WASHINGTON, D.C. – From every angle, Spain, featuring a frontline of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, is the biggest threat to the U.S. Men’s Senior National team in its quest to win a second straight Olympic gold medal.
Argentina, with its generation of international stars playing one last tournament together, is a dangerous threat. France has as much NBA talent as any team outside of the U.S. And Lithuania and Russia are two more tough teams who won’t be eliminated easily.
But the team that gave the United States their toughest game at the 2010 World Championship was Brazil, who the U.S. will play Monday in an exhibition game at the Verizon Center (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2). It’s the U.S. Team’s final action on American soil before they travel to Manchester and Barcelona for three more exhibitions, and then to London for the Olympics.
The U.S. Women will also play Brazil as part of a double-header. The women’s game precedes the men on ESPN2 at 5:30 p.m. ET.
The Brazilian men finished ninth in Turkey, but they gave the U.S. a real scare in preliminary round action before falling 70-68 in a game that was inches away from going to overtime. It was also a game that was played without two of Brazil’s best players, Nene (not on the roster) and Anderson Varejao (injured).
Five players on this year’s U.S. Team were there in Istanbul and remember that game pretty vividly. The other seven got a taste of it when the team watched film Sunday morning before practice. (more…)
ORLANDO — For a player whose nickname in high school was Born Ready, Lance Stephenson has been anything but in two seasons with the Pacers.
So now entering what could be a make-or-break (non-guaranteed contract) year, Stephenson is back at the Air Tran Orlando Pro Summer League to prove that he should stick around and made a statement with 28 points and seven assists in a win over the Thunder.
“I’m here to do anything I can to get better as a player and help my team,” Stephenson said. “I’m working on pick-and-rolls, coming off and hitting my jump shot and trying to get my teammates involved.
“What the coaches have told me is they want me to be more like a point guard, be a leader and take control of situations.”
INDIANAPOLIS — Once you’ve won Executive of the Year, adding to your three MVPs and Coach of the Year and three championships and etc., etc., where do you go from here?
Hopefully, for the Pacers’ sake, Larry Bird goes back to work.
“Right now we’re working on the Draft and we’ve got free agency, so it never stops,” he said. “We keep plugging along.”
That’s the closest Bird has come to committing to next season. Right now, the franchise is left to guess, like everyone else, what exactly is in Bird’s immediate future. And if he knows, he’s not saying. Bird has maintained all along that he’ll wait until after this season to decide whether to retire or solider on as Pacers president, and the drama is only building because the Pacers’ season is stretching longer than it has in seven years.
Much of that is due to the turnaround engineered by Bird, who was officially named the league’s top exec Wednesday, the day after the Pacers evened their second-round series with the Heat. The honor is well deserved by Bird, only the third man (after Frank Layden and Pat Riley) to own a coach and executive award, because his fingerprints are all over this current Pacers’ team. In the last several months, Bird added David West, George Hill, Louis Amundson and Leandro Barbosa without giving up much in terms of core assets. Handcuffed by the realities of the typical small-market team, and one that hasn’t had the luxury of landing a franchise player through the draft, the Pacers are deep and with a mix of veterans and youth.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It is a stretch to say the Pacers are missing a go-to guy, the type of player who can make a difference in winning and losing. Well, actually, it’s a silly suggestion.
They do have that player. And he’s tried and tested many times. You might even say he’s legendary in that regard, one of the all-time greats.
But Larry Bird isn’t climbing down from that president’s suite anytime soon, and so the Pacers better find someone half as good, and quick. Or their stay in the playoffs will be quick.
Danny Granger blew two free throws and was whistled for traveling in the closing moments of Game 1 against Orlando. Paul George was left wide open for a pair of mid-range jumpers and missed. There was no one else to be found, even as coach Frank Vogel desperately sent out the bat signal. The result was an embarrassing loss to a Magic team missing Dwight Howard. A team without a go-to player of its own.
“We’ve got to figure out how to finish,” said David West. “We’ve done it during the season. But these are the playoffs.”
This is the type of situation that doomed the Pacers last spring against the Bulls. They were otherwise solid in that series, but crumbled in the clutch. After adding Leandro Barbosa and West and watching George grow up, the Pacers were supposed to be improved in that area. One game into the playoffs, we see the search for a savior remains a work in progress.
