot poorly and allowed France too many second chances on the glass.

In the day’s first game, Spain simply ran over Serbia. A big first quarter from Rudy Fernandez, a big second quarter from Sergio Rodriguez and the tournament’s best defense gave Spain a 25-point lead at halftime. They shot 13-for-25 from 3-point range and led by as many as 40 in the third quarter.

The other two quarterfinals will take place after the Serbia-Slovenia game on Friday. At 11:45 a.m. ET, Croatia faces Ukraine and at 3 p.m. ET, Lithuania plays Italy. The winners of those two games will face each other in the semifinals on Friday and join France and the winner of Serbia-Slovenia in the WCOB field.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Mexico FIBA Americas champion
12 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas second place
13 Argentina FIBA Americas third place
14 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas fourth place
15 France Eurobasket semifinalist
16 Croatia/Ukraine winner Eurobasket semifinalist
17 Lithuania/Italy winner Eurobasket semifinalist
18 Serbia/Slovenia winner Eurobasket 5th/6th place
19 Eurobasket 5th/6th place
20 Eurobasket 7th place
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

16 NBA Players Still Going At EuroBasket

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With training camps set to open in less than two weeks, most NBA players are getting back to their places of business and working out with their teammates.

Several guys, however, are in Slovenia, representing their countries at EuroBasket. Sixteen teams have gone home and eight remain, playing for national pride and seven spots in next year’s World Cup of Basketball. EuroBasket has been the best basketball of the summer and the single-elimination action starts Wednesday.

Here’s the quarterfinal schedule:
Serbia (E1) vs. Spain (F4), Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. ET (NBA TV)
Slovenia (F2) vs. France (E3), Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Croatia (F1) vs. Ukraine (E4), Thursday, 11:45 a.m. ET
Lithuania (E2) vs. Italy (F3), Thursday, 3 p.m. ET

And here are the 16 NBA players still playing, with some notes on how they’ve done so far…

Nicolas Batum (Blazers) – France
His stats: 28.1 MPG, 11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, .463 FG%, 7-for-31 3PT
The buzz: Batum has been filling the box score (as he’s known to do). He had 19 points, 10 boards, six assists, a steal and a block in last Friday’s win over Latvia. But he’s had some rough shooting nights from beyond the arc.

Marco Belinelli (Spurs) – Italy
His stats: 31.6 MPG, 14.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, .369 FG%, 11-for-34 3PT
The buzz: Belinelli is Italy’s primary ball-handler, a different role than he’s played in the NBA. He’s had some big games, but will be facing one of the tournament’s toughest defenses in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Jose Calderon (Mavs) – Spain
His stats: 23.4 MPG, 9.4 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, .458 FG%, 18-for-37 3PT
The buzz: Sharing the backcourt with Ricky Rubio, Calderon has been playing a lot of two guard for Spain. But that’s OK, because every team needs a secondary ball-handler and he’s also a great shooter. He has a 24/8 assist/turnover ratio and has hit three or more 3-pointers in four of Spain’s eight games.

Victor Claver (Blazers) – Spain
His stats: 17.9 MPG, 4.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, .412 FG%, 5-for-15 3PT
The buzz: Claver is a terrific rebounder starting at power forward and doing the dirty work for Spain. He’s averaging almost 11 boards per 36 minutes at Eurobasket and had 11 in just 24 minutes before fouling out against Greece. He has drained a few threes, but probably spends a little too much time hanging out on the perimeter.

Luigi Datome (Pistons) – Italy
His stats: 29.9 MPG, 14.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, .488 FG%, 15-for-36 3PT
The buzz: The Pistons’ rookie has had a couple of big games and sent Monday’s thriller against Spain to overtime with a driving layup at the buzzer. He can shoot and will be a decent role player in the league, but will need to play off Detroit’s playmakers. He’s not very mobile or skilled off the dribble.

Nando De Colo (Spurs) – France
His stats: 20.3 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.9 APG, .413 FG%, 11-for-26 3PT
The buzz: Coming off the bench for France, De Colo shot well early in the tournament, but has cooled off of late.

Boris Diaw (Spurs) – France
His stats: 28.1 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.4 APG, .508 FG%, 3-for-12 3PT
The buzz: Tony Parker is the star in France, but it’s Diaw’s passing from the high post that can really make the French offense click. Though Parker has the ball in his hands more, Diaw has almost as many dimes.

Goran Dragic (Suns) – Slovenia
His stats: 23.3 MPG, 15.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.4 APG, .392 FG%, 8-for-32 3PT
The buzz: Dragic is a terror on the break and has had some big games for the tournament’s hosts, including 28 points in a win over Greece on Saturday. The shooting numbers look ugly, because he missed his first 11 threes of the tournament. His matchup against Parker could be the best of the quarterfinals.

