Posts Tagged ‘James Harden’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 6


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Nuggets, Faried reach deal | Monroe, Smith say there’s no rift between them | Rockets amp up their physical play | Lakers lose Young for 6-8 weeks

No. 1: Report: Nuggets, Faried agree to $60M contract extension — Folks in Denver had to know this was coming, especially after Kenneth Faried‘s eye-opening performance during the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The energetic power forward and the Nuggets have agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal that keeps him in the Mile High City for years to come. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story and has more on the deal and what it means for Denver:

Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has reached agreement on a five-year, $60 million contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Faried is part of the 2011 NBA draft class eligible for extensions until Oct. 31.

The deal includes a partial guarantee in the fifth year that assures Faried he will make no less than $52 million over the life of the contract, sources said.

Denver general manager Tim Connelly and Faried’s agent, Thad Foucher of Wasserman Media Group, started to seriously exchange proposals in the past week and ultimately came to terms on a deal Sunday night, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Faried has developed into one of the NBA’s most relentless talents, a fierce rebounder and defender who has excelled offensively for the Nuggets when the game is speeded up. Faried played an integral part of the United States national team’s gold-medal performance in the 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain.

Faried, 24, is a tremendous success story in the NBA. As a 6-foot-8 post player out of mid-major Morehead State, Faried transformed himself from the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 draft into an integral part of the Nuggets’ long-term nucleus.

Faried averaged 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds last season.


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried and the Nuggets are in the midst of training camp

(more…)

Harden vows to add ‘D’ to his ‘A game’


VIDEO: Kevin McHale, James Harden and Dwight Howard discuss the upcoming season

HOUSTON — If there’s one thing the Rockets tired of more than seeing replays of Damian Lillard’s lethal dagger over the summer, it was hearing the criticism of James Harden’s defense. Or what there was of it.

The All-NBA first team guard was a virtual pin cushion on social media for his lack of commitment to the part of the game that didn’t involve his trying to put the ball into the basket.

“I hear it,” Harden said at the annual Media Day gathering on Monday. “I don’t pay attention to it. I’m not a really good defender. At times I can be really bad.

“A lot of stars, their defense is bad. That’s a category I know I have to get better at. For us to go and reach our potential, that’s something that has to be done. That’s one of the things I’m excited about this season. I have no choice.”

Harden raised some eyebrows when he told an interviewer that he regarded himself as the best all-around player in the NBA.

“I wasn’t saying that to be cocky,” he said. “I’ve just put such hard work and effort into my craft. Obviously we know there’s a lot of great talent out there in this league.”

Perhaps Harden even made the statement to set the bar even higher to motivate himself.

“Probably, to play the way I know I can play,” he said. “My teammates know I can play. Like I said, I got to get better at both ends. It’s just me focusing on all possessions. Being able to concentrate on small things.”

Coach Kevin McHale, with his pedigree as player, knows about the small and large things that go into the making of champion, including getting defensive effort from even the biggest offensive gun.

“We talked about all that,” McHale said. “We’ve constantly been challenging James to take on challenges. He knows he’s got to improve in areas. We asked him to do a lot last year. We’ll ask him to do a lot this year. There’s a lot of offensive pressure on him to deliver every night, but you still got to go out there and play the other side of the ball.

“He’s a young guy that’s growing into being a leader, growing into who he is. We won 54 games last year. He was first team All-Pro. I know there’s not anything above first team. that’s about as good as you get. He must have done a lot of really good things. Like all our guys, he’s got to improve in areas. He knows that. He’s not afraid to work.

“Your defense is based on help and help principles. But if (a teammate) gets beat every time, I say, ‘Oh, my God I got to get over and help again.’ If (a teammate) shuts down his guy, there’s a calmness in me. I’m not over-helping. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh my.’

“It’s a trust factor of doing your job on defense. It’s not always relying on the trust that is built in. Your object as a defender is to not use that help all that time. Use it when guys make great moves. You can’t get beat on average moves. You can’t get beat on just average stuff. You gotta just make guys work hard to beat you. It’s simple things.