Obviously, the most logical candidate is Granger, the one player who truly demands the ball. Except: Is this the same Granger from a few years back, a big scorer who was wasted on a bunch of crummy teams? Granger isn’t as good a scorer now, and his jumper comes and goes. West is a trusty second-option but you can’t find too many examples in his history that suggest he’s The One. As for George, he isn’t old enough to shave yet.
Vogel: “We’ll be all right. We’ll be fine without your quote-unquote go-to guy. We’ve made some big shots this season and we’ve grown in that area. It’s not in our nature to panic. We just need to share the ball more. We’re very dialed in to what we need to do.”
Until the Pacers find their late-game solution, it’ll remain an issue. This is a team that brings depth, veteran leadership and can be gritty on defense. These playoff games have a tendency to be suspenseful late in the fourth quarter, however, and in that regard the Pacers are still developing as contenders.
The competitor inside Bird, even now, would love to be in that situation. His time is over, though. It’s up to his hand-picked players to develop the cut-throat personality of their boss.
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Not counting Dwight staying in Orlando, what recent move at the trade deadline will make the most difference this year?
Steve Aschburner: Milwaukee adding Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh. The Bucks already were rolling, winning four in a row before adding the two Golden State acquisitions to their rotation, but now they’ve made it six. That infusion of talent where there was none – Andrew Bogut was forever in the trainers room, Stephen Jackson in the doghouse – and what coach Scott Skiles will do with it over the final month trumps, for me, a temporary Woodsonity bump in New York. One caveat: Milwaukee had better start playing defense not just like a Skiles team but like a playoff team, period. And that won’t be easy with an Ellis-Brandon Jennings backcourt.
Fran Blinebury: It certainly didn’t make a lot of coast-to-coast headlines, but the Spurs pulling the wild and crazy Stephen Jackson back into the fold gives them another scorer and makes them a tougher out in the playoffs. Coach Gregg Popovich would much rather deal with Capt. Jack’s idiosyncrasies than Richard Jefferson‘s disappearing act.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Stephen Jackson will be a boost, in energy and play, to the Spurs. And he will not be a problem, not going back to an organization he loved being part of before and not being reunited with a coach he respects. Plus, San Antonio will save about $11 million in the deal, at the cost of a first-round pick that will probably be in the 20s. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Indiana Pacers, looking to augment their reserves for the stretch run, will acquire veteran guard Leandro Barbosa from the Toronto Raptors for a second-round pick, according to a league source.
Barbosa, 29, is averaging 12.2 points per game this season in 42 games off the bench for the Raptors. He has been with Toronto the last two seasons after spending his first seven seasons with the Suns. The Pacers are $14 million under the cap and wanted to be a conduit for potential trades before today’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. Barbosa will play both a key role in Indiana’s guard rotation, which includes starters Darren Collison and Paul George.
The Associated Press also reports that the Pacers received veteran guard Anthony Carter in the deal, too.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –Brook Lopez is definitely back. He put on an offensive show for the Nets last night in their win over the Mavericks.
A trade deadline cynic would argue that he was being showcased as well. He’s long been rumored to be the piece the Nets would have to deliver to the Magic in a potential blockbuster deal for Dwight Howard.
The broken right foot that cost Lopez 32 games this season appears to be in fine shape, he dropped 38 points and the go-ahead free throw to power the Nets over the Mavericks last night. His every move will be analyzed as the perfect bait for the Magic, who have to make a decision to either deal or not deal Howard before the March 15 deadline.
Deron Williams gushed about his current big man after the win over the Mavs, telling reporters:
“He was a monster tonight. He carried us from the start of the game and it makes a difference, I’ve said it all season. … He knows how to play the game and we’re glad to have him back.”
Williams has to be measured in his praise. And the Nets have to be careful with Lopez, who outside of his ability score, isn’t in Howard’s category in any way. If they see him play at a high level for long enough, they might start to rethink this notion of moving him for Howard or anyone else.
Still, you can’t argue that Lopez has great timing. The Nets have won three of their last five games, and that includes wins over the Bulls, Knicks and now, the reigning champs.
BEASLEY BEING SHOWCASED, TOO?
Go ahead and add Timberwolves’ forward Michael Beasley to the list of players being showcased as the trade deadline draws near. So what if he’s still coming off the bench.
Rookie Derrick Williams and Beasley dropped 27 points a piece as the Timberwolves knocked off the Clippers in Los Angeles. They’ve both been overshadowed this season by All-Star power forward Kevin Love and rookie sensation Ricky Rubio. But with rumors swirling about the Timerbwolves hoping to get involved in a potential deal for Lakers forward Pau Gasol, Beasley would have to be a part of that deal.
