Posts Tagged ‘James Harden’

Morning Shootaround — September 7


VIDEO: FIBA World Cup: Round of 16, Day 1 Wrap

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA routs Mexico | Spain keeps rolling | No Parker, no problem | Melo wants to be the ‘digital athlete’

No. 1: Curry lifts U.S. into quartersStephen Curry finally found the hot hand and blistered Mexico from deep, scoring 20 points and leading Team USA to an easy win and a spot in the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith was there:

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

***

No. 2: Spain stays on collision course with U.S. — Senegal kept it close in the first half, but Spain’s superior players took charge in the second half. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is in Madrid:

Spain’s 89-56 victory was a foregone conclusion from the tip and never got very interesting. But Senegal did keep the game within single digits for most of the first half and may have exposed a couple of issues for what has been the best team in the tournament.

The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have been mostly terrific over the eight days. But they had some trouble keeping Senegal’s bouncy bigs off the offensive glass in the first half. The only African team that made it through to the knockout rounds grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, with Spain securing only 13 of their opponents’ 26 missed shots and free throws.

“They’re a long team and they crash the boards,” Pau Gasol said afterward. “They chased their rebounds well and they gave themselves opportunities.”

Senegal converted all those second chances into only four points. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, lacked size in the backcourt and didn’t get much from the Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng on Saturday. He shot 1-for-9 and scored just six points. Dieng and his countrymen were a feel-good story in Group B, but were also the worst team that got through to the round of 16.

The U.S. is obviously a lot more skilled. And they have as athletic a frontline as anybody, starting Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis at the four and five. The U.S. was the fifth best offensive rebounding team in group play.

***

No. 3: Evan Fournier lifts France — The French, the reigning European champions, don’t have Tony Parker in the World Cup, so any lift they can get from Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier is welcome. He shook off a slow start to the tournament to carry France over Croatia and into the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was there:

Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s off-court dreams and on-court plans to retire as a KnickCarmelo Anthony, with the help of a business partner, launched Melo7 Tech Partners this summer. The company invests in startup firms specializing in digital media, Internet consumer ventures and technology-based operations. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports on Melo’s ambitions:

“I want to brand myself as the digital athlete,” Anthony said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in Manhattan. “Nobody really took that place. There’ve been athletes that came before me that were doing what I’m doing and there are going to be people after me that are doing what I’m doing.

“But I really want to be the pioneer for that digital athlete, and when it comes to tech I want to be the face of that space,” said Anthony, noting the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and David Beckham became known worldwide for their business ventures.

But none is known as the guy for the Digital Age. Anthony nominates himself.

“At the end of the day, we all know what’s my day job: basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s what my brand is built on, but I’m trying to take my brand to the next level, make it bigger, make it stronger.”

And there is no better place to start up a venture capital firm than New York, Anthony claimed. So add that — and Phil Jackson — as driving forces behind what kept him with the Knicks. He signed a five-year, $124 million deal ending his free agency adventure.

It was a process, Anthony stressed, that he never wants to go through again. He did five years, not two like LeBron James.

Yes, Anthony might make more in two years. He gave up about $5 million (“relative to the contract I got, it’s not a lot of money,” Anthony admitted) in staying with the Knicks. And he wants to stay put.

“I plan on ending my career here, so it wasn’t for me to go out there and try to strike a two-year deal and then have to go through this situation in two years. I’m not doing that ever again. I would never do that again. I would advise no one to ever do that,” Anthony said. “I experienced it and it’s behind me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says everyone needs to take a step back on Derrick RoseHeat meet with center Ryan HollinsKings part ways with Jeremy TylerJared Dudley said knee pain hampered him last season with ClippersGustavo Ayon prefers to play in NBA over Europe next season.

Curry finds his shot as U.S. routs Mexico 86-63


VIDEO: Recap: U.S. vs. Mexico

BARCELONA, SPAIN — Steph Curry was waiting for his shot to start falling in the FIBA World Cup.

Not anymore.

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

Mexican center Gustavo Ayon pounded the U.S. inside for 25 points and eight rebounds, numbers that look better on paper than they did in the flesh. For all of his success against Davis and Faried, the game was never really in doubt.

A lot of that has to do with Curry, one of the most experienced players on this roster, having played on the team that won gold four years ago in Turkey.

If he and Harden and Thompson can stay hot from outside, the balance U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski has been looking for will come to fruition between now and this weekend’s medal games in Madrid, provided the U.S. makes it there.

What was considered a given when Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George were expected to lead this team, changed a bit when Curry, Harden and Davis suddenly assumed the leadership (and scoring mantle) due to defections and injuries.

Curry said his own internal expectations didn’t change as some of the bigger names started to drop off, for whatever reasons.

“It was more of an opportunity,” he said of the way the roster shuffling played out. “I expected to have a big impact on the team from the get go, having the 2010 experience and being healthy now four years later. Talking to coach and going into training camp, and just getting back in that (Team) USA vibe, I definitely felt like there was a huge opportunity to be leader and be vocal and use the experience that I had, along with some of the other guys who had been here before.

“So that didn’t change at all. Obviously, as the roster shapes, you understand what’s needed of you and it becomes more real as you go through the process. Nothing really about my expectations changed … the big thing is just living in the moment and enjoying it. And that’s what I’m doing.”