“In the end, if you play on a team that is championship caliber team, there is a huge amount of trust. That trust comes from you doing your job night after night after night after night, so that everybody can trust each other.”

The Rockets are hoping that a lineup that includes three players — Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley — who love to sink their teeth in on defense can rub off and put some bite into Harden’s defense.

“It’s not the fact that I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m a pretty good defender. It’s me being focused on the small things that I lose track of. I know that. Like I said, in order for Rockets to reach potential, I got to get better at that end.”

First Team: Harden’s O shines above all

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

At 25, James Harden is on track to become a perennial All-NBA contender for years to come.

At 25, James Harden is on track to become a perennial All-NBA contender for years to come.

Let’s get the elephant out of the way: James Harden is not a defensive specialist. His inattention to that end of the floor is common knowledge at this point. Long before a compilation of Harden’s defensive fails made its Internet rounds, Rockets fans were routine witnesses to his off-the-ball watching, feet-in-the-mud, swipe-around defense.

Like fellow perimeter non-defensive specialist Steve Nash (All-NBA first team from 2005-07), Harden plays with an innate feel for the game that warrants overlooking some blown coverages. The court vision is there. He is a deft passer. He uses his body and low center of gravity to find his way to the iron. Once he gets there, he is strong enough to finish through contact or earn a trip to the line, where he is near automatic.

For this reason alone, The Beard will be able to generate offense for a long time in the NBA. He is still young enough to make himself a stout deterrent. He plucked 1.6 steals per game last season, good for 17th in the league. He has quick, bear hands and a nose for the ball.

But that day may never come. Until then, his predictable yet unstoppable Euro-steps, old-man game and frequent scoring sprees should hold us over.

December 25, 2013 — Too Much For The Spurs

The Line: 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting, 16 in 4th quarter

The Quote:Coming into the game I wanted to keep (teammates) involved and keep them going and try to get mine at the end. It played out well.” – Harden


VIDEO: Harden lights it up on Christmas Day

Harden is not a quiet scorer. He can get hot in a hurry and before you know it, he has a 15-point quarter. After building an 18-point lead early, the Rockets saw the Spurs claw back in it a little over a couple minutes into the fourth quarter. That’s when The Beard got busy.

He scored on the next four Houston possessions. His 3 with about five minutes left capped off 11 straight points and gave the Rockets a double-digit lead that would carry them to the end.

This was the second of four times last season the Rockets sent the future champs home in disappointment.

January 3, 2014 – Nail Biter With The Knicks

The Line: 37 points on 10-for-19 shooting, 12-for-12 at the line

The Quote: “It wasn’t the prettiest win, but at the end of the night a win is all that matters.” – Harden


VIDEO: Harden’s huge game holds off ‘Melo and the Knicks

Harden didn’t think the win had aesthetic value, but his game was artistic. From the onset, he controlled matters for Houston, connecting on a bevy of step backs, pull-up shots and hard dribble drives. Frustrated Knicks defenders were unable to defend him without fouling or getting buried with a bucket.

With two and a half minutes left in the game, he sized up Carmelo Anthony and dropped him off on a pretty step-back jumper for his last deuce.

March 9, 2014 – Dousing The Blazers In H-Town

The Line: 41 points, 10 rebounds, 7 3s, 6 steals, 6 assists

The Quote:He is a freak. He is ridiculous. He is unbelievable.” – Chandler Parsons on Harden


VIDEO: Harden powers Houston’s comeback against Portland

Down 13 points to the Blazers at home in the fourth, Jimmy Beard went into overdrive. He cranked out four 3-pointers in the final frame, including one from the left corner to send the game into overtime. Time after time, he bailed the Rockets out with his isolation magic and led Houston to one of the season’s best comeback victories.