LONDON – The fleece jacket with the NBA.com logo was a dead giveaway.
Or maybe it was the red, white and blue skull-cap with “ATL” splashed across the forehead that tipped him off.
“You here for the big game?” the baby-faced kid said to me, not realizing I was lost and in need of someone, anyone here in this massive and historic city, to point me in the direction of my hotel.
“Yes sir, Nets and Raptors doing the deed twice this week at the 02 Arena,” I shot back. “You must be a big NBA fan to find me like this. I knew there were NBA fans over here.”
Look at that. Mere hours after crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the trip I like to call Hang Time Without Borders, my faith in the global reach of the game was justified by a kind stranger willing to show me the way to my hotel in Canary Wharf, in London’s business district.
Only he was no ordinary kid. He was a bell hop at the hotel and spotted my get up and knew instantly where I was headed. And the big game he spoke of had nothing to do with the Nets and Raptors. Chelsea and Manchester United had a game last night at Chelsea’s home stadium.
“This is a futbol country, or as you say in the states, soccer,” he said with a smile. “You have heard of Didier Drogba? Frankie Lampard? Those are my guys. I like basketball all right, but the biggest game around here is Chelsea against Man-U. And I’m a big Chelsea fan. I have to tell you, the NBA has some work to do over here. There just aren’t as many fans here as you are used to in the States.”
That’s why I’m here, my man. This is like the basketball crusades. A mission that the NBA began years ago with routine stops in Europe and one that will be realized here in the United Kingdom specifically in 2012, when the Olympics will be held here and the world’s greatest basketball stars from the NBA and around the globe will converge on this city like the plague.
(Sorry for the medieval reference, but you try reading up on the history of this place and not diving into character.)
It’s time for a fresh start and Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo made that clear with the way cleaned up after Bosh’s departure to Miami (via free agency), where he’ll team with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in a title chase that will be the envy of so many in Toronto and beyond.
The holdovers in T-Dot — a relatively motley crew including the likes of Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems as well as newcomers Linas Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa, Ed Davis, Julian Wright, David Andersen and Solomon Alabi — will have to come together quickly if the Raptors want to erase the nasty taste of summer from the mouths of their fans.
Still, we have to ask, exactly whose team is this now?
Jack provided HT with some answers to that and more after a recent workout:
HANG TIME: It’s been a tough summer. What’s the internal outlook in terms of what kind of team you’ll put on the floor this season?
JARRETT JACK: It was rough when the trade got rescinded that was on the table with Charlotte. Basically, both teams agreed and then I guess at the last-minute it got refused. If we could have added Barbosa, Boris Diaw and Tyson Chandler to the team that we already had that would have given us a shot at being a legitimate team in the Eastern Conference. So I think that set us back a little bit. From what I understand we are still exploring some avenues to try to add to our team and hopefully we can make it happen. But if not, we’ll just have to go with what we’ve got.
HT: Going into the summer, when everybody was still in play in free agency, was there a feeling that even if you didn’t keep Chris (which seemed bleak even then) you’d get something in return to help rebuild this team?
JJ: Sure, assuming that Chris would just got traded straight up and it wasn’t going to be a sign and trade, we figured no human being in this lifetime was going to do something like that and leave $30 million on the table. But it was a situation where they worked it out and he didn’t leave $30 million on the table, we were able to get a trade exception back in exchange. We’re still trying to make some moves. And it’s not over until training camp starts. We’ve still got a little time, and it only takes a phone call and two sides to agree. So you never know how quickly things could change.
HT: You know they’re talking championship in Miami, Boston, Orlando, Chicago and places like that. What’s the attitude for a team like yours, when you know the climb is going to be much steeper than some of your competitors?
JJ: It’s definitely steeper. We just have to find our own identity, really. All these other teams have established stars and we have a pretty young group of guys. We have guys that really haven’t established themselves in the NBA yet. I think once we do that, once we establish ourselves individually and as a team, once we decide what brand of basketball we’re going to play night in and night out, we’ll be fine.
HT: When you are watching all that goes on in a wild and crazy summer like this, with players going from this team to that one and the balance of power shifting the way it did, how do you stay focused only on your team?
