Posts Tagged ‘Goran Dragic’

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.”

U.S. crushes Slovenia, rolls into semifinals


VIDEO: Team USA rolls into semifinals with rout of Slovenia

BARCELONA — Spain has supplanted the U.S. National Team as the trendy pick to win gold here at the FIBA World Cup.

Everybody from TNT’s very own Charles Barkley to members of the teams the U.S. crushes on their way to Thursday’s semifinal have chimed in and sided with the host nation Spaniards.

After the U.S. used one of the their trademark blitzes to run Slovenia off the floor at Palau Saint Jordi 119-76 in Tuesday’s quarterfinal, Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic weighed in with his belief that Spain is indeed the favorite.

That’s fine with the stars on the U.S. team, whose refusal to panic when things are tight early has become a hallmark for this bunch. Starters James Harden and Steph Curry were scoreless at halftime and the lead was just 49-42.

Not a problem. Not when Klay Thompson (20 points) and Derrick Rose (12) are your “backups.”

A swift 18-5 third quarter run later and the U.S. was off to the races, cashing in with its 61st straight win in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international competition, and one step closer to that date with Spain in Sunday’s gold medal game in Madrid.

“I thought we played really hard the whole game and we just couldn’t finish in the first half some of those plays,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “and then they stayed with it and then the floodgates opened in the second half.”

The U.S. faces Lithuania, a 73-61 winner of Turkey in Tuesday’s first game, Thursday at 3 p.m. ET.

They’ll do so having played arguably their best game, so far, of the competition. They stroked Finland by 59 points in their opener last week in pool play. But beating Slovenia down was a tougher task.

“It was tough. They are a really good team,” Harden said. “They kind of slowed us down in the first half, dictated the tempo. Coach talked to us at halftime about playing our brand of basketball and how we like to play. And we came out with that intensity.”

Harden did heat up, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the third quarter. Kenneth Faried finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Anthony Davis 13 and 11. The depth the U.S. boasts is like no other team in this competition, not even a seasoned Spanish team.

Rose, in particular, had his teammates fired up.

“You [saw] him,” Harden said of Rose. “He looked amazing. He’s so quick and athletic, the way he followed the holes and finished … he made some amazing passes tonight. He was phenomenal.”

While it certainly helped having Thompson in a groove from the start on both ends, Rose needed a push. With the Coach K mandate that he play with a green light, Rose was as aggressive as he’s been offensively at any point in the tournament.

Rose was just 8-for-37 shooting before Tuesday, so whatever color his light was prior to seeing Slovenia, is anyone’s guess.

“It eased me a little bit,” Rose said. “Gave me a lot of confidence. I’m not lacking in confidence, but when the head coach tells you to go out there and be aggressive it makes you think in another way. Coach gave me that green light and said go out there and play the way I play. Don’t worry about getting other guys involved … I felt good.”

On a team that is suddenly dealing with an underdog status, at least here in Spain, Rose, Thompson and some of these other elite reserves are finding a rhythm at just the right time.

Just in time for Thursday’s semifinals and then on to Madrid, where the underdogs might finally have their say about who should really wear the favorite’s tag.

Secrets to USA’s, Coach K’s success

Mike Krzyzewski (left, with Jim Boeheim) cites his college ties as one reason he has had such success with Team USA. (USA Today images)

Team USA and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (left, with Team USA assistant and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim) says his college ties have helped him with NBA players. (USA Today images)

BARCELONA — When a team rings up 61 straight wins during international competition, including the World Cup/World Championship and Olympics (and throwing in exhibitions), there are a number of factors involved.

Having the best and most star-studded roster every time you to take the floor helps. But the U.S. National Team has had more than just raw talent on its side.

During the Jerry Colangelo-Mike Krzyzewski era, the U.S. also has had a precise plan on how to structure the program, from the ground up, and a clear-cut understanding of the nuances that make the international game different from the NBA. The Americans also have had intense international scouting and have nurtured a revamped mindset among the players who make the up the pool upon which the roster is built.

With Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing director, setting the overall operational tone, Coach K insists there are overlooked aspects of the program which allow him to do things differently than many of his NBA predecessors. For one, Krzyzewski’s extensive experience in a one-and-done tournament format helps, especially with NBA players who are used to best-of playoff series.

But Krzyzewski also points to this: Though he has been courted by NBA teams on several occasions, Coach K will almost certainly never take an NBA job where he would have to try to beat some of these players.

“I don’t coach against my players,” Krzyzewski said after the U.S. practice Monday at Palau Saint Jordi, where the Americans were preparing for Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup against Slovenia (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). “I’m not a pro coach. [Syracuse coach] Jim [Boeheim] and I have the respect of these guys because of doing well in college basketball. But we can develop our own individual relationships with them and then never compete against them. I think that’s been a hidden factor of success in all this stuff.”

Krzyzewski, of course, knows a thing or two about operating under the pressure of constant win-it-all expectations. He knows all about trying to live up to the hype of a team that’s supposed to play perfect all the time.

