Posts Tagged ‘Cory Joseph’

Could be time for Spurs to tweak lineup


VIDEO: GameTime previews Spurs-Thunder Game 5

SAN ANTONIO -- It wasn’t just Serge Ibaka’s miracle trip to Lourdes or a visit to the gods of Thunder that turned around the entire look and feel of the Western Conference finals. OKC coach Scott Brooks also jumped guard Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup in place of Thabo Sefolosha and the offense has since been cooking.

While all of the official talk out of the Spurs’ camp the past two days has been about attitude and energy and determination, there is still speculation that Gregg Popovich could come back with a change of his own tonight for Game 5 (9 ET, TNT).

Would the Spurs consider benching Tiago Splitter and getting Boris Diaw’s outside shooting into the starting lineup to try to pull Ibaka way from the basket? Would they think about going small with Kawhi Leonard at power forward? And what of Cory Joseph and Matt Bonner, who came hustled off the bench in Game 4 to make the final score respectable?

“Ask him,” Manu Ginobili said, pointing to Popovich, when asked about lineup changes. “I’m not allowed to say anything.”

Popovich, of course, isn’t revealing anything, except to say, “we’re considering a couple of tweaks here and there, just in the plan. I don’t know exactly where that will be. But we saw some things that might warrant a little tweaking.”

Diaw told the media at Thursday’s shootaround that he was not starting. However, that means nothing.

Diaw did acknowledge that he was successful going against the Thunder’s small lineup in the first two games of the series.

“But since Ibaka came back, they don’t play small as much,” he said.  “So we actually like it when they play small. It’s when they play big that we have a hard time the last couple of games to score inside.  But whatever they give us we got to find a solution.”

Diaw said it makes sense to take advantage of his ability to score from the outside to possibly get Ibaka out of the low post, where he has disrupted and distracted the Spurs whenever they’ve gotten the ball into the paint.

“For sure,” he said. “Shooting from outside, he’s a guy that’s helping a lot so we got to try to keep him out of the paint.

“There are some open shots that we don’t take.  There are also some contested shots that we shouldn’t take, should be more patient, move the ball a little more so we can be open. We have got to pass the ball more. Because it’s what we have been doing all year. So we have got to find a way to move the ball enough so we get open shots.”

Perhaps one good tweak deserves another.

Will Game 4 horror show fuel Spurs?


VIDEO: GameTime previews Spurs-Thunder Game 5

SAN ANTONIO – While much of America has been caught up watching Godzilla wreak havoc on movie screens, the Spurs got ready for Game 5 of the Western Conference finals with a horror show of their own.

No popcorn or Coke, but there were plenty of reasons for those in the audience to cover their eyes and scream when they watched video of Game 4.

“A lot of things,” said Manu Ginobili following Thursday’s shootaround. “We played terrible in both games, in every aspect of the game. They scored too much, went to the line too much. We were not smart enough. We have to play close to perfection to beat them, especially over there. We were way too far from that, so we had no shot.”

Why did that happen?

“Because the opponent changes,” he said. “If we play the same opponent under the same conditions, we would play the same every same. Loose balls and you miss a couple shots, and things start to change in your head, in your team. Every game is different. For sure, they are a tough team. They are athletic, they are strong and they play even better at home. That’s basketball.”

The only one in the cast that got rave reviews was Cory Joseph for the way he fearlessly went at the Thunder.

“He was the one that played the most aggressive, that challenged them, that played physical,” Ginobili said. “We were not. We were slow. We really have to see how he played and how he attacked the basket, how he penetrated and kicked, something we all have to do. Because if we don’t, if we don’t get 10 guys playing like that, we don’t have many chances. That’s what we did in Games 1 and 2.”

A lot of actors say they don’t like watching themselves up on the screen and that went double for a film session that was tough on everyone else in a black and silver uniform.

“Very,” Ginobili said. “You hope your next trip you’re not there. We were watching the second half, I said ‘OK. I’m safe now.’ Sometimes you’re embarrassed to see what you did. You think you’re doing your best, rotating, and you’re slow and they’re more aggressive than us. It’s painful, but it helps you learn and understand the multiple things we did wrong and can do better. We might even lose again playing a great game. But to look in each others’ faces to say we gave it everything we had, we played smarter, they just beat us. That’s where we have to get to, a point where we play much harder and much smarter.”