The significance of doing it here in Barcelona, on this stage, where the Dream Team got it all started decades ago, has not been lost on Curry or his teammates.

Sure, there are similarities to Turkey four years ago. But there is something about this city, this building and the National Team history that courses through the place, and that’s for all involved. Coach K discussed it as well, having himself been an assistant on that 1992 team that won Olympic gold here.

The current task, though, is trying to repeat as champions in this event. For that, Curry and his crew have to indeed stay in the moment, something that 2010 team was able to do at the highest level (defeating host nation Turkey in a tense gold medal game).

Spain could be the opponent in the final this weekend in Madrid, not that Coach K, out of respect for the rest of the remaining field, would dare speak about any team other than the one up next on the U.S. schedule.

Instead, he’s focused on his team and how they are coming together after six games in eight days. When asked to assess what he’s happy and unhappy about with this crew, there was nothing negative.

“I’m not unhappy with our team,” he said. “Six games in really eight days is difficult. They give me their attention. I wish they knew each other better. You can’t force that maturation process. It’s just got to happen. But they listen. They are unselfish. And I think the main thing I’m happy about is no matter what we do offensively, the defense hasn’t suffered. We’ve played really positive defense.”

If there are any parallels from the 2010 run to gold, that’s where Curry says he sees them.

“It’s very similar,” Curry said. “We’re a new group together. We’ve played better each and every game. The focus is on winning. But it’s like coach said, we get more comfortable with each other knowing where we’re going to get our shots and driving angles and just playing off of each other. And that’s the focus and just getting more comfortable and living in the moment.”

Just like they did in Turkey.

“In 2010, we did that. Every game was fun and energetic and we just enjoyed the ride,” he said. “Now that we’re here in Barcelona and got that first medal game under our belt, we got the wheels going and we’re excited to get back to work on Tuesday.”

The Manimal bursts onto world stage

Kenneth Faried shot better than 79 percent in the first round of the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Kenneth Faried shot better than 79 percent in the first round of the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

BILBAO, Spain — Kenneth Faried sticks out in a crowd.

On a couch in the U.S. National Team’s hotel lobby on an off day, Faried dominates the scene, his dreadlocks scattered over his broad shoulders, the ideal accessory for a man whose profile is rising with every outing in the FIBA World Cup.

It’s been the same way on the court for the Denver Nuggets star, who has been the most dominant force on any team heading into the single-elimination round of the tournament. The most unlikely breakout star on a team few expected him to make, Faried has been a revelation for those unfamiliar with his relentless game.

Faried silenced his critics through the five-game pool play portion of this competition with consistent fury and a motor that lives up to every letter of his gold medal, social-media infused (#unleashthemanimal) mission on his first trip with the National Team.

This notion that an old-school power forward (not a “stretch-4″) could dominate in this fashion is reminiscent of another physical force of nature who invaded Spain years ago with the USA logo plastered across his chest. While any NBA comparison between Faried and Dream Teamer, Hall of Famer and TNT’s very own Charles Barkley end there, the proof that Faried’s trademark game made it through customs without issue has been on display since the day the National Team convened for training camp.

“Overall, from the start of training camp, he’s been the biggest and best surprise and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his starting power forward, who at one point last week was shooting a jaw-dropping 80 percent. “He’s made that happen. We never call a play for him.”

A social media superstar is born

Faried makes his own plays. He steals an inbounds pass, spins and dunks all in a single burst, leaving coaches, teammates and especially opponents in awe of a man whose energy never seems to wane.

“These first five games didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I know what Kenneth can do,” U.S. guard James Harden said. “Energy and hustle works no matter where you are, overseas, NBA, college. No matter who it is and no matter what sport. He’s done a tremendous job here in showing everybody what he can do. He’s setting screens, rebounding, offensive rebounder and scoring. He’s doing everything that we’ve asked him to do and more. He’s definitely a huge part of our team.”

Not bad for a guy who was considered a longshot, by some, to be here.

With reigning KIA NBA MVP Kevin Durant dropping out at the last-minute, just days after an injury forced Paul George out of the mix (and Kevin Love withdrawing before him), the U.S. was in need of not only a starter at power forward, but also a catalyst. Faried stepped into both roles with his usual zeal.

Silencing critics and gaining fans? That’s fine with Faried.

“I don’t know. If I am, then thank you to all my followers,” Faried said. “If I’m not, then it don’t worry me none. I just came out here to play basketball and do the sport I love to do each and every day.”

Harden, Derrick Rose and Steph Curry all have experience in the program and have won gold medals. Any one of them could still be needed to play a bigger leadership role before this tournament is over.

On to Barcelona

In the meantime, the U.S. has found a dynamic pair  of pacesetters in Faried and Anthony Davis. They are still working their way up the big man food chain in the NBA. But here in Spain, they are the unquestioned leaders of the pack.

Davis showed signs and potential when he earned a gold medal in the London Olympics in 2012. Seeing him do the things he’s doing now shouldn’t be a surprise. But no one in Bilbao saw Faried coming, including New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams, an assistant on the National Team staff who also happens to work with the big men.