“I’ve lived with that for 25 years as the Duke coach,” he said. “I’m the most prepared to do that because we’re closely scrutinized like that in college basketball for everything we do. But this is at a much higher level. Actually it helps that I’m coming from that environment. I also think it helps, when we’re in this competition, the one-and-done, what we live all the time, whether it be an ACC tournament or a NCAA tournament, so I’ve been in 150 to 200 one-and-done games. We try to tell our players it’s the seventh game of a series. About half of them have been in a seventh game, so they don’t think it’s a series. We’re not just going to be in Madrid. We have to win to get there.”

As for what keeps him going, grinding like this on both the USA Basketball front and during his regular job at Duke,  Coach K said it’s a combination of things that he learned long ago.

“It’s your watch, it’s your responsibility,” he said. “That’s something I learned at West Point. It’s your job right now. Do it the right way. And eventually someone else will have that job. But while you’re in command, make sure your unit does it the right way. And Jerry has set that example. We’ve tried to learn and we keep learning.”

World geography

A reporter trying to get a rise out of U.S. big man DeMarcus Cousins as the U.S. exited the floor from practice, quizzing the Sacramento Kings star on world geography:

“Do you know where Slovenia is?” the reporter asked.

“Do you know where Alabama is?’ Cousins replied.

Forget the friendly

The U.S. has already seen Slovenia on the court this summer. The Americans beat Slovenia 101-71 in an Aug. 26 exhibition game in Gran Canaria.

Led by Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran, Slovenia will present the U.S. with a style change that will likely cause Coach K to tinker with his rotation to make sure the U.S. can match up with a small-ball lineup.

“The very first thing you have to do is forget the friendly,” Coach K said. “They were holding their guys back and Goran was held down in minutes that game. They’ve gotten better and he’s become even more of a factor as the leader of the team. We’ve gotten better, too. But we just have to focus on the fact that they are an unusual team in that they can put five 3-point shooters on the court.”

Chasing history

This U.S. team is not only trying to win gold on Spain’s home turf, it is also trying to make a little history by becoming just the third nation to repeat as World Champs. Only Brazil (1959 and 1963) and Yugoslavia (1998 and 2002) have accomplished that feat since the event was initiated in 1950.

The U.S. is a four-time champion but never has been able to put together back-to-back titles.

Bracket set as group play wraps up


VIDEO: John Schuhmann talks to GameTime about the World Cup

GRANADA, SPAIN – The final day of group play at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup not only determined who made it to the round of 16, but who they would play … and who they could play after that.

Let’s make it clear. There are two great teams in this tournament. They are Spain and the United States, and you will have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t think they will meet in the gold medal game in Madrid on Sept. 14.

After that, however, there are at least nine teams that could think they have a shot at a bronze medal. But you can only get to the bronze medal game if you first make the semifinals. And it will be extremely difficult to make the semis if you face Spain or the U.S. before then.

So, for those nine teams, with Spain clinching spot A1 (for finishing first in Group A) and the Americans clinching spot C1 (first in Group C) on Wednesday, there are two desired quarters of the bracket to be in. In Madrid, there’s the A4-B1-A2-B3 quarter, which avoids Spain until the semifinals. And in Barcelona, there’s the C4-D1-C2-D3, which avoids the U.S. until the semis.

Brazil clinched its spot as A2 with its win over Serbia on Wednesday. Everything else was up for grabs on Thursday.

Group A

Final placement:

  1. Spain (5-0)
  2. Brazil (4-1)
  3. France (3-2)
  4. Serbia (2-3)

Thursday notes:

  • In the first game that didn’t matter, Brazil hammered Egypt, 128-65. After its big breakout on Wednesday, the Brazil offense continued to roll, with Leandro Barbosa scoring 22 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) and dishing out five assists in just 23 minutes.
  • Ultimately, the second game was the only game that counted for anything. After Wednesday’s win over Egypt, Iran had a shot at fourth place if it could pull off an upset. And it showed a lot of heart, cutting a 17-point deficit down to five with a late rally. But it fell short, and France prevailed 81-76.
  • France could have put itself in the more favorable A4 spot with a strategic loss. And it did try to get its best players some rest; Nicolas Batum sat for most of the second half. But when Iran made it close at the end, Batum and Boris Diaw were back on the floor and France played to win.
  • France coach Vincent Collet: “You can see we wanted to win this game, no question. We know, being third, we could cross with Spain in the quarterfinals. That’s basketball.”
  • The third game could have meant something, but was rendered meaningless by the Iran-France result, because even if Serbia tied France with a 3-2 record, the head-to-head tiebreaker went to France. Still, Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic get tossed and Marc and Pau Gasol each played 28 minutes in Spain’s 89-73 win.