To avoid getting flattened like Tokyo again.

Pop’s Game 4 retreat is no surrender


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich discusses Game 4

SAN ANTONIO – Let’s face it. If any other coach in the NBA — maybe on the planet — had done what Gregg Popovich did in Game 4, he’d be online toast by now.

Just imagine what would be left of poor little Scott Brooks if he tried that stunt in OKC.

Down by 20 just five minutes into the third quarter, the Spurs’ boss called off his dogs. After all, there are only so many times he can watch them roll over and play dead and still thinks it’s a cute trick.

Trouble is, 19 minutes in this league that is built on runs and streaks and offensive explosions is an eternity and the question was asked in more than a few corners why a coach who once snarled and told his team during a timeout that he wanted “some nasty” folded his tent so politely.

“Thursday,” Pop said.

He meant, of course, Game 5 at the AT&T Center, where the Spurs’ season — if not their era as a championship contender — hangs in the balance.

Yes, Pop surrendered for a night. But just to throw the only punch he’s got left.

If Russell Westbrook brings his 40-point, 10-rebound, five-steal game, maybe it won’t matter much what the Spurs try to do. Not with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka also there to stamp the Western Conference for certain as their domain to rule for the foreseeable future.

Popovich spoke of the Thunder’s superior athleticism and length and noted that it gives you just a small margin of error. That margin was long gone in Game 4 and there was no sense chasing a pipe dream.

All, really, that Popovich was doing was following his instincts and his philosophy on managing playing time and energy expended that he’s relied on for years. Whether it’s November and it’s the end of a five games in eight nights stretch at Miami or it’s late May and the Western Conference finals, Pop watches his veterans and he watches their minutes.

With a 38-year-old Tim Duncan, 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker turning 32, Popovich has never watched and micro-managed minutes more. Not a single Spurs player averaged 30 minutes per game this season.

No matter the specific circumstance, the belief is that no one night of overextending an individual is worth the long term goal of being healthy and fresh for the grueling playoff run.

None of the Spurs looked fresh on Tuesday night. They were all outrun, out-jumped, out-hustled and outworked. Not quite three minutes into the third quarter, there was a sequence where Duncan and OKC’s Kendrick Perkins got their arms locked and tangled in the low post. It evoked a rare angry reaction from Duncan. When play resumed, Duncan turned to put up a short jumper and Ibaka blocked it solidly and even sent Duncan flailing and falling to the floor. Two minutes later, Pop pulled the plug.

While it was interesting to see the Spurs eventually fall behind by as many as 27 and then have the bomb squad of Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner and Jeff Ayres use sheer hustle to cut it to 12, that’s all it was, interesting.

Steve Kerr mentioned on the TNT telecast that if the lead got under double-digits, Popovich might have to consider returning his to starters to chase the win.

Uh-uh. Not for even a second.

Pop knows his team and he knows the situation his Spurs are now in. There isn’t a strategic adjustment that’s going to turn the series around, suddenly make the Thunder look less youthful and less athletic.

The only chance in Game 5 — and for all intents and purposes, the season — is to meet that OKC athleticism with as much energy as those old Spurs legs can muster.

That’s why it was the right decision, even if it was tough to watch and no other coach in the league could have gotten away with it without taking a public flogging.

One reason: “Thursday.”

The only real minutes left that matter.


VIDEO: Game 5 preview between the Thunder and Spurs

Spurs letting Thunder party like it’s 2012


VIDEO: Thunder wax Spurs in Game 4

OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s deja vu all over again.

Hello, 2012.

Can Obama win a second term? Can the Spurs win another game against the Thunder?

There was no need for postgame locker room fireworks this time. Things got explosive early in the third quarter when coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan went jaw-to-jaw over another uncertain pass that led to another sure-thing dunk at the other end.

It’s no longer just about the inspirational presence of Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup.

It’s about the entire energetic, athletic, run-til-the-cows-come-home Thunder lineup. And a Spurs lineup that, just as it did two years ago, suddenly looks like the morning after.

This is no longer a matter of simply asking Tony Parker to play better. It’s about finding a way for the Spurs to regain their poise and effectiveness against an OKC team that in the last two games has come at them like a rolling bundle of butcher knives.