April 4, 2014 – Bashing The Thunder

The Line: 39 points, 17-for-20 from the line, 9 rebounds, 7 assists

The Quote: “We were in ‘whatever it takes to win’ mode. We got it done.” – Harden


VIDEO: Harden schools the Thunder to clinch a playoff berth

Mr. Harden doesn’t seem to lack for motivation in games against his ex-teammates. He had the aggression going early and often. When he wasn’t getting to the stripe, he was exercising accuracy from deep (4-for-8). When he wasn’t bombing from the land of trey, he was dishing to waiting teammates.

Eight of his 13 fourth-quarter points came at the line. The Thunder were foul-happy, yielding 37 attempts. Harden tallied more than half of that amount. Amazingly, Harden was able to coax fouls at will from a team he spent his first three years with. Fittingly, the win clinched another playoff berth.

April 12, 2014 – Snatching Victory From Jaws Of Pelicans

The Line: 33 points, 14 in 4th quarter, 13 assists

The Quote:We needed this win more than anything.” – Harden


VIDEO: Harden scores 14 in the fourth to lift Houston

For the third time this season, the Rockets were behind late to the Pelicans. For the third time this season, they overcame. Harden put on a show in the period with his usual trinity: 3s, penetrations, free throws. But that almost wasn’t enough.

Down 104-96 with 2:48 remaining, The Beard dished two dimes and scored another six to help Houston end the game on a 15-0 blitz to put away the Pels. This win stopped a skid and helped them maintain their hold on the fourth playoff spot in the West.

A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

(more…)

First Team: CP3, Doc make strides in L.A.

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul always has the ball on a string. He can dish with either hand, making any bounce pass through tight holes — and lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — possible from any angle. His pull-up jumper is lethal, and you have to get a hand up on him when he’s 23 feet out.

On the other side, he hounds. He flops. He annoys. He barks. His hands are active. In Game 4 of the 2014 Western Conference semis, he alternated between guarding Russell Westbrook (First Team-worthy) and Kevin Durant (a fellow First Teamer) as his team completed a rally back from 22.

But then came the yang of the last 49 seconds of Game 5. A turnover, a foul on a four-point play and another turnover from Paul gave the Thunder the game. They would close out the series in Game 6. It was the type of loss that encapsulates Paul: The smart, methodical, ball-on-a-string point guard can be too smart, too methodical and too ball dominant at the worst moments.

He is still a cut above the rest, continuing to redefine the Clippers’ brand to newbies who have no clue about their inept past. At 29, he is an historically great hardwood bandit (2.41 spg ranks fourth all time) and passer (9.91 apg also third all-time). There are deeper playoff successes and a MVP award to be had, but with a capable motivator in coach Doc Rivers in his ear, his point guard supremacy threatens to remain for the foreseeable future.

Here are his top games last season:

October 31, 2013 – Dawn Of A Season-Long Rivalry

The Line: 42 points, 15 assists, 6 steals, 6 turnovers

The Quote:Man, I had six turnovers. That’s ridiculous. That means there was six times I didn’t give us an opportunity to score. I’m big on turnovers. I hate turnovers.” — Paul


VIDEO: Chris Paul carves up the Warriors in a Halloween matchup

Tiny Archibald should have been proud. Two nights after being handled by the Lakers in the season opener, Cliff Paul’s brother dealt out the complete package. He was sinking free-throw line jumpers, baseline turnaround jumpers. He had his way with a pre-Team USA Klay Thompson, including a bullying score on a post-up. He even got in a sneaky dunk in Jermaine O’Neal’s mug.