“I think he’s surprised everybody, just because you can’t scout energy,” Williams said. “It’s the one thing you can’t quantify, how hard a guy plays and what his heart is made of. He’s played the same way since the first day of training camp. And he’s used to playing that way. Everybody has had to adjust to him. He hasn’t made any adjustments because that’s how he is all the time.”

The world now awaits in Barcelona, where the U.S. takes on Mexico Saturday (10 a.m. ET, ESPN2) in the round of 16 single-elimination portion of the competition.

Faried said he’s playing the only way he knows how, all-out at all times. He’s proud of the “Manimal” nickname. He earned it with years of tireless work, the stuff the world is seeing now on this grand stage., the same stuff that’s made him a force in Denver.

“I don’t think he’s playing any different now than he plays in the NBA,” Williams said. “Sometimes this [international] game slows down a bit. But he doesn’t. And that helps us. But that’s his game. He plays hard every possession.”

It’s easy to tag Faried a hustle guy, an energy guy and not necessarily recognize the skill level involved in operating that way full-time. Williams knows better, though, having to deal with Faried on a regular basis in the Western Conference.

“Back in the day playing hard was expected,” Williams said. “Now it’s a skill. So guys who play at that level they stand out. With all of the attention on shooting 3s and stretch this and stretch that, the analytics, I don’t know how you analyze energy, toughness and heart. That’s what Kenneth brings every night.”

U.S. strolls confidently into round of 16

DeMarcus Cousins (center) is one of a group of U.S. big men giving opponents fits. (David Dow/NBAE)

DeMarcus Cousins (center) is one of a group of U.S. big men giving opponents fits. (David Dow/NBAE)

BILBAO, SPAIN — One thing the U.S. National Team never has to worry about in international competition is confidence. The continuous destruction of the competition has a way of fortifying that quality in a group, no matter the parts.

A slow start, a tight quarter here or there is not enough to rattle a locker room full of NBA stars who know that every time they hit the gym they are considered the prohibitive favorites.

Their 5-0 march through Group C, finished off with a 95-71 win over Mike Fratello‘s Ukraine team Thursday, was simply a warm-up for much bigger things in this FIBA World Cup. The round of 16 in Barcelona is a different monster, one-and-done. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski made sure to remind his team of that after the Americans clinched the top spot in the group a night earlier.

The final phase — which begins Saturday for the U.S. — is where the fun starts for the U.S. No matter what anyone else thinks, no matter the expectations, nothing has changed internally for a team that entered this competition with its fair share of skeptics.

“We expect to win them all,” said U.S. forward Kenneth Faried, “We have high hopes for each other, and we look at each other each and every day and look at each other’s eyes, and we see that fight. We’re not going down without a fight no matter who we play. We know the opponent is not going to go down without a fight, so we just got to be better than them, just that night.”

Faried wasn’t expected to be one of this team’s leaders but has emerged, along with Anthony Davis (who knows the ropes after a gold-medal ride along at the London Olympics in 2012), as the team’s centerpieces.

So far, the World Cup has been less about the competition, or lack thereof, and more about the National Team’s examination of their own work and what must be corrected.

“Once we start getting a big lead, we start focusing on what do we need to work on — what do we have to get better [at] to win this gold medal,” Davis said. “I think that’s our biggest thing. Right now, we make sure we’re playing defense, make sure to stop turning the ball over a lot. That comes from everybody on the floor and even out to the bigs, taking better shots, making sure we rebound the ball. That’s the only way you can score the ball, when you have the ball, so we have to make sure that we limit our turnovers and rebound.”

As hard as it is to gauge a team’s performance when it’s steamrolling the competition, Coach K and his staff have had plenty of practice. Their streak of wins during World Cup/World Championship, Olympic and international exhibition games grew to 59 with the win over Ukraine.

“For me, I look for togetherness, effort, how we share the ball,” Coach K said after his team thumped the Dominican Republic Wednesday. “We felt we were going to win, and then how do you play, and overall I thought everyone left the court feeling good about how they played.”

Whether or not they can continue to play this way, with the tougher competition ahead, is the lingering question.

They have elite NBA perimeter scorers — James Harden, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Derrick Rose all qualify — that would be more than happy to crank up their output if needed.

But why change if what you’ve been doing has worked this well so far?

“I honestly don’t think we’re going to change a lot,” said Thompson, like Faried a newbie to this sort of competition. “Like I said before, it’s on the defensive end. Teams don’t have the lateral quickness and length and athleticism that we do.”

Even if that kind of talk strikes some as a bit brash, it’s honest. It’s that confidence the U.S. has built over the years.

“We’ve just got to keep clogging those passing lanes and make it tough on them when they go to the basket and limit 3-point opportunities,” Thompson continued, “because a lot of these great European teams have great shooters. We just want to make them get to the rim and finish over us. Guys like Anthony Davis and Kenneth and DeMarcus [Cousins] are monsters down there, so we know that’s our strength.”

When the National Team roster for the World Cup was finalized it wasn’t sure exactly where the strength would reside. Four big men 6-foot-10 or taller were selected for the first time during Coach K’s tenure, which was viewed by some as a sure sign toward potential matchups against other teams in the field like Spain and Brazil.