There have been four games played now and four blowouts. But no matter what the series score sheet says, it doesn’t feel like the Western Conference finals are tied at 2-2.

You could say the Spurs have been put back on their heels, if it didn’t look like they were flat on their backs. It’s looking just like two years ago, when the Thunder spotted San Antonio a 2-0 lead and then roared back for a reverse sweep.

Remember Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio when the Thunder front line of Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha put up just nine combined points? It pushed Thunder coach Scott Brooks to make a lineup change to get Reggie Jackson on the floor with the starters and Jeremy Lamb into the rotation.

Here was Duncan (nine points) Tiago Splitter (3) and Danny Green (3) managing to squeeze out just a few more drops and the solution is hardly to sound the trumpet for more of Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner and the Desperation Cavalry.

With the young arms and legs of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Lamb and Jackson cutting off angles and jumping into passing lanes, the Thunder have smothered San Antonio’s offense.

With their driving, relentless aggressiveness, OKC has also overwhelmed the Spurs’ defense. Of Westbrook’s 40 points and Durant’s 31, a lion’s share came with them going to hoop and making the Spurs look helpless to do anything about it.

It ended up 21-0 in fast break points. What’s more, in the first half the Spurs did not even run a single transition play. That’s plays, not points.

While Parker came out determined to re-establish his attack mode in the paint, his constant challenging of Ibaka actually took the Spurs out of their offense.

“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench. They’d know who Serge was.

“(It was) really unwise basketball … instead of hitting open people that are out there, we started attacking the rim unwisely, and that turns into blocked shots. We have seven turnovers in the first half, but really 14 because of seven blocks. You’ve got to play smarter against such great athletes. They’re talented, obviously, but the athleticism and the length gives you a small margin of error. You’d better be smart the way you play and you can’t afford to screw up as many times as we did.”

At this time of the season with a core of veterans, there are not Xs and Os to be rearranged on the chalkboard that will deliver a solution. That’s the reason why Popovich pulled Duncan, Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard when the OKC reached 27 points and it was still the third quarter. He needs to conserve whatever is left in those worn tanks for what is left of the series and maybe the season.

“This has got nothing to do with adjustments,” Popovich said. “It’s about playing smarter and harder for more consistent minutes.”

Not doing that has turned Chesapeake Arena into the Spurs’ own house of horrors.

Since the 2012 conference finals, the Spurs have an NBA-best road record of 62-33 against 28 other teams. But they’re also 0-9 in OKC since then, too.

“I think we should not think like that,” Parker said. “Each game is different, each series, each year.”

So how come it feels like 2012 and we already know how the election and everything else turned out?

Buford’s worldwide reach changed NBA

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Tony Parker continues to do great things since R.C. Buford brought him into the Spurs’ fold

SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker remembers his first encounter with R.C. Buford.

“It was a long time ago,” Parker said. “He was the first one who found me in Paris. After the Nike Hoops Summit, they started following me, calling my agent and saying they’d be interested. That’s when I decided to put my name in the draft.”

But Parker did not perform well in his first workout for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

“The first workout, it was like 12 hours from the plane,” Parker said. “I went straight to the workout. That was kind of tough. I was kind of tired. Pop was like, ‘Eh, he’s not good.’ R.C. and Sam [Presti] were pushing for a second workout. … Then I did a second one with the Spurs. I remember finishing the workout and I told my Dad, “I hope I can be in San Antonio.” I had no clue about the city and stuff like that. I just had a feeling after that second workout.”

Three NBA championships the later, the feeling has proved true.

For Manu Ginobili, it was a shared meal with Buford.

“Yes, I was in Italy,” Ginobili said. “He came to dinner. It was 14 years ago, a long time. Before that, I got emails that he was watching me, getting the tapes. But I was in Bologna, and that was my first close approach with an NBA person. It was great.”

In fact, it has been nothing short of revolutionary.

Maybe it’s only fitting that the NBA world finally brought the Executive of the Year Award to Buford’s doorstep. After all, he’s spent so many years bringing the world to the NBA.