Then there were those three consecutive alley oops with Blake, as well as the verbal jabs and scowls at the Warriors bench. This was CP3’s point god night, only if god coughed up the pill six times. (more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki doesn’t let up in offseason | Bowen blames McHale for Harden’s defensive woes | Grousbeck questions Rondo’s coachability

No. 1: Nowitzki works to speed up shot release in offseason — This summer, Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki made sure he’d be with the team for the rest of his career by signing a three-year, $25 million extension. That big payday might lead some players to take an offseason, but not Nowitzki. As ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, Nowitzki has been busy over the summer, working with longtime coach/shot doctor Holger Geschwindner to improve the release of his shot:

“I don’t think, to the naked eye, you would see it,” Nowitzki told ESPN.com. “I don’t know if the [average] fan will see the difference. But I’m always trying to get better, and this is just a little tool for me to shoot a little quicker. We’ll see how it works during the season.”

Geschwindner has often referred to what he calls Nowitzki’s “toolbox” and the idea of adding one new specialty every offseason.

“We worked on a quicker release,” Geschwindner said, citing Golden State’s Steph Curry as the standard-setter for getting shots off rapid-fire and insisting that Nowitzki also can become adept at getting the ball to the release point faster “if he sticks with it.”

Said Nowitzki: “Even now, I’m 36, but I don’t see myself as a complete basketball player. It’s always about getting better and adding stuff in the summer. That’s something I wanted to look at and see how it goes, so I’ll try it.

“What else can I do at 36 when the feet slow down a little bit? Try to be even quicker with the shot, because once you get older, you don’t jump as high and the first step is slower. Shooting quicker should help my game for the back end of my career. And if it doesn’t work [out well], I’ll just go back to the old way.”

In addition to his work with Geschwindner, the Mavericks also sent the team’s athletic performance director, Jeremy Holsopple, to Germany in the offseason to work with Nowitzki, too. Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News has more:

Holsopple also spent considerable time working in tandem with Nowitzki’s mentor, Holger Geschwindner, to fine-tune Dirk’s preparations for training camp, with starts Sept. 30.


“We spent an hour, hour-and-a-half each day lifting weights, sprinting, agility, different things that he needs to do to continue (playing) for so long,” Holsopple said. “He’s on a program and texts me, or we talk, almost every day, but it’s not the same as being pushed by someone. So that’s why I was over there, for the physical training.”

But what about Geschwindner? He does he feel about having some else help train a superstar who Geschwindner began mentoring 20 years ago, when Dirk was 16? After all, Holsopple is a disciple of high-tech sports science while Geschwindner, 69, is well-known for tutoring Nowitzki with many old-school — and some unorthodox — methods.

“It’s really kind of a creative process with Holger because he’s a very unique guy,” Holsopple said. “Holger and I work together in terms of the things he (Geschwindner) thinks needs to be done, as well as what we (the Mavericks) think needs to be done.

“And then we watch Dirk shoot, look at some of the shortcomings and what’s limiting him. And then we devise exercises that might address that.”

Such as?

“Even simple things like the tiny, small degree of the torso remaining (upright) on free-throws and any shot,” Holsopple said. “Then we devise an exercise to kind of stretch him out, so he can always be upright, effortlessly.”

Anyone who has witnessed a few minutes of Geschwindner working with Nowitzki — having him do leap-frogs, shooting lefthanded free-throws, etc. — might be surprised to learn how eagerly Geschwindner actually embraces new training ideas.

“There isn’t a conversation you have with Holger without him pulling out a notebook and writing all these geometric physics,” Holsopple said. “Really, it’s physics with him. He is very, very into it.

“And for the most part, it works out great for me. Because generally speaking, (Geschwindner) is really good with all these things. He has a lot of unique ideas. Some would say they’re a little out there, but they seem to work.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks about his longtime relationship with Holger Geschwindner

(more…)

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place. (more…)

USA-Serbia gold medal live blog


VIDEO: GameTime: FIBA Finals Predictions

MADRID – After 16 days and 75 games, it’s time to bring the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup to a close with the gold medal game between the United States and Serbia (3 p.m. ET, ESPN 2).

The U.S. has suffocating defense and a 44-game winning streak on the line. Serbia has a potent offense and a three-game streak of pulling off upsets to go from 2-3 in group play to earning at least a silver medal.

The winner not only gets the gold, but also an automatic berth into the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Read NBA.com’s preview here.