Coach K dismissed that theory.

“No. It’s really what we thought was the best balance for the team with a chance that at sometime we might take a look at Anthony [Davis] at the four,” he said. “Those 12 guys are the 12 guys who earned it in our opinion, and we felt that was the best balance especially with us knowing that Derrick [Rose] was going to be able to play. If we weren’t sure about Derrick, then I think we would have had to look at another way.”

They might not have to worry about another way until the very end of this competition.

U.S. flattens Dominican Republic

VIDEO: Team USA cruises past the Dominican Republic on Wednesday

BILBAO, SPAIN — The U.S. National Team came here with a simple goal in mind. Get in and out of this town without drama and with their unbeaten streak in international competition still in place.

They are 40 minutes away from making good on that promise after running away from the Dominican Republic 106-71 in Group C play Wednesday night in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

The U.S. wraps up pool play Thursday against Ukraine, and can finish with that 5-0 record that U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski told his players was a must if they are intent on chasing down a second consecutive gold medal in this competition.

“These last two games before this one have really gotten us in mental shape,” Rudy Gay said. Obviously, you come over here with USA on your chest and you think things are going to come easy. But they tested us. Today I think we executed and played defense and played together. So this was a big step for us.”

The 58-game win streak in international competition (dating back to 2006 and including World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and exhibition games) is a matter of pride, something the U.S. team uses as motivation each and every night out.

In a group that could end up with five teams sporting identical 2-3 records in pool play, any extra motivation the U.S. National Team can find is probably a good thing. The challenges will get tougher as they continue on into the round of 16, starting this weekend in Barcelona.

“You know everybody is looking at the tape,” Gay said. “Everybody is looking at the Turkey tape,they are looking at New Zealand and seeing how they can match that and take it to another level. What we have to do is learn from those games. We know we’re going to see that kind of play again. So no matter what happens out there, we have to learn from what we did in the past and come out with some [wins].”

Even with comfortable winning margins, anywhere from 59  points on down but always in double digits, there’s clearly still room for improvement aesthetically.

Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried have been dominant consistently on both ends of the floor, controlling the action against opposing big men at will. But the rest of this group seems to still be a work in progress.

“I’m not even worried about our offense,” Klay Thompson said. “If we just play that kind of pressure on defense, we have too much depth and we’re going to give teams headaches. I know our offense is going to come. We’ve got too many talented scorers. So if we keep making those easy opportunities on defense, the turnovers, we’re going to be a problem for every team we play.”

Still, they aren’t wowing anyone, not by their own recent and lofty standards.

And that includes a Spain team that is impressing every time they hit the floor. There’s nothing they’ve done here that Spain won’t be able to handle, not that Coach K or anyone affiliated with the program is willing to admit they’ve given the host nation’s team so much as a glance.

Then again, that’s not a part of the immediate plan. The goal was to get in and out of Bilbao unblemished, without any hiccups, with room to grow and get better as the competition moves into its second phase.

They’ve already clinched the top spot in Group C, and yet lingering doubts remain.

“You have to remember we’re still a team that’s only been playing together a few weeks now,” Thompson said. “We love playing with each other, we’ve got a lot of depth and we just love proving people wrong, too.

“There are a lot of people out there writing us off, thinking we’re in Spain and we don’t have as much international experience as some of these past and that it’s going to be a problem. But as long as you play hard, we’re too talented not to do well here in this tournament.”

Group C: Turkey 77, Finland 74 (OT)

Cenk Akyol‘s’ corner 3 with 4.2 seconds to play in regulation sent the game to overtime as Turkey rallied to knock off Finland and avoid disaster. Omer Asik was dominant for a second straight game, finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds.

Turkey won the game without ever leading in regulation.

The free throw discrepancy was even more staggering, with Turkey sinking 29 of their 45 attempts to Finland’s 6-for-10 showing. Petteri Koponen missed two free throws in the final seconds, either one of which could have made it a four point game, leaving the door open for Akyol’s corner-3 heroics.

Turkey is 2-2 with their game of pool play against the Dominican Republic Thursday. Finland is 1-3 with their final pool play game against New Zealand.

Group C: New Zealand 73, Ukraine 61

It took a few days but New Zealand finally broke through with a win in pool play, knocking off Mike Fratello‘s team with a complete performance just hours after being blown out by the U.S. National Team.

Kirk Penney led the Tall Black with 17 points as they finally made some news here for something other than the Haka.

The Ukraine followed the lead of the U.S. National Team and stood and faced the Tall Black as they went through their pregame ritual. What Finland, the team New Zealand finishes up pool play with Thursday, will do is anyone’s guess.

Finland has by far the largest and most raucous fan base here, and there has been chatter about the Haka before and after each game the Tall Blacks have played.

“If there’s a Finnish thing I don’t know if there is some Viking action coming back,” said New Zealand forward Casey Frank. We’ve got some berserkers out there. I’m sure we’ll accept it. We’re all for it.”