While there were exotic names — Hakeem Olajuwon, Drazen Petrovic, Sarunas Marciulionis, Alexander Volkov, Georgi Glouchkov — drip, drip, dripping into the NBA in the 1980s, it was Buford and Popovich who cranked the valve and opened the international pipeline of talent to the league.

Today roughly 25 percent of the players on NBA rosters are from outside the United States and no place embraces the fact that basketball is the world’s game more than San Antonio, where nine of the 15 players on the Spurs playoff roster are internationals — Tim Duncan from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Parker and Boris Diaw from France, Ginobili from Argentina, Cory Joseph from Canada, Patty Mills and Aron Baynes from Australia, Tiago Splitter from Brazil and Marco Belinelli from Italy.

“The biggest part of that is having a coach that was willing to play with international players and to respect the contributions that guys like Manu and Tony and Fabricio and the players we have now,” Buford said. “It started first with a coach who was willing to take that and had great respect and admiration for the style that they played.

“I think it provides us with opportunities to be a culture that’s unique. The city of San Antonio is obviously very multicultural. The way our owners and fans have supported all those players has put them in a position to be successful.

“The mindset had to be: Why should we put borders on our player acquisitions and our player recruitment? There are good players all over the world, whether from Bexar County (San Antonio) or someplace else.”

Popovich and Buford have been an inseparable tandem since they arrived in San Antonio together and have built the Spurs into the model franchise with their stability and consistent winning that has brought four NBA titles. They have not just changed the culture of the Spurs, but changed the game itself by incorporating, embracing and perfecting the passing, moving, shooting style that is played internationally.

While Popovich has been recognized as NBA Coach of the Year three times, including this season, it’s the first honor for Buford.

“We’re all excited for him,” Popovich said. “Long overdue. He’s done a great job for a very long time, so we’re giving him the requisite amount of you-know-what all over the offices. He walks down the halls and we hit the walls, hit the sides as a group for him and all that stuff.

“There’s not a formula — you made this trade, you added this and you did this contract. It’s not always a thing you can add up. But the bottom line is he’s the man this year and that’s very exciting for all of us.”

Spurs Need To Get Healthy On Rodeo Trip


VIDEO: Tim Duncan has 23 points and 17 rebounds as the Spurs beat the Kings

In one way, the 2014 edition of the Spurs’ Rodeo Trip is like all the others. It’s a time for coming together.

Usually that means bonding as a team, forging a closeness in spirit, identity and execution on the court.

This time it simply means picking up the pieces and trying to glue them all together.

As they open the nine-game, 8,989 mile odyssey tonight in New Orleans, the Spurs would appear to be about as fragile as Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl legacy. They good news is they’ll face only four teams with records above .500 on the trip. They bad news is they’ll do it with a roster that has Manu Ginobili (hamstring), Kawhi Leonard (hand) and Danny Green (hand) all in various stages of injury rehabilitation and Tiago Splitter (shoulder) just getting back into the rotation after more than three weeks on the shelf.

“We’ve still got to go play all the games,” coach Gregg Popovich told reporters before Saturday’s home win over Sacramento. “When the game is over nobody cares. Nobody says, ‘Well, who was out for that team?’ You either won or you lost and you got better or you didn’t. So it’s all the same stuff. We want to concentrate on all the same things offensively and defensively, the things we want to get better at, and just go.”

Despite their current position tied for the No. 2 seed in the West, the Spurs do have a need to get better quickly, having lost three of their last four games and five out of eight since the middle of January. After a stellar 35-6 home record a year ago, they have also lost eight games already this season at the AT&T Center. Perhaps most telling, the Spurs are just 1-11 against opponents with the top six records in the NBA this season — Pacers, Thunder, Blazers, Heat, Clippers and Rockets.

It would then hardly seem a good time for a team to embark on a lengthy All-Star break-straddling road trip that will take them from coast to coast and playing games in four time zones before their next home game on Feb. 26.

However, the Spurs have traditionally used the period they have to vacate their own stable for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo as time to solidify their standing in the conference and make a push for elite playoff seeding.

Since the beginning of the tradition in 2003, the Spurs have an overall mark of 65-26 on 11 rodeo trips and have posting a losing record. In the past three seasons, they are 21-6.