Group B

Final placement:

  1. Greece (5-0)
  2. Croatia (3-2)
  3. Argentina (3-2)
  4. Senegal (2-3)

Thursday notes:

    • We got another thriller from the Philippines, and this time, they won! The overtime result locked Senegal into the fourth spot in the group and a matchup with Spain on Saturday.
    • Croatia clinched its spot in the round of 16 with a 103-82 win over Puerto Rico. Nets incoming rookie Bojan Bogdanovic had another big game with 23 points on just eight shots, getting to the line 17 times.
    • Sixers youngsters Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, along with GM Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown, were in Sevilla to support future Sixer Dario Saric, who shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and showed off his open-court skills one more time.
    • The final game was for first place in the group and avoiding Spain until the semis. Greece built an early lead and held off Argentina for a 79-71 victory, which left them as one of just three undefeated teams in group play.

    Group C

    Final placement:

    1. USA (5-0)
    2. Turkey (3-2)
    3. Dominican Republic (2-3)
    4. New Zealand (2-3)

    Thursday notes:

    • At the start of the day, all six teams were still alive.
    • New Zealand’s 67-65 victory over Finland sent the Haka to Barcelona and sent Finland and meant that Ukraine would have had to beat the U.S. to advance.
    • That didn’t happen.
    • So, after USA’s win over Mike Fratello‘s crew, we knew what Group C teams were in. And Turkey’s win over the Dominican Republic in the nightcap put them opposite the U.S. in the Barcelona side of the bracket.
    • Ultimately, what knocked out Ukraine was one point. Dominican Republic, New Zealand and Ukraine all went 2-3 and all went 1-1 against each other. In those three games, Dominican Republic had a point differential of plus-3, New Zealand had a point differential of minus-1, and Ukraine had a point differential of minus-2.

    Group D

    Final placement:

    1. Lithuania (4-1)
    2. Slovenia (4-1)
    3. Australia (3-2)
    4. Mexico (2-3)

    Thursday notes:

    • Here’s where we saw some shadiness. Australia appeared to tank itself into the D3 spot by losing to Angola in the first game of the day.
    • Neither Aron Baynes nor Joe Ingles played. Matthew Dellavedova and David Andersen each played just four minutes. And with a 13-point halftime lead, Australia seemingly escorted Angola to the rim in the second half, allowing what was a below-average offense through four games to score 62 points in 20 minutes.
    • Slovenia’s Goran Dragic didn’t like what he saw…
    • Mexico booked its ticket to Barcelona for a Sunday matchup with the U.S. by knocking off Korea. That result also eliminated Angola.
    • The final game in Gran Canaria was for first place in the group and placement on the non-USA quarter in Barcelona. Lithuania came back from 12 down and held the tournament’s No. 1 offense (through Wednesday) to just two points in the fourth quarter to pull out a 67-64 win over Slovenia.

Brazil puts itself in good position with big win over Serbia


VIDEO: FIBA: Day Five Wrap

GRANADA, SPAIN – There will be no easy games on the A-B side of the 16-team bracket at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Outside of Spain and the United States, there are probably nine second-tier teams in this tournament, and six of those nine will be in Madrid starting Saturday.

Throw in Spain and there’s basically one opponent (fourth place in Group B) you might choose to face on that side of the bracket. And Spain will likely get that opponent. So there are bound to be three very good matchups in the round of 16. Good news for fans, bad news for a bunch of teams hoping for a medal.

Brazil (3-1) is one of those teams. And while it can’t avoid two other second-tier squads in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, it did the next best thing: likely avoiding Spain until the semis with what will probably be a second-place finish in Group A.

The Brazilians still have one game to play (vs. Egypt on Thursday), but look good for second after beating France on Saturday and picking up another huge win, 81-73, over Serbia (2-2) on Wednesday.

It was a game of wild swings. Brazil’s offense looked better than it had in a long time in the first half, scoring 48 points on just 33 possessions. A turnaround jumper by Leandro Barbosa gave Brazil a 16-point lead at the half.

As good as the Brazil offense was in the first 20 minutes, Serbia’s was better in the next 10. It turned that 16-point deficit into a four-point lead with an incredible 32-12 third quarter. Serbia then led by as many as seven early in the fourth.

But Brazil wasn’t done. Sparked by a couple of huge Marquinhos Vieira 3s, they went on a 12-0 run to go back up five. Serbia couldn’t get anything done offensively as Tiago Splitter drew two straight charges on Miroslav Raduljica, who also went 1-for-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch.

Former Hornet Vieira (known as Marcus Vinicius when he was in the NBA) hit one more big 3 and finished with a game-high 21 points, having shot 6-for-9 from beyond the arc.

Though they have Marcelo Huertas and Leandro Barbosa in the backcourt to go with three NBA bigs, Brazil can struggle offensively if they’re not hitting 3s. The 6-9 Vieira hit two on his team’s first three possessions of the game and the floodgates opened from there.

“We need him,” Huertas said afterward, “as much as we need Leandro’s speed or for our bigs to dominate in the post. For us, when the guy has a day like he had today, we know if we set a good screen or find him open in the corner, that ball is going in.