Maxym Kornieko finished with 15 points and Pooh Jeter 14 for Ukraine (2-2)

Rose sheds rust on his own schedule


VIDEO: U.S. rolls to 3-0 with decisive win over New Zealand

BILBAO, SPAIN — Stop measuring Derrick Rose‘s return with any conventional tools or methods that come to mind. They don’t apply. Not to a player whose every move and facial expression is being read for signs that he either is or is not back to the form that made him the MVP of the NBA early in his career.

Just keep it simple. Trust that he knows his own body and is sure that he is right where he is supposed to be, where he expects to be after playing a grand total of 10 games the past two NBA seasons.

Because anything else, any extra scrutiny or incessant worrying, won’t change things. The fact is Rose has rust to shake off. And he’s doing it on his own schedule. Not mine. Not yours. Not anyone else’s.

That might explain why he’s here in Spain with U.S. National Team on its quest to repeat as champs at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Some people wondered why he’d put himself through this grind, five games in six days in Group C play.

It makes more sense after watching him play through these first three games, the latest being Tuesday’s 98-71 demolition of New Zealand. Rose started the second half, replacing Kyrie Irving in a game that was already over by then.

The trademark burst and explosive moves have come in flashes, in starts and stops. The muscle memory is returning, slowly but surely. But there were no numbers to back up what many of us here saw. Three points on 1-for-6 shooting and just two assists in nearly 17 minutes of action sounds like pedestrian work for a player of Rose’s caliber.

But not to U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, who chuckled at the idea of someone questioning why he’d start Rose after halftime.

“I started him because he’s one of the best players in the league,” he said. “And also to see how he would … he needs to get minutes with the guys who are playing more minutes. Because he’s a guy that should play more minutes. And it’s something that I thought about before the game and it worked out that way. I thought Kyrie played really well. And I thought Derrick played really well. But I didn’t use them that much together tonight, because I wanted to see it separately. But he did well. I thought he moved well. And I thought he captured some of that chemistry he had in Vegas with James [Harden].”

That would be the chemistry observers saw there that had folks buzzing about Rose’s return, which would begin here with Rose as the starting point guard on this team. But Coach K and his staff backed off on that and have gone with Irving and Stephen Curry as the starting backcourt, with Rose coming off the bench.

The prospect of three games in three days doesn’t worry Rose, who smiled when asked how he was feeling after the first game.

“I couldn’t make a damn shot,” Rose said, “but I feel good.”

Coach K said the same, that he thinks Rose will hold up just fine after playing his best game, to date, against New Zealand.

“He’s moving very fast, he had that one shot go in and out, and then Kenneth [Faried] put it back in,” Coach K said. “I like the way he moved and fought through defensively. He doesn’t show any signs of favoring anything. I think he played well today.”

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, an assistant on the U.S. National Team staff, agrees.

“He’s working every day,” Thibodeau said. “And the only way you’re going to shake that rust off is by playing and I think that’s very important for him.”

The Bulls have two players in this competition playing at opposite ends of their own personal spectrums. Pau Gasol has been dominant for Spain, looking like easily one of the best big men and players in the entire field.

He, Rose and Joakim Noah will form the nucleus of a team everyone, Thibodeau included, expects to be among the NBA elite for the 2014-15 season and beyond. So much of that depends on not only how quickly they come together as a unit, but also whether or not Rose’s body passes summer school here at the World Cup.

“Great players always figure out how to play with each other,” Thibodeau said. “When you get a great player as talented as Pau and you put Derrick with him and they are going to be terrific together. And then you add in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson and we’ve got a lot of talented players. The challenge is how quickly we can come together.

If Rose is back to normal, there’s nothing stopping the Bulls from battling it out with Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

“He’s not going to change who he is,” Thibodeau said. “His strengths are his strengths. The big thing is for him, is physically he’s good and mentally he’s good. But he’s got to work on his timing. He hasn’t played in two years, basically, so it doesn’t happen overnight. I think he understands that. He’s showing great patience. He’s taken good care of his body. He’s putting everything he has into each and every day. It’ll come. It’ll come.”

U.S. wins without apology


VIDEO: The GameTime crew breaks down the U.S. win over Turkey and more

BILBAO, SPAIN — Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said it best hours before the U.S. team got its first scare of the FIBA World Cup.

“There are going to be a lot of upsets in this tournament in the four groups, I feel,” Fratello said. “And that’s because there is such balance. And the team that loses one night is capable of coming back the next night and playing great. That’s just what these teams are capable of doing.”

That wasn’t supposed to be the case in Group C, where the U.S. was expected to have an easier ride than some of the other medal favorites. Sunday’s close call (for three quarters) backed up Fratello’s assertion. And Senegal’s upset of Croatia in Group B on Monday confirmed it.

That might also explain why U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t sound the least bit apologetic about  his team not winning bigger against Turkey.

“We won and we won because we deserved to win,” he said. “Our guys played their hearts out. And that was a really big win for us against a good team.”

Coach K and anyone else who understands the level of competition involved knows that no team in this field, not even the U.S., is going to win big every night out. These coaches understand better than anyone just how competitive the field is here. And it shows in their appreciation of the competition after each and every game.

It’s a lesson the players were reminded of Sunday and certainly something for them to chew on with everyone in Group C off on Monday.

Kyrie Irving summed it up best, given his perspective as a first-timer on this stage.