According to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, while the Spurs have the best winning percentage (70.5) in North American professional sports since Tim Duncan joined the team in 1997, they are actually better on the rodeo trip (71.4).

A year ago the Spurs went 7-2 on their trek, even though they played the first five games without the injured Duncan and Ginobili.

But this might be a more difficult challenge. In their final home game before departing, a narrow 95-93 escape past the Kings, the Spurs started a deep backup point guard Cory Joseph at the shooting guard spot and started at small forward with Shannon Brown, a player who’d just been signed to a 10-day contract and never had time for a practice.

With Splitter getting back onto the floor briefly against Sacramento, Green is expected to be the next to return, maybe playing by the end of the week. Leonard is a possible addition by the time the Spurs hit the West Coast after the All-Star break, while Ginobili could miss the entire journey.

“They’re trickling in,” Duncan said. “It’s great to have bodies back out there, great to start getting everyone healthy. Now it’s about getting their rhythm back, their wind back and get into game shape.”

FIBA Update: Three More Earn Bids

Luis Scola, now with the Pacers, had a major impact on Argentina's win over Canada.

Luis Scola, now with the Pacers, had a major impact on Argentina’s win over Canada.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Three more teams punched their tickets to next year’s World Cup of Basketball on Sunday. The Dominican Republic, Argentina and Mexico will be in Spain next summer, thanks to the results of the first two games at the FIBA Americas tournament in Caracas.

In the first game on Sunday, the Dominican used a 9-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to take control against Uruguay. They held on for their fifth straight win, earning the country its first berth in a major international hoops tournament since 1978. Al Horford didn’t play this summer, but he could join Francisco Garcia and company next summer in Spain. He certainly seems excited about the possibility…

In the second game, Argentina finished the third quarter on a 20-6 run to turn a nine-point deficit into a five-point lead. Behind a huge game (28 points and seven rebounds) from Luis Scola, they held on to beat Canada and get back to the world stage. And it will be interesting to see if veterans like Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Pablo Prigioni will join them for one more run next summer in Spain.

For Canada, this was a brutal end to the tournament. They won four of their first five games, but then lost their last three (by an average of six points) to get sent home. When Argentina made its third-quarter run, the Canadians simply couldn’t handle the pressure.

Cory Joseph (16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists), Andrew Nicholson (15.0 points on 53 percent shooting) and Tristan Thompson (11.6 points and 10.0 rebounds) all had their moments during the tournament, but consistency was an issue.

If they finished in the top four, the trio (along with Joel Anthony) could have been joined by Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk at the World Cup next summer. With four wild card invitations to be handed out later this year, that possibility still exists, but there’s already a strong list of wild card candidates — including Brazil, China and Nigeria — who will be joined by a few solid European teams.

The Argentina win also clinched a spot for Mexico, who owned the tiebreaker over Venezuela. Mexico went on to make things doubly official with a win over Puerto Rico, who rested Carlos Arroyo, Renaldo Balkman and J.J. Barea, having clinched a top-four spot on Saturday. So we should be seeing the the Hawks’ Gustavo Ayon (averaging 16.4 points and 8.0 rebounds) next summer in Spain.

The FIBA Americas semifinals, which will be largely ceremonial, take place Tuesday.

Eurobasket field thins out after Monday

After Day 5 of Eurobasket, only one team remains unbeaten and, surprise, it’s Italy. Led by 42 combined points from the Spurs’ Marco Belinelli (23) and the Pistons’ Luigi Datome (19), the Italians beat Greece in a matchup of 3-0 teams on Sunday. Both teams, along with Finland (3-1) are on their way to the second round as Group D’s three representatives.

The other unbeaten teams going into Sunday’s action were host Slovenia and Mike Fratello‘s Ukraine squad. Slovenia held a 13-point lead in the third quarter over Croatia. But Croatia came back and won in overtime to join Spain and Slovenia at 3-1 in Group C. The Czech Republic has a shot to crash the party if they can beat Croatia on Monday.

Ukraine was knocked off by France (Tony Parker had 28 points), leaving things still up in the air in Group A, where Ukraine-Great Britain will be Monday’s big game. Similarly, Bosnia-Lithuania could shake things up in Group B.