“The guy is tall. It’s very hard to contest a shooter like him.”

Brazil got here with a wildcard invitation, having gone 0-4 at last year’s FIBA Americas tournament. But they were an obvious pick, with the ability to put a much better team on the floor than they did in 2013 and having played well at the 2010 World Championship and 2012 Olympics.

Both of those years, they lost narrow decisions to Argentina in the first knockout round (round of 16 in ’10, quarterfinals in ’12). They’d love to avenge those losses this year, and they clearly have their eyes on a medal. Wednesday’s win was a big step toward that, because you can’t medal if you lose to Spain or USA before the semifinals.

“For us, it’s big,” Huertas said. “We want to go as far as we can in this competition. We really feel we have a team that can compete at the highest level.”

More notes from Brazil 81, Serbia 73…

  • After an ugly start to Monday’s game against Spain, Brazil coach Ruben Magnano changed his lineup, starting Anderson Varejao instead of Nene. The move worked, with Brazil jumping out to a 14-4 lead.
  • Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a gutty, step-back 3 during Serbia’s big third-quarter run, but was rather quiet otherwise, scoring eight points on 2-for-7 shooting.
  • Barbosa is 31, but still has some game left. He’s averaged 11.5 points and has shot 6-for-13 from 3-point range through four games. Against Spain on Monday, he was the only Brazilian player who could get anything done offensively. Barbosa and Shaun Livingston should be an interesting back-up backcourt with the Warriors.
  • Unless it can beat Spain on Thursday, Serbia is looking at a fourth-place finish in Group A and a round-of-16 matchup with the winner of Thursday’s Argentina-Greece game on Sunday. Raduljica downplayed the significance of his team’s two losses to France and Brazil. “It didn’t affect us, because we don’t calculate are we going to win or lose. Of course, we want to win every game. It’s just how we go out on the court, do our best, and try to win.”

Other games of note…

Group A: Spain 88, France 64

Spain (4-0) passed test No. 2, which was slightly tougher than Monday’s game against Brazil. France (2-2) withstood a quick start from the hosts to come back and tie the game late in the first quarter. But a buzzer-beating three from Juan Carlos Navarro gave Spain the lead for good.

Despite a flurry of third-quarter turnovers and fouls by their opponent, Spain didn’t really open the game up until early in the fourth. Their second-half energy wasn’t as good as it was against Brazil or in the first half.

Pau Gasol (15 points, four rebounds, two blocks) didn’t dominate as much as he did against Brazil, but brother Marc (17 points, six rebounds, three steals) and Serge Ibaka (10 points, eight rebounds, two blocks) picked up the slack.

  • Spain has four NBA bigs on its roster, but only uses three in its regular rotation, with Victor Claver at the end of the bench. So Marc Gasol played the first 14:35 of the game. In fact, the whole Spanish starting lineup played the entire first quarter.
  • Nicolas Batum couldn’t really take advantage of a mismatch with the smaller Navarro. Batum scored 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
  • 2013 draft pick Joffrey Lauvergne got a good test, starting against the Gasol brothers. He mostly held his own, but Pau’s size, in particular, gave him trouble. He shot 3-for-9, struggling to finish in the paint.
  • Lauvergne said Wednesday that the Nuggets offered him a contract this summer, but it wasn’t enough for him to come over. He signed a more lucrative two-year deal with Khimki, with a buyout option next year. Denver still retains his rights.
  • Lauvergne is really too small to play the five, but that’s where France needs him with their veteran centers missing the World Cup. (Rudy Gobert backs him up.) If he’s going to play the four in the NBA, he’ll need to be able to shoot. He took a couple of threes on Wednesday and his form looked OK, but both were off the mark.
  • Evan Fournier wasn’t in the France rotation, but finally showed a little offense, scoring nine points on 4-for-7 shooting in garbage time.

Group B: Puerto Rico 77, Philippines 73

Another close game, another heartbreaker and elimination for the Philippines (0-4), who led by as many as 14 in the second quarter and by three, with the ball, with 2:30 left in the fourth. They committed a couple of bad turnovers in the final two minutes and J.J. Barea came up huge for Puerto Rico (1-3), who stayed alive with the win.

Barea pulled up for three to tie the game with 2:10 left. He then converted a tough drive with just under a minute to go to give the boricuas the lead. He finished with 30 points on 8-for-15 shooting, getting to the line 12 times and still asking for a foul call whenever he didn’t.

Andray Blatche had 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Philippines, which will have one more shot at a win against Senegal on Thursday.