“We separated as a team a little bit in the first half,” he said. “We had some adversity. And we faced it.”

Shooter’s Game?

As deep as the U.S. roster is with quality perimeter shooters, the Americans have struggled to make shots from distance through the first two games of the pool play

They are shooting 35 percent (14-for-40) from beyond the supposedly shooter-friendly international 3-point line. But Steph Curry is just 4-for-17 overall and missed nine of his first 10 shots from behind the line before he got it going late in the win over Turkey.

Curry’s Splash Brothers partner, Klay Thompson, isn’t worried.

“That’s just basketball. We try not to rely too heavily on 3-point shots because we have such good post players and such good guards getting in the lane,” he said. “You are going to have nights like that I’m sure next game, we’ll go 11 for 20 from three or something like that. That’s basketball.”

Turkey’s matchup zone caused the U.S. plenty of problems, a known blueprint for others in this field eager to identify a weakness they can exploit.

The U.S. didn’t panic, though. They didn’t try to shoot their way out of trouble when they were down early against Turkey, which seems like a sure sign of the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses they have to manage as the competition moves on.

“If our jumpers aren’t falling, we can’t let that dictate what we’re doing on the other end,” Thompson said. “I think we did that a little bit too much [against Turkey]. In the second half, we did a great job of putting the pressure on them, getting to the rim. Once you see a few buckets go in around the rim, it opens up the perimeter so much more.”

Pure Energy

Any questions about the fit of Kenneth Faried on this roster for an international competition should be put to rest after watching the way he helped rescue the U.S. with his trademark energy against Turkey.

Faried and Anthony Davis fueled the rally against Turkey and Faried, in particular, showed that his best quality translates in any competition.

“I just love to play basketball,” he said when asked where he continues to find the fuel others cannot. “Every time I step on the basketball court, you never know it could be your last game, so I like to play my hardest in every game. When you love the game like that it tends to reward you back.”

U.S. forced to work on Day 2


VIDEO: Team USA uses late run to rout Turkey on Day 2

BILBAO, SPAIN — An early wake up call isn’t necessarily what the U.S. was looking for on Day 2 of the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But that’s exactly what they got Sunday night against a Turkey team they are very familiar with, the same team Steph Curry mentioned late Saturday night after the U.S. team roasted Finland by 59 points in their opener.

Curry was right. A much better effort was needed against Turkey. And for the longest time it was not there. The U.S. didn’t play with their usual energy or effort for much of the game. They were caught flat-footed on defensive rotations repeatedly, caved to Turkey’s deliberate pace early and then had to battle them on their terms deep into the third quarter before pulling away for the 98-77 win.

A Curry 3-pointer from the corner with 1:45 to play in third quarter gave the U.S. a 64-59 lead they would never surrender. But this was not the way anyone expected them to record their 56th straight win in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition dating back to 2006, not after watching them play as well as they did just 24 hours earlier.

The U.S. battled Turkey on their own soil to win gold at the 2010 World Championship, a spirited battle Curry talked about. Even with different faces, the history between the two programs remains. And you could feel it from the start Sunday.

Turkey led 40-35 at halftime and the whistling and artificial noisemakers in the stands got louder and louder. But the U.S. showed no signs of panic and methodically worked their way back into control after halftime, turning up the pressure on defense, particularly in the passing lanes.

By the time they were finished, the final score masked what was a much tougher Day 2 outing than anyone expected.

“We learned a lot about ourselves as a team,” James Harden said. “We learned we’re resilient. We knew every game wasn’t going to be a 50-point game. We didn’t panic or anything. We had to grind it out and we did that.”

The U.S. also learned that until their shooters start knocking down shots consistently, the heart and soul of this group will be big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, whose combined energy and activity kept them close early and carried them late.

Faried was a force throughout the game, finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds. Davis scored all 19 of his points after halftime and also grabbed six rebounds. The U.S. was outrebounded 21-12 in the first half.

As their activity level cranked up on both ends, the game changed rapidly. The floor opened up and Turkey appeared to finally feel the effects of the second half of a back-to-back against what is equivalent of a NBA team.

“I think we didn’t come ready to play in the first half and we can’t afford to do that if we want to win a gold medal,” Davis said. “So we’ve got to come out ready to play no matter who we’re playing against.”

This group knows what’s at stake every night out, both in reality and reputation. When you’ve won as many consecutive games against the rest of the world, everybody wants a piece of you.

So even the slightest scare, even one that lasts for just two and a half quarters, is enough to get the attention of the rest of the field in this competition. Turkey’s coach Ergin Ataman was ready and his team executed beautifully for as long as they could.

The speech U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski gave at halftime Sunday was required, even if only for the sake of formality. But his team already knew what had gone wrong. A halftime deficit in group play that was not expected to truly challenge this team served as the ultimate wake-up call.

“He didn’t need to say anything,” Davis said of Coach K’s halftime talk. “We already knew.”

Group C: Finland 81, Ukraine 76


VIDEO: Mike Fratello Interview

The Finland team that lost by a staggering 59 points to the U.S. in their opener returned to the building Sunday with a much better effort, holding off the Ukraine before another pro-Finland crowd and then partied outside with their fans after the game.