Eurobasket top offenses (points scored per 100 possessions) through Sunday (4 games):
1. Greece – 115.6
2. Italy – 114.2
3. Georgia – 112.2
4. France – 111.2
5. Germany – 105.4

Eurobasket top defenses (points allowed per 100 possessions) through Sunday (4 games):
1. Spain – 76.0
2. Finland – 86.3
3. Lithuania – 90.6
4. Czech Republic – 92.2
5. Italy – 95.2

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 Argentina FIBA Americas top four
12 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas top four
13 Mexico FIBA Americas top four
14 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas top four
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.

FIBA Update: Spain Upset, Puerto Rico Stays Unbeaten

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Thursday was a big day in FIBA qualifications, with the second round of FIBA Americas getting started and Day 2 at Eurobasket seeing a thrilling upset.

Down goes Spain

The story of the day was Slovenia coming back from 10 points down to beat Eurobasket favorite Spain. The Suns’ Goran Dragic led the way for the tournament’s hosts, registering 18 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

The game was more important for Slovenia, who now looks like a strong candidate to earn one of Europe’s six automatic berths to next year’s World Cup, than Spain. The two-time defending Euro champs have finished first (2011 Eurobasket, 2009 Eurobasket, 2006 World Championship) or second (2012 Olympics, 2008 Olympics, 2007 Eurobasket) in six of their last seven international competitions (the exception being the 2010 World Championship), despite losing preliminary-round games in almost all of them.

But there wasn’t any clear gamesmanship on Spain’s part. Marc Gasol played all but three minutes on Thursday.

Down to the wire

Slovenia-Spain was a great game, and it wasn’t the only thriller on Thursday. Latvia edged Montenegro on a jumper by Kristaps Janicenoks in the final seconds, Croatia beat Georgia on a Ante Tomic, pick-and-roll layup, and Belgium outlasted Germany in overtime.

The ends of these FIBA games can be really fun, because there are fewer timeouts in the final possessions. You’re not allowed to call a timeout on a live ball.

What happened to Turkey?

As someone who witnessed Turkey’s magical run to the 2010 World Championship gold medal game first-hand, it’s disappointing to see how much they’ve fallen off. They’ve been a mess offensively without long-time point guard Kerem Tunceri (whose absence on the roster was the coach’s decision, according to my Turkish friends on twitter) and with Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova combining to shoot 11-for-38 (29 percent).

More disappointing is the Turkish defense, which was dominant in 2010 and has allowed about 108 points per 100 possessions in their two games this week. With their size, they can extend their 2-3 zone out beyond the 3-point line, but they didn’t really go to it until the third quarter on Thursday. And when they did, Italy just picked it apart.

The good news for Turkey is that Hedo’s tan looks fabulous.

Greece back on top

The bad news for Turkey is that, after a day off, they next face Greece, who has the tournament’s best point differential after two games. Greece had a couple of down years (they didn’t qualify for last year’s Olympics), but has looked strong in wins over Sweden and Russia.

Greece is one of seven unbeaten teams. The most surprising of the seven has to be Finland, who has been led by former first-round pick Petteri Koponen. Also unbeaten is the Ukraine, coached by TNT’s Mike Fratello.

Big wins for Canada, Puerto Rico

While Spain can brush off Thursday’s loss, every game at the FIBA Americas tournament is critical right now, because the top four teams after this round of games will earn the automatic bids to next year’s World Cup of Basketball.

So Canada’s 89-67 win over Mexico, putting them in second place with three games to play, was huge. The Spurs’ Cory Joseph, now averaging 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists, has been one of the best players in the tournament.

Also big was Puerto Rico’s win over Argentina. Puerto Rico trailed by 16 midway through the second quarter, but came back and took control with a 13-0 run late in the third. They haven’t clinched a top-four spot just yet, but as the only undefeated team in the tournament, they’re in great shape.

Former Knick and Nugget Renaldo Balkman has been huge for P.R., averaging 20.6 points and 8.4 boards through five games.

Action in FIBA Americas and Eurobasket continues Friday.

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 FIBA Americas champion
12 FIBA Americas 2nd place
13 FIBA Americas 3rd place
14 FIBA Americas 4th 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.