More Day 5 notes

  • Mexico’s loss to Australia makes it even more likely that they will finish fourth in Group D and be USA’s opponent in the round of 16 on Saturday.
  • Slovenia (4-0) trailed by three early in the fourth quarter and didn’t play Goran Dragic at all in the final period, but managed to remain unbeaten with a 93-87 win over Angola.
  • Gorgui Dieng finally had an off night, shooting just 4-for-12 as Senegal got hammered by Argentina.
  • Donatas Motiejunas recovered well from not playing the entire second half against Australia on Tuesday. He had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists in Lithuania’s win over Korea.
  • Greece remained unbeaten in Group B with a 76-65 win over Croatia. Incoming Rockets rookie Kostas Papanikolaou had his best game of the tournament, scoring 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

Big games on tap for Thursday

There’s still a lot to be determined on the final day of pool play.

  • Senegal can clinch a surprise trip to the knockout rounds, but needs to hold off the pesky Philippines team (8 a.m. ET).
  • The winner of Finland-New Zealand (9 a.m. ET) will have a chance to squeak in out of Group C with a decisive point differential.
  • Lithuania (3-1) and Slovenia (4-0) have both clinched spots in the knockout rounds, but their game (3:30 p.m. ET) will be for first place in Group D and a chance to avoid the U.S. until the semifinals.
  • Argentina (3-1) and Greece (4-0) are in the same exact situation on the other half of the bracket. The winner of their game (4 p.m. ET) will take first place in Group B and avoid Spain until the semis.
  • Spain gets its last test of group play against Serbia (4 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Baynes, Australia get big win in Group D


VIDEO: Video: GameTime: Learning from the Czar

GRANADA, SPAIN – Groups C and D got back into action at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, with Australia edging Lithuania 82-75 in the headline game of the day in Gran Canaria.

The Boomers played a near perfect first half. Joe Ingles hit some ridiculous shots, Aron Baynes was incredibly active, destroying Jonas Valanciunas in the first few minutes, and their sagging defense kept Valanciunas from finding any space on post-ups or rolls to the basket. With Ingles hitting a 3 at the buzzer, Australia took a 19-point lead into the break.

To start the second half, both Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas were on the bench for Lithuania. Valanciunas eventually played a few more minutes, but it was the veteran Lavrinovic brothers and defensive pressure that led Lithuania back to within three after the first possession of the fourth quarter.

They were back within three with 4½ minutes to go, but never had a chance to tie or take the lead, with Australia holding them off with free throws and a couple of big baskets from David Andersen down the stretch.

More notes from Australia 82, Lithuania 75…

More Day 4 notes

  • Ukraine and the Dominican Republic each took big steps toward qualification for the knockout rounds from Group C with wins over Turkey and Finland, respectively.
  • Francisco Garcia turned his right ankle as the Dominican was holding off a late rally by Finland. He left the game briefly, but did return.
  • Slovenia (3-0) led by just one at halftime, but remained unbeaten with an 89-72 victory over Korea (0-3). Goran Dragic led the way again, scoring 22 points in just 27 minutes.
  • With Lithuania’s loss, Greece, Spain and the U.S. are the only other teams without a loss.
  • Group D is a solid group with Slovenia, Australia and Lithuania at the top. The U.S. could see two of those three teams in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
  • Mexico looks like it will be USA’s opponent in the round of 16 on Saturday. The Mexicans’ win over Angola on Tuesday has them looking like the fourth-place team in Group D. They’d have to beat Australia, lose to Korea or have Angola pull an upset for them not to finish fourth.
  • Top 5 offenses (points scored per 100 possessions) through Tuesday: 1. Slovenia (127.7), 2. USA (120.0), 3. Argentina (118.3), 4. Spain (117.9), 5. Greece (114.3)
  • Top 5 defenses (points allowed per 100 possessions) through Tuesday: 1. USA (77.6), 2. Spain (78.8), 3. Brazil (89.4), 4. France (91.3), 5. Greece (94.4)

Big games on tap for Wednesday

We’re back to a full, 12-game slate with Groups A and B resuming action in Granada and Sevilla.

  • Two 2-1 teams, Argentina and Senegal, will meet in Seville at 11:30 a.m. ET. The winner of that matchup will clinch a spot in the knockout rounds.
  • At the same time, two 1-2 teams, Finland and Turkey, will meet in Bilbao in an important game for third or fourth place in Group C.
  • If there’s a Group B team that can knock off Greece, it could be Croatia, which has had the most entertaining set of games in the tournament so far. Those two teams meet at 2 p.m. ET.
  • Group A has the best two of the best games of the day. Serbia (2-1) faces Brazil (2-1) at noon ET on NBA TV, and France (2-1) meets Spain (3-0) in a rematch of last year’s Eurobasket semifinals at 4 p.m. ET.

France bounces back on Day 2


VIDEO: Mike Fratello talks about the depth of international competition

GRANADA, SPAIN – Entering Day 2 of competition in Group A at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Serbia-France looked to be the game of the day. And it didn’t disappoint, as France came back from an 11-point deficit to pick up a much-needed 74-73 win in the final seconds.

Joffrey Lauvergne, acquired by the Nuggets in the 2013 Draft, hit the game-winning free throw with 1.1 seconds on the clock after drawing a foul on Serbia’s Miroslav Raduljica.