Pre-game

Tip-off

End of first quarter: USA 35, Serbia 21

Halftime: USA 67, Serbia 41

End of third quarter: USA 105, Serbia 67

Final: USA 129, Serbia 92

U.S., Serbia chasing World Cup Gold


VIDEO: Coach K on Serbia after Saturday practice

By Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann

MADRID — Twelve NBA players against a team without a single player currently on a NBA roster is, at least on paper, a mismatch of epic proportions.

This was supposed to be epic in a different manner, the defending champion U.S. National Team facing the host nation, with a raucous crowd behind it, with a gold medal on the line.

It never happened, of course. France ended that global hoops lover’s dream when they upset the Spaniards in the quarterfinals.

It’s the U.S. and Serbia squaring off instead, two teams, according to the words that have been dancing around U.S. forward Kenneth Faried‘s head for weeks, that weren’t supposed to leave here with gold.

“This team is different,” Faried said of Serbia after practice on Saturday. “They made it to the championship round when others thought they couldn’t. We made it to the championship round when others thought we’d fall. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the floor just to win the gold.”

Faried and the U.S. fighting off the favorite’s tag now seems a bit preposterous, what with the way the U.S. National Team has mowed down the competition. They’ve won their eight games leading up to this point by an average of 32.5 points, a number skewed a bit by the 59-point blowout of Finland in their opener.

“I never knew we were a heavy favorite,” Faried said. “That surprises me because before, when we first started, everybody said we were going to lose and we’re not that good. So as far as being a heavy favorite, we just have to take that for what it is and go out there like we’re the underdogs still.”

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

“They underrated us from the beginning, as I heard,” Miroslav Raduljica said after his team’s win over France on Friday. “We showed everybody that we can compete and play basketball, in a good way.”

As part of Yugoslavia, Serbia has won five World Championships, including back-to-back titles in 1998 and 2002. So it’s appropriate that this is the opponent as the U.S. tries to win its fifth title and repeat as World Champion for the first time.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest factors for both teams in this gold medal tussle:

A defensive stopper on Teodosic

This U.S. team didn’t have a designated perimeter defensive stopper when the roster was finalized but will no doubt need one with Serbia’s guards playing lights out the past three games.

Derrick Rose has been fantastic on the ball defensively and Klay Thompson has been arguably the best defender on the U.S. team. But they are both coming off the bench. That means the immediate pressure will be on starters Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and James Harden to set the tone early on Serbian catalyst Milos Teodosic., who torched France in the semifinals.

“He’s the head of the snake, a great player,” Rudy Gay said of Teodosic. “We brought up a couple of things today, but we’re really going to have to prepare for him.”

Not one of the American starters on the perimeter would pass for a true defensive stopper, not even in this competition. Thompson, however, is ready and willing.

“Whoever the best perimeter player is, I love guarding them,” Thompson said. “I’ve guarded some of the best in the NBA, so that’s prepared me for now and you gotta know your opponent is going to score on you a couple of times. It’s just about containing them and making him work for it every time he touches the ball.”

“He’s been consistently excellent on the defensive end,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said about Thompson. “The fact that he’s tall, he’s been able to play, defensively, the two and the three. So he’s become our most versatile defender. And in the last two games, he’s given us such a huge offensive lift too. He’s had a terrific stay with us.”

If there’s a team that can stop the Serbia offense, this is it

With Teodosic starting games strong and Bogdan Bogdanovic finishing them strong, the Serbian offense has been unstoppable in its last three games. After ranking 11th in group play, it has improved to second in efficiency, behind only the U.S., through the semifinals.

In fact, the Serbian offense has been more efficient (123.5 points scored per 100 possessions) in the knockout rounds than the U.S. offense (118.6), even though Serbia has faced teams that were higher ranked defensively through group play. Greece, Brazil and France had ranked fifth, third and seventh defensively before the knockout rounds, while Mexico, Slovenia and Lithuania had ranked 19th, 16th and fourth.