JJ: I just worry about the things that affect me, my teammates, the organization I represent and let that other stuff be what it is. You really can’t worry about where everybody else is going or what they are doing. I’m just worrying about how we’re going to get better, what steps we’re going to take, what kind of positive moves that can be made so we can be a factor in the Eastern Conference. All you can do is mind your own business and see where it lands at the end of the day.
HT: From afar it seemed sort of strange last season watching the Raptors’ point guard situation. You started 43 games and Jose started 39 games, but it was hard to tell who was “the guy.” One minute it looks like your team and the next it seems like Calderon’s team. Who leads from that spot this season?
JJ: Just play, man. And that’s the frame of mind I’m going in with. If they have me leading the team and running the squad, then that’s what it is. If not, then I’ll come off the bench and do whatever I have to do and keep doing what I’ve been doing since I got in the league. Even if I wasn’t starting, I was coming in off the bench as a positive influence and trying to lead the team on the floor when I’m out there. I’m always trying to be the best leader I can possibly be whenever I’m out there.
HT: With such a passionate and knowledgeable fan base in Toronto that’s thirsty for a winner, how do you think they’ll respond to this team this season?
JJ: I think they’ll follow our lead. If we come out there and play a tough brand of physical basketball night in and night out, win or lose, they’ll respect us. To me, Toronto is a blue collar city. It reminds me of New York, Philly and those type of fans that are really passionate and rowdy. They definitely make their presence felt, if you’re playing bad or well they’ll let you know. So I think it’s up to us. If we go out there and show every single night that we’re hungry and just truly passionate about the game, they will respond to that. And honestly, that’s what you love about them the most as a player.
HT: I know you and Chris are good friends and have been for years. So you’ve obviously spoken to him about what they have going on in Miami. I know you guys have business to handle in Toronto this season, but you have to be curious to see how things play out down there, don’t you?
JJ: Yeah, I’m curious. The bottom line is, one person is going to have to be left out. And I’m not pointing fingers or anything. That’s just real talk. It’s very rare that you have three superstar guys in this league and everybody get’s their fair share amount of touches and whatever. And I know they all “compromised” some things to play together in the first place. But it’s one thing to say we’re going to do it and something else to actually swallow that pill and be that third option. Going from a superstar to that third option, when you’ve been “the guy” on a team for four or five years of whatever … it’s different. It’s like when you go from college to the league and you’re not that dude anymore and you have to take that step back. Some people can handle it and some people can’t. Like I said, somebody is going to get squeezed out of the equation down there. And that’s just how it is.
Scola pointed the way to the quarterfinals. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL – The round of 16 concluded with the best game of the 2010 World Championship thus far. From start to finish, this was a beautiful display of basketball, and it’s a shame that one of these two teams had to go home early.
That team is Brazil, with Argentina advancing to the quarterfinals with a 93-89 victory on Tuesday night. Both of these teams executed brilliantly in a win-or-go-home situation, and in the end, Argentina had Luis Scola, and Brazil did not.
Scola has clearly been the MVP of this tournament thus far, and apparently his 29-point average in pool play was just an appetizer for the medal rounds. He dropped 37 on Brazil, to go along with nine rebounds, three assists and two steals.
One of Scola’s biggest shots of the game was a post-up, fadeaway turnaround over Anderson Varejao, but we really didn’t see much of Scola in the post in this game. In fact, when he did post up earlier in the night, he turned the ball over a couple of times.
Most of his production came off pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop action with point guard Pablo Prigioni. But he also had a gorgeous running bank shot off a slip-and-dish from Carlos Delfino. Then there was a great weak-side cut down the middle of the lane off a Prigioni-Fabricio Oberto pick-and-roll.
The biggest bucket of the night was a pick-and-pop 18-footer that gave Argentina a five-point lead with 24 seconds to go. Brazil never got a chance to tie or take the lead after that.
On the other end of the floor, Brazilian point guard Marcelo Huertas was almost as brilliant as Scola. Huertas wasn’t dishing out assists like he did in the first half against the U.S. last week, but rather was getting to the rim off high screen-and-rolls. He also hit a few pull-up threes when the Argentine defenders backed off, finishing with 32 points on 10-for-16 shooting.
It was a ridiculously efficient game overall, with the two teams combining to shoot 56 percent from the field and score 182 points on 131 possessions, which translates to 139 points per 100. As a reference, the overall efficiency of the tournament before Tuesday’s games was about 105 points per 100 possessions.