This was a much different performance for France than we saw in Saturday’s loss to Brazil. Nicolas Batum didn’t have a big game, Boris Diaw was saddled with foul trouble and Evan Fournier couldn’t make a shot, but their offense was much more efficient than it was the day before, scoring 74 points on just 67 possessions.

It was starting center Lauvergne and reserve guards Antoine Diot and Edwin Jackson who provided big lifts. Both scored 15 points and were a part of a huge 10-0 run that got France back in the game early in the third quarter. Jackson assisted Diot and then scored six straight (including a four-point play) on the run.

Lauvergne (19 points, six rebounds, 7-for-10 shooting) played as many minutes in the first quarter on Sunday (10) as he did against Brazil. He was matched up against and severely out-sized by Raduljica (21 points, seven boards, 8-for-13), but used his mobility to make it a pretty even matchup.

“Raduljica is big,” Batum said afterward. “He’s a problem on offense. But Joffrey’s more quicker than him. So, he moves a lot and did a great job for us.”

Lauvergne tied the game with 1:31 left on beautiful feed from Diaw and had a half a step on Raduljica on a broken-play drive from the foul line when the Serbian center was called for the game-deciding foul.

Lauvergne looked to be a little out of control and Raduljica was clearly upset about the call. But he held his tongue after the game. Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion, however.

“Every bad call that was called today,” Djordjevic said, “was called against us.”

He said he didn’t have a good look at the Raduljica foul, but was more unhappy with a no-call on the other end of the floor. After Diaw tied the game with a drive with 18 seconds left, Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic drove into traffic off a screen from Raduljica and lost the ball out of bounds with 4.8 seconds left, leading to France’s final possession and Lauvergne’s free throw.

A French defender had reached in on Bogdanovic, and Djordjevic wanted a foul on the play.

“It was a tie game,” Djordjevic said. “There was four seconds left. We would have had two shots. It was definitely a foul. It was a bad call.”

Djordjevic wasn’t the coach four years ago, but this is the same team that felt it got hosed against hosts Turkey in the semifinals of the 2010 World Championship, a game Turkey won on a play in which Turkish point guard Kerem Tunceri appeared to step out of bounds.

With Egypt and Iran also in Group A, Serbia shouldn’t have any problem qualifying for the knockout round. But they’re now 0-1 in games between the four best teams in the group, with matchups against Brazil (Wednesday) and Spain (Thursday) still to come.

France, meanwhile, is 1-1. The European champs are missing Tony Parker, but look stronger after getting big games from some of their role players. And after the United States and Spain, this tournament appears to be wide open.

So, after Saturday’s loss, this was huge for both Group A placement and France’s prospects down the line.

“You never know,” Batum said about how far his team can go. “It’s basketball. You get a lot of surprises sometimes.”

More notes from France 74, Serbia 73…

  • Bogdanovic got off to a great start, scoring or assisting on Serbia’s first 13 points. There was a smooth-looking, catch-and-shoot 3, a runner in traffic, and a nice dime to a slipping Raduljica. But he shot 2-for-9 after that (missing a couple of open 3s late), with three turnovers and no assists over the final three periods.
  • So it was interesting to see Serbia put the ball in the hands of the 22 year old, instead of veteran Milos Teodosic (who was also on the floor) for the final possession. “He can finish the game,” Djordjevic said of Bogdanovic. “The other players believe in him. He believes in himself. I believe in him. That’s his job.”
  • Nenad Krstic has long been one of Serbia’s best players, so it was a bit startling to see the 31 year old not playing at all on Sunday. He’s recovering from knee surgery, but Djordjevic called it a “technical decision.” “The way Raduljica played, we didn’t need Krstic in this game.”

Other games of note…

Group B: Croatia 90, Argentina 85

Croatia barely squeaked by the Philippines on Saturday, while Argentina blew out Puerto Rico. So it was a bit of a surprise to see this result a day later.

Dario Saric continues to look like a fascinating NBA prospect, even without a pretty smile. Reportedly, Saric had six teeth knocked out by an elbow from Andres Nocioni (of course). But he continued playing and finished with 17 points and nine rebounds in just 25 minutes. He’s a big dude who moves well and has skills. And it’s a shame the Sixers won’t get him for another two years.

The Nets waited three years for Bojan Bogdanovic. The incoming rookie had another solid game, leading Croatia with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting (3-for-6 from 3-point range).

Luis Scola led Argentina with 30 points. The guy who averaged 27.1 points in the 2010 World Championship is now averaging 27.0 after two games in Sevilla. #FIBAScola is a legend.

Group B: Senegal 82, Puerto Rico 75

Maybe Argentina’s Day 1 win wasn’t that impressive, because Puerto Rico is clearly the biggest disappointment of the World Cup so far. And now, with an injury to Carlos Arroyo, they look to be in danger of finishing fifth or sixth in their group and not qualifying for the knockout rounds.