“They have some great guards that are shooting well,” Curry said. “It just seems like they know where each other is, and they run their plays at a high level. Execution is very high and they keep attacking. So we have to stick to our game plan of taking away their first looks.”

In its three elimination games, Serbia has shot 26-for-57 from 3-point range. More important in regard to playing against the U.S. is that it has turned the ball over just 11.7 times per 100 possessions, down from 19.9 in group play. The U.S. has had the No. 1 defense in the tournament, but this will be a new test.

“With them, you’ve got to pick your poison,” Rose said. “If you play fast, they can get some long rebounds and head the other way. They have great shooters on their team. It’s going to be a challenge for us. We haven’t played a team like that in the tournament, and we’re willing to take that challenge.”

USA on the glass

In the knockout rounds, the U.S. has grabbed an incredible 41.5 percent of available offensive rebounds. For some perspective, the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the NBA last season (Detroit) grabbed 31.4 percent of available offensive boards.

Serbia has been above-average, but not a great defensive rebounding team. So, even if the U.S. doesn’t shoot well from the perimeter, Faried (13 offensive rebounds in the last three games), Anthony Davis (nine) and DeMarcus Cousins (seven) will give their team second chances at scoring.

Home-court advantage?

No, the U.S. isn’t facing Spain in its nation’s capital. But it is playing at the Palacio de los Deportes for the first time, against an opponent that has played here three times already.

“They’ve been playing in this arena for a week now,” Curry said, “so they’re very comfortable here. This arena means success to them, so we’ve got to come in and take it from them.”

Respect your opponent

Krzyzewski preaches it relentlessly, respecting the opposition. The U.S. followed that approach to the gold medal game (for the most part). They avoided talking extensively about Spain or anyone else that wasn’t on the path to the final game.

But they are gushing about Serbia for a reason. This is the biggest and best team they’ll have faced during this run.

“I think Serbia is really as good as anybody in the tournament, and probably the hottest team, and they are playing a high level,” Coach K said. “They have stars on their team, and Teodosic is … I loved him when I saw him in the World Championship in 2010. Bogdanovic is a rising star. Their big guys are good. They are well coached, and they are strong. They can hurt you from many different positions, but they are just playing great basketball right now. Actually it’s beautiful to see. I hope I don’t see that beauty tomorrow night. They’ve been playing lights-out basketball.”

Serbia has nothing to lose

Serbia already surpassed expectations. For the U.S., nothing short of gold and a continuation of its 44-game winning streak will be accepted. This team does not want to have to qualify for the 2016 Olympics through the FIBA Americas tournament next summer (which it wouldn’t have to do if it wins Sunday). So all the pressure is on the Americans.

“It’s going to be a beautiful game for us,” Serbia center Raduljica said, “because we already got a medal. We are here to compete. Of course, nothing to lose, but we’re not going to lay down our weapons and we’re going to fight with our Serbian pride.”

Advanced chemistry

Serbia is working with chemistry that is years old while the U.S. is working on chemistry that is barely six weeks old.

Talent versus chemistry is always an interesting battle. Developing chemistry among this group has been the biggest challenge for the U.S. It’s not something that can be fast tracked. These are NBA stars playing out of position, in some cases, and certainly playing roles they are not used to.

Coach K admitted earlier this week that the one thing he wishes is that this team “knew each other a little better.”

Situational sloppiness during this competition has been more about this group’s unfamiliarity with each other than it has anything else. Those slow starts are proof that it takes time to develop the kind of intuitive flow some of these teams they have faced have been working on for years.

The U.S. is still searching for that one game when they put it all together, when all of their stars are clicking from the opening tip to final buzzer. Their ninth and final game of the World Cup is exactly when they need their chemistry to finally come together.

“No question, because this is the gold medal game,” Thompson said. “This is what we’ve worked for. We’re going to play as hard as we can for as long as we can and bring it back for our country.”