Marc Gasol (Grizzlies) – Spain
His stats: 29.5 MPG, 13.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, .521 FG%, 3-for-6 3PT
The buzz: Though Gasol had 32 points and 10 boards in Monday’s overtime loss to Italy, his offensive numbers don’t make it clear that he’s one of the two best players in the tournament. But he’s anchored Eurobasket’s No. 1 defense, which has allowed 16.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than the tourney average.

Mickael Gelabale (Wolves) – France
His stats: 25.5 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, .449 FG%, 8-for-23 3PT
The buzz: Like De Colo, Gelable shot well early on (7-for-15 from 3-point range in the first round), but has since cooled off (1-for-8) in Round 2. He’s in France’s starting lineup for his defense, but can provide some scoring off the ball.

Viacheslav Kravtsov (Suns) – Ukraine
His stats: 17.9 MPG, 6.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.4 BPG, .436 FG%
The buzz: Ukraine’s only NBA player is its fifth leading scorer. Kravtsov is a big body who needs more polish in the post.

Donatas Motiejunas (Rockets) – Lithuania
His stats: 11.6 MPG, 5.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, .486 FG%, 4-for-12 3PT
The buzz: Lithuania is deep up front and Motiejunas was barely playing  earlier in the tournament (he picked up three fouls in eight minutes against Bosnia). But he totaled 23 points in 39 minutes in Lithuania’s last two games, helping them secure a spot in the quarters.

Nemanja Nedovic (Warriors) – Serbia
His stats: 26.0 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, .368 FG%, 11-for-38 3PT
The buzz: With the absence of Hang Time favorite Milos Teodosic, Nedovic – the No. 30 pick in the 2013 Draft – has been starting at point guard for Serbia. He’s solid and can shoot off the dribble, but he doesn’t have the quickness to be much of a threat on the pick-and-roll. But he doesn’t need to be a real floor general with a team like Serbia, that moves the ball pretty well.

Tony Parker (Spurs) – France
His stats: 27.9 MPG, 17.3 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 3.9 APG, .532 FG%, 7-for-26 3PT
The buzz: The best offensive player in the tournament is leading the No. 1 offense. Parker has been a terror on the pick-and-roll (no surprise there), but his pull-up jumper has been a little shaky. France has a lot of work to get through Slovenia on Wednesday, but a semifinal matchup against Spain could be the game of the tournament.

Ricky Rubio (Wolves) – Spain
His stats: 21.4 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, .446 FG%, 3-for-7 3PT
The buzz: Against defenses that are packing the paint (there’s no defensive three-second rule in FIBA), Rubio isn’t as dynamic a playmaker as he is in the league. He’s done a decent job of making opponents pay for going under the screen, stepping up and knocking down the mid-range jumper. But shooting is probably why Calderon has played more minutes.

Jonas Valanciunas (Raptors) – Lithuania
His stats: 17.4 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 1.0 BPG, .697 FG%
The buzz: Continuing his excellent play from Summer League, Valanciunas has made 23 of his 33 shots and is averaging 16.3 points and 12.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. But Lithuania is deep up front, so his playing time has been somewhat limited. He had a double-double in just 13 minutes against Belgium on last Friday. We’ll see if he gets more minutes in the elimination rounds.

FIBA Update: Three Teams Clinch Berths In Eurobasket Quarterfinals

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Things got a little clearer at Eurobasket on Friday, as Group E continued to sort itself out with three games.

In the first game, Lithuania used a huge second quarter (26-9) to blow past and eliminate Belgium. Jonas Valanciunas made the most of his 13 minutes, registering 12 points, 10 rebounds and a block.

In Game 2, Ukraine stayed alive by handing Serbia its first Group E loss. The difference was a 14-2 run early in the third quarter, led by Maxym Korniyenko, who finished with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting.

In the final game on Friday, France came out on fire, scoring 31 points in the first quarter, and held on to beat Latvia and clinch a spot in the quarterfinals. France can be a lot of fun to watch when they’re playing well and they got big games from Tony Parker (23 points), Nicolas Batum (19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists) and Boris Diaw (16 points, nine rebounds) on Friday.

So here’s the deal in Group E: France, Lithuania and Serbia are all 3-1 and in the quarterfinals. Belgium, 0-4, has been eliminated. And the group’s fourth spot in the quarterfinals will go to either Ukraine (2-2) or Latvia (1-3).

Latvia won the head-to-head matchup, has the tiebreaker, and has a decent shot at earning the tie on Sunday, because they play play Belgium, while Ukraine must face Lithuania.

Before we get there, Group F will play three big games on Saturday.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Mexico FIBA Americas champion
12 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas second place
13 Argentina FIBA Americas third place
14 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas fourth place
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.