After scoring 11 points in the first quarter, #FIBAArroyo sprained his right ankle in the first minute of the second and was sent to the hospital for testing. Puerto Rico won the first quarter, 29-21, but scored just 46 points after that, with J.J. Barea shooting 4-for-12.

Gorgui Dieng had another big game for Senegal, scoring 18 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and blocking two shots. Senegal looks good for the knockout rounds if it can beat the Philippines on Thursday.

More Day 2 notes

  • Incoming Bulls rookie Cameron Bairstow shot 6-for-7 in Australia’s easy win over Korea. Restricted free agent Aron Baynes has totaled 34 points and 17 boards in two games.
  • The Dragic brothers combined to score 40 points on 14-for-16 shooting (5-for-6 from 3-point range) in Slovenia’s 89-68 win over Mexico. Slovenia’s effective field goal percentage through two games? A ridiculous 67.3 percent.

Big games on tap for Monday

Groups C (Bilbao) and D (Gran Canaria) have the day off. But there will be a couple of intriguing games wrapping up action in Sevilla and Granada.

  • Puerto Rico is now desperate for a win. They’ll face 2-0 Greece (2 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in Group B action.
  • Spain gets its first real test, facing Brazil in the Granada nightcap (4 p.m. ET).
  • NBA TV will also have #FIBAScola and Argentina vs. Andray Blatche and the Philippines at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Davis leads U.S. to easy win


VIDEO: USA-Slovenia recap

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The U.S. National Team wrapped up its exhibition schedule on Tuesday with an easy 101-71 win over Slovenia in Gran Canaria, Spain. Next stop: Bilbao, for World Cup pool play, which begins Saturday.

Anthony Davis was, by far, the best player on the floor, registering 18 points, nine rebounds, three steals and five blocks in less than 19 minutes of action. He controlled the paint and snuffed out Slovenia’s pick-and-rolls. Basically, if he was in the area, they couldn’t complete a pass or make a shot.

It was a 10-point game at the half, but the U.S. scored 27 points on its first 13 possessions of the third quarter to go up by 31. The highlight of that run was a lob from Kenneth Faried to Davis on a roll to the hoop.

The U.S. finished 4-0 in exhibitions and still hasn’t lost a game (whether it counts or not) since the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship.

Here are some notes from Tuesday’s action …

  • So … many … fouls. The officiating in this game was a stark contrast to that of Friday’s game against Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden, when both sets of guards got away with a lot of contact on the perimeter. Hand checks were called on Tuesday, with the two teams combining for 53 fouls in 40 minutes.
  • The U.S. was the bigger beneficiary of the whistles, getting to the line 46 times. But they shot just 29-for-46 (63 percent), leaving several points at the stripe. They had shot 81 percent through their first three exhibition games.
  • At the other end of the floor, the U.S. paid for its aggressiveness on the perimeter. Stephen Curry fouled out in the first minute of the fourth quarter after just 14 minutes of playing time. Klay Thompson picked up two hand-check fouls on the first possession he was on the court. And Kyrie Irving and James Harden each picked up three fouls apiece. The Americans have depth in the backcourt, but not as much as they’d have if they hand’t brought four centers on the roster. The guards are going to have to do a better job of adjusting to the way games are being called.
  • We got a basic look at the U.S. rotation. Derrick Rose (or Irving when Rose starts), Thompson and Rudy Gay were the first guys off the bench. DeMarcus Cousins backed up Davis, and DeMar DeRozan was the 10th man. Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee only played garbage time.
  • The U.S. starters had huge plus-minus marks, while the reserves were a mix of low pluses and minuses. In fact, in 14:23 with four or five U.S. starters on the floor, the score was USA 45, Slovenia 8. In the other 25:37, with three or fewer American starters in the game, Slovenia outscored the U.S. 63-56.
  • Thompson shot well (3-for-5 on threes) and Gay was active on the offensive glass, but the bench was otherwise disappointing.
  • Rose did not play well. He showed flashes of his quickness, but did not finish plays. He shot 0-for-3 and committed three turnovers in 20 minutes of action.
  • The U.S. halfcourt offense still needs work. There was some real sloppiness on Tuesday, especially in the fourth quarter.
  • Goran Dragic had his moments – he went around-the-back to get past Rose on the break – in limited minutes, but his brother was the star for Slovenia. Zoran Dragic scored 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting and grabbed six boards.

Thomas seeks relevancy with Suns

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns.com talks with Isaiah Thomas about his move to Phoenix

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – About one month into the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, a new basketball movie trailer burned up the Internet. A documentary, it chronicled mostly unknown 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ improbable path from a junior in college all the way to the NBA.

The title of the of the film was “Mr. Irrelevant,” the name bestowed upon the last pick of the NFL Draft. Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash., product and a terrific scoring guard for the Washington Huskies, was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. No. 60. The Sacramento Kings made him “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Over three seasons, Sacramento never seemed to believe he could be much more, even as Thomas’ production and tenacity became impossible to ignore — and to keep out of the starting lineup. As a rookie he badly outplayed the Kings’ No. 10 overall pick, Jimmer Fredette.