Shawn Huff led the way for Finland with 23 points and eight rebounds.

“We watched them against the U.S. and we knew that wasn’t the same team we were going to see,” Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said. “That [Saturday night's blowout loss] can happen to you against the United States. The shots they missed against the U.S. they were knocking down today.”

Pooh Jeter led the Ukraine with 24 points. But he lost his backcourt mate, shooting guard Sergiy Gladyr, to a sprained ankle after just eight minutes. They rallied late behind Jeter but never could come all the way back.

“All we’re thinking about now is Turkey [on Tuesday],” Jeter said. “We have to bounce back.”.

Group C: Dominican Republic 76, New Zealand 63

The Dominican Republic needed each and every one of Francisco Garcia‘s 29 points to bounce back on Day 2 and beat New Zealand. Garcia said he didn’t feel the need to force the action but his coach felt otherwise.

“We always need him to be aggressive and think about scoring the way he did today,” Dominican coach Orlando Antigua said. “I can speak for him as his coach when I tell you that.”

Garcia outdueled New Zealand’s Thomas Abercrombie, who impressed with 22 points and four rebounds. Monday’s day off couldn’t come at a better time for New Zealand.

“We know we’re in a tough spot,” guard Kirk Penney said. “But we also know what has to be done.”

 

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA starts strong | Brazil beats France | Spurs interested in Ray Allen? | A new hope in Minnesota

No. 1: Team USA Starts Strong — After weeks of practices and exhibition games, Team USA finally started tournament play Saturday in Bilbao, Spain, in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. And they did it with style, blowing out Finland 114-55 in a game that included a 29-2 run for Team USA. NBA.com’s Sekou Smith was on the scene in Spain and writes that despite the long and winding road they traveled, the U.S. players are embracing their roles in Coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s system…

With no Kevin Durant or Kevin Love or Paul George, superstars who were expected to serve as the leaders and anchors for this competition, the U.S. put on an absolute defensive showcase in their opener, smashing Finland 114-55.

It was a show of force that this particular crew was eager to display, if only to remind themselves what they are capable of when they lock down defensively and spread the wealth offensively the way coach Mike Krzyzewski demands.

“We prepared the last couple of weeks for this moment and every single moment that we play in,” James Harden said. “Practices are the same way. We go hard and when it’s time to go out there we take care of business. We don’t go out there to pace ourselves. We go out there with intensity from the beginning of the game.”

It certainly helps to have talent like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and even former NBA MVP Derrick Rose backing up the starters.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Harden continued. “That’s why I said we don’t pace ourselves. We go out there with the intensity from the beginning of the game and guys come off the bench with the same thing. It’s the beauty of this team. We’ve got 10-12 guys willing to go out there and contribute in any type of way.”

***

No. 2: Meanwhile, elsewhere in FIBA — Of course, while Team USA may be one of the favorites in Spain, they weren’t the only team tipping off yesterday. The loaded Group A began play in Granada yesterday, where NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was in attendance. According to Schuhmann, one of the big winners on the day was Brazil, who held on to beat France, 65-63…

Brazil was the big winner on Saturday, holding on for a 65-63 victory over France in the second game of the day in Granada. It was an ugly game throughout, with the two teams combining for 19 turnovers in the first half and shooting just 11-for-35 from 3-point range for the game.

But point guard Marcelo Huertas had enough in his bag of tricks to get the job done in the fourth quarter.

France actually led by nine late in the first, but scored just 10 points on its final 20 possessions of the first half, as Brazil took a two-point lead into the break. The Brazilians led by as many as eight early in the fourth, but couldn’t put France away, because they couldn’t put together more than two straight scores.

“The zone was back all the time,” said Tiago Splitter, who scored just six points on 2-for-5 shooting. “Nobody was getting easy shots. And our shooters didn’t have a good game outside. “

Huertas was basically the only guy who could get anything going offensively. He scored 11 of Brazil’s 19 points in the period, hitting a three off a Nene post-up, finding space around the foul line for a couple of runners against the sagging French defense, and sealed the game at the free-throw line in the final minute.

“They were deep into the zone,” he said afterward, “so we could attack, either for a shot or to find the open man.”

France got a big game from Boris Diaw (15 points, six rebounds, five assists), but Nicolas Batum (13 points) didn’t shoot well and the other French bigs didn’t get much done inside after the first quarter. Though they closed to within one in the final seconds, they never got a chance to tie or take the lead.

***

No. 3: Spurs interested in Ray Allen?LeBron James may have left Miami, but while Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen have stayed behind, the future plans of Ray Allen have remained a bit cloudy. Allen has said publicly he’s still unsure of what he’s going to do, but plenty of teams have expressed interest, including Cleveland and the Clippers. And now, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, we can add the defending champion San Antonio Spurs to the mix as well:

ESPN.com has learned that the Spurs are trying to barge their way into the race to sign Allen … which first, of course, requires one of the 39-year-old’s suitors to persuade him to play next season.

Allen announced last month that he’s still deciding if he wants to play what would be his 19th NBA season.

The uncertainty, mind you, has had zero impact on interest. The reigning champs from San Antonio join Doc Rivers‘ Los Angeles Clippers and, of course, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on the list of elite teams pursuing Allen. The Dallas Mavericks have also tried to make a play for Allen this summer, and there are surely other suitors yet to be identified since he remains available.