Spurs’ Joseph Keeps Eye On Unsigned Neal

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LAS VEGAS — Corey Joseph left Vegas with the San Antonio Spurs’ Summer League team while still keeping close watch on perhaps the team’s last bit of offseason roster business, but not for the reason you might think.

“I’m watching it pretty close,” Joseph said of teammate Gary Neal, a restricted free agent who remains unsigned. “Gary is one of my close friends on the team. Hopefully he comes back. We hope we get him. That’s all I really want because Gary is a big piece of our team.”

All that might be true, but if the combo guard who has rewarded the Spurs for giving him a shot three years ago in Vegas, does return, then Joseph will again find himself in a tight minutes competition behind Tony Parker with Neal and 2009 second-round pick Nando de Colo.

Joseph, 21, last season famously phoned San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich asking to be assigned back to the club’s D-League affiliate in nearby Austin. Joseph figured he could either sit on the pine with the big team or play and improve with the minor-league club. It paid off as Joseph starting winning backcourt minutes late in the season while playing in just 28 games.

Neal emerged as Popovich’s top reserve behind Parker in the playoffs and Neal’s six 3-pointers and 24 points pushed the Spurs to a Game 3 victory over Miami in the NBA Finals. Neal scored just 12 points in the final three games, which might prove to be his last in a Spurs uniform.

When the club signed 6-foot-5 free agent veteran shooting guard Marco Belinelli, it seemed to signal that San Antonio — which did extend a qualifying offer of $1.1 million that prevented Neal from becoming an unrestricted free agent — likely would not match another team’s offer sheet.

Earlier this month, Neal was reportedly receiving offers from teams higher than the Spurs were willing to match. With July moving to a close and teams finalizing their rosters, Neal has yet to make a move.

“I feel like I’ve come a far way, but I know there’s still far to come, so I just keep on working countless hours at the gym because I know that’s what it takes,” Joseph said. “I don’t want to feel comfortable. The backup point guard spot, in my mind, is still open. We have a lot of great point guards on our team, so I’ve still got to prove myself.”

The battle for 2013-14 minutes started began in earnest in Summer League. He and De Colo both played four of the team’s five games and they finished with near-identical stats. Joseph averaged 10.3 ppg, 4.5 apg and 3.3 turnovers per game in 28.3 mpg. He shot 38.9 percent from the floor and 27.3 percent from 3-point range. De Colo, 26, averaged 11.3 ppg, 4.0 apg and 3.3 turnovers per game in 31.8 mpg. He shot 34 percent from the floor and 22.2 percent from beyond the arc.

A native of Toronto, Joseph played one season at Texas before the Spurs drafted him with the 29th overall pick in 2011. He’s played 57 total games with San Antonio. He will earn $1.1 million in 2013-14 and the Spurs hold a team option for the 2014-15 season.

Report: Spurs Bring In Belinelli

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The San Antonio Spurs have added yet another 3-point shooter to their arsenal, agreeing to a two-year deal with Marco Belinelli, according to reports.

Yahoo! Sports reports the deal is worth $6 million.

So the team with more international players than any other adds the Italian Belinelli, who averaged 9.6 ppg and made 35.7 percent of his 3-point attempts last season playing for the Chicago Bulls. The 6-foot-5 Belinelli will begin his seventh NBA season with his fifth team.

The Spurs already have agreed to terms with restricted free-agent center Tiago Splitter on a four-year, $36 million deal and on a two-year, $14 million deal to keep 35-year-old Manu Ginobili. With Danny Green under contract, the odd man out might be restricted free agent Gary Neal. Neal had an up-and-down season and lost minutes to Cory Joseph, but Neal could be in line to cash in on a more lucrative deal elsewhere after his performance off the bench in The Finals against the Miami Heat.

The Spurs made a qualifying offer to the restricted free agent, but by agreeing to a deal with Belinelli, 27, it could signal that San Antonio believes Neal will receive an offer from another team that they are unwilling to match. Neal, 28, played the last three seasons with the Spurs, who plucked the all-time leading scorer at Towson University out of Europe.

Belinelli gives the Spurs additional size on the perimeter and is a 38.7 percent career shooter from beyond the arc. Last season was his first shooting below 37.7 percent from deep. He averaged 11.1 ppg and 2.6 apg during the Bulls’ gutsy playoff run that ended in the second round to the Heat.