Posts Tagged ‘Luis Scola’

Numbers preview: Raptors-Pacers


VIDEO: Raptors vs. Pacers: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Is this the year the Toronto Raptors get it done?

In their 21-year history, the Raptors have never won a best-of-7 playoff series. Their only series victory came in 2001, when the first round was a best-of-5. Each of the last two seasons, they had home-court advantage in the first round, lost it in Game 1, and got knocked out by a lower seed. So, after a third straight year of setting a franchise record for regular-season wins, there’s added pressure on Dwane Casey and his team to finally take the next step.

The Indiana Pacers are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. They said goodbye to the frontline that helped them get to the conference finals twice and tried to change their identity, but eventually settled back into being a team that played two traditional bigs, did its best work on defense, and struggled to score.

This is the only first-round matchup between a team that ranks in the top five in offensive efficiency and one that ranks in the top five in defensive efficiency. And it may be determined by the Pacers’ ability to score against what has been an improved Toronto defense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 2-7 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Toronto Raptors (56-26)

Pace: 95.3 (29)
OffRtg: 107.0 (5)
DefRtg: 102.7 (11)
NetRtg: +4.3 (6)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Indiana: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Raptors notes:

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Indiana Pacers (45-37)

Pace: 99.0 (10)
OffRtg: 102.4 (23)
DefRtg: 100.2 (3)
NetRtg: +2.2 (11)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Pacers notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 3-1 (2-0 in Toronto)
Oct. 28 – Raptors 106, Pacers 99
Dec. 14 – Pacers 106, Raptors 90
Mar. 17 – Raptors 101, Pacers 94 (OT)
Apr. 8 – Raptors 111, Pacers 98

Pace: 98.5
TOR OffRtg: 100.2 (14th vs. IND)
IND OffRtg: 98.9 (19th vs. TOR)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs lose in Lue debut | Stan Van Gundy rips Blatt firing | Kerr, Myers find support in pain | Scola the Explorer

No. 1: Cavs lose in Lue debut Just hours after replacing David Blatt as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made his head coaching debut at home in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. And while Lue talked about wanting to make the experience more fun for his players, as Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, that turned out to be easier to talk about than actually make happen, as the Bulls won 96-83…

The Cavaliers showed energy, but lacked any efficiency — showing no shooting touch on the floor or at the foul line. They missed beyond the arc — making just four of 24 attempts — and at the foul line, where they were 9-of-22. By game’s end, they left the floor to boos from the home crowd.

During Lue’s pregame presser, he said one of the problems was that his team needed to start having more fun post David Blatt.

“I don’t think they’re enjoying it,” Lue said. “That was a part of our speech today. The game will pass you by. No matter how great LeBron is, Kyrie, Kevin, the game will pass you by. … I want them to just enjoy the moment now.”

To help cater to a new pleasurable basketball experience, before the game the Cavaliers did something they haven’t done since mid-November: they participated in the starting lineup introductions. Before, the players would just stand in a huddle as the public address announcer announced each starter.

That was the full degree of Cleveland’s (30-12) fun.

Initially into the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers were energized and full of life by jumping out to a 7-2 lead. But that vigor slowly evaporated and old habits of isolation ball crept back in. They went scoreless in the final 6:26 of the opening quarter, missing their last 16 shots.

Ball movement could have been better, but for the most part Cleveland just couldn’t hit a shot. It was brutal to watch as they shot a horrific 37 percent from the field for the night.

When the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Cavaliers were down five, a frustrated LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor as he headed to the locker room. He had missed all three of his first half free throws. By game’s end, the Cavaliers were 9-of-22 from the charity stripe — and that required an 8-for-11 stretch to finish the game. Chicago capitalized on those missed opportunities, expanding its lead to 17 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.

An exasperated sellout crowd booed the home team, which trimmed the deficit to nine on a James layup plus free throw with 2:55 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Smith chipped it to eight seconds later.

But the Bulls found Taj