The Spurs have only one open roster spot at the moment but, as ESPN.com reported Friday, have also registered interest in Mexico star center Gustavo Ayon while remaining hopeful of re-signing reserve center Aron Baynes, whom Australia is relying on heavily at the FIBA World Cup in Spain with Andrew Bogut absent.

***

No. 4: A new hope in Minnesota: The Timberwolves may have traded away Kevin Love, one of the NBA’s best players, but in return they received a haul of talented young players, including Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. Add to that crew first-round pick Zach LaVine and incumbent point guard Ricky Rubio (who is still just 23 years old), and the Wolves have a core of exciting young talent that has fans excited, writes the AP’s John Krawczynski 

After completing the long-rumored trade that sent Love to the Cavaliers and brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota, the Timberwolves have sold more than 300 full season-ticket packages in the last week.

That beats the previous record in 2011 that was set when Ricky Rubio announced that he was coming over from Spain to play for the team.

“The organization, from president-level on down has just been re-energized,” Timberwolves senior vice president and chief revenue officer Ryan Tanke said. “Part of it is hope, and you have this great new hope.

“But then there’s also the reality, which is it was a long, tough summer. For it to come to the head that it came to and have it be the outcome that we had, I think it creates this perfect storm environment for us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Brook Lopez says he’s confident he’ll be healthier than ever this season … DeMarcus Cousins says he expected to make Team USA all along … Golden State has reached an agreement with Leandro Barbosa on a one-year deal … The Sixers are unsure whether Joel Embiid will play at all this seasonManny Pacquiao would like to sign Metta World Peace to play for his team in the Philippines … Congrats to Dwyane Wade, who married longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union Saturday …

U.S. Team embraces roles, style


VIDEO: Relive Team USA’s dominating win over Finland in slow motion

BILBAO, SPAIN — Forget the defections and the no-shows. The stars gathered here on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team already have. They did that in the lead up to the FIBA World Cup, sorting through different roles and a tweaked style of play that has been tailored to this group.

With no Kevin Durant or Kevin Love or Paul George, superstars who were expected to serve as the leaders and anchors for this competition, the U.S. put on an absolute defensive showcase in their opener, smashing Finland 114-55.

It was a show of force that this particular crew was eager to display, if only to remind themselves what they are capable of when they lock down defensively and spread the wealth offensively the way coach Mike Krzyzewski demands.

“We prepared the last couple of weeks for this moment and every single moment that we play in,” James Harden said. “Practices are the same way. We go hard and when it’s time to go out there we take care of business. We don’t go out there to pace ourselves. We go out there with intensity from the beginning of the game.”

It certainly helps to have talent like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and even former NBA MVP Derrick Rose backing up the starters.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Harden continued. “That’s why I said we don’t pace ourselves. We go out there with the intensity from the beginning of the game and guys come off the bench with the same thing. It’s the beauty of this team. We’ve got 10-12 guys willing to go out there and contribute in any type of way.”

It also helps to open with a Finnish side that was clearly over its heads.

A thorough beating is what was expected and that and more was delivered. It’s the ultimate sign of respect for not only the opponent but the game, something that has become the hallmark of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team under Coach K and during their 55-game win streak in World Cup (formerly World Championship) competition.

Play up to the magnitude of the moment and the results will be what they will be. No short cuts, no letting up and as we saw against Finland and have seen often in recent years, no mercy.

If you’re going to be the overwhelming favorite every time you take the floor and face hostile crowds on foreign soil, you might as well embrace that part of the process, too.

When the U.S. was busy crushing Finland with a smothering second quarter defensive display (a basket-free 29-2 surge that forced the crowd into the reality that any upset hopes were officially doomed) the joy on the floor and from the bench was obvious.

“Our coaches were encouraging us to keep up that effort by telling us every timeout, every dead ball, they only had two points or whatever,” Stephen Curry said. “That’s just motivation to keep doing what we’re doing. Defensively, that’s going to be the key for us throughout this tournament. We’re going to make some shots and we’re going to miss some shots every night. It’s just a matter of how our defensive effort is every night to get where we want to go.”

And while some teams with reasonably young and in some cases unproven stars, at least in the context of international competition, might succumb to the sort of electric crowd that greeted the U.S. Saturday, Curry loved it.

He was an integral part of the team that won gold in Turkey in 2010 and played before a hostile home crowd there in the final game.

“It was awesome,” he said of the crowd that stayed mostly silent as they piled on Finland. “They were energetic regardless of the score. It seemed like every basket Finland made was a game winner. That’s the beauty of the World Cup and it being here in Spain. A lot of teams fans can travel and see their teams play and support them. It brings a great atmosphere and one that we love to play in.”

Things get a bit trickier now with back-to-back games, the U.S. faces Turkey Sunday. But if any team in this competition is prepared for that grind, it’s the U.S.

“We’ve got to bring the same energy and effort against a good Turkey team we have a lot of history with,” Curry said. “So we’re looking forward to it.”


VIDEO: James Harden talks about the U.S. rout of Finland in the FIBA World Cup