In 2012-13, the Kings tried to unseat Thomas with Aaron Brooks and Toney Douglas, not exactly Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudemire, but still, Thomas refused to be overtaken. Last summer, Sacramento traded for 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez and immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. In December, Vasquez, a solid player to be sure, was traded to Toronto. Thomas, a pound-the-rock, take-you-off-the-dribble, finish-at-the-rim point guard went on to average 21.1 ppg and 6.5 apg (plus a career-high 1.3 steals), improving in both categories for a third consecutive season.

It is one of the greatest statistical seasons ever compiled by a player under 6-foot. His PER (player efficiency rating) checked in at 20.5, well above the league average (15.0) and again was one of the all-time best marks for a player of his stature.

Yet the Kings, even after revamping the front office, never viewed Thomas through the same prism as he viewed himself: as a 5-foot-9 playmaker, scorer, starter and leader. Sacramento, seemingly suggesting it wanted more of a facilitator at the point, signed free-agent journeyman Darren Collison to a three-year, $16 million deal on July 10. It was a hefty raise for Collison, a backup last season with the Clippers, but much less than what Thomas, 25, felt he deserved in line with his production.

“They went after Darren Collison, which they felt was a better feel for whatever direction they’re going in,” Thomas said. “I just felt like I needed to go somewhere where I was wanted and Phoenix was a place where they wanted me for who I was. They wanted me for being 5-9. They wanted me for being a scoring point guard.”

Thirteen days after signing Collison, the Kings signed Thomas to a four-year, $27-million contract and traded him to the Suns.

“I’m not surprised just because every year it was somebody new,” Thomas said. “Every year I felt like I proved to them that I was a capable starter and I proved to them I was a pretty good basketball player. More than anything I was consistent, but I wasn’t surprised.”

Thomas spoke to NBA.com about his opportunity for relevancy in Phoenix, an upstart last season that won 48 games and missed the playoffs by one game in coach Jeff Hornacek‘s first season.

NBA.com: Do you think the Kings viewed you as irrelevant, in the sense that you don’t fit into a tidy description of a point guard and therefore you never could be their answer at the position?

Thomas: I guess. I guess because I’m 5-9 and I’m not the prototypical point guard they just kept trying to find … which every year I would beat out the guy. Like I tell people, it’s a business and I know where they’re coming from, but three years in a row it happened. I mean, it’s definitely not going to happen a fourth year so I was kind of fed up with that and that’s why I wanted a little change. I wanted to be somewhere where I was wanted for, like I said, being who I am, being 5-9 and being a scoring guard.

NBA.com: To be clear, you never asked to be traded did you?

Thomas: No, I didn’t. I never asked. I was always professional about every situation. I always came in with my hard hat on willing to do whatever is best for the team. When they signed Darren Collison, I knew I was going in a different direction. (more…)

World Cup stacked with NBA players


VIDEO: USA tops Puerto Rico in exhibition

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James was always taking the summer off from competitive basketball. Kevin Love decided to do the same just before the U.S. National Team opened training camp in Las Vegas last month. But there are still reasons for Cavs fans to watch the FIBA World Cup, which begins Saturday in Spain.

The Cavs are one of two teams that will have four players taking part in the World Cup. Kyrie Irving, of course, will start (at least some games) at point guard for the United States. He’ll face new teammate Erik Murphy, playing for Finland, in the USA’s first pool-play game.

Murphy, who was acquired in a trade from Utah last month, may not necessarily be on the Cavs’ opening-night roster. Only $100,000 of his $816,000 contract is guaranteed, the Cavs are already over the 15-man roster limit, and they’ve yet to sign Shawn Marion.

Irving has already faced Brazil’s Anderson Varejao in an exhibition game. And he could go head-to-head with his Cleveland back-up — Australia’s Matthew Dellavedova — in the knockout round.

The Rockets are the other NBA team that will have four players at the World Cup. James Harden, the Dominican Republic’s Francisco Garcia, Lithuania’s Donatas Motiejunas and Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou will all represent the Rockets in Spain.

Papanikolaou is one of five incoming rookies at the tournament. The others are the Bulls’ Cameron Bairstow (Australia), the Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia), the Jazz’s Dante Exum (Australia), and the Pacers’ Damjan Rudez (Croatia).

Croatia’s Bogdanovic is not to be confused with Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was selected in this year’s Draft by the Suns and will play at least two years in Turkey before coming to the NBA. The Serbian Bogdanovic is one of six guys taken in the last two drafts who has yet to come over.

The others are Alex Abrines (OKC, Spain), Arselan Kazemi (PHI, Iran), Joffrey Lauvergne (DEN, France), Raul Neto (UTA, Brazil) and Dario Saric (PHI, Croatia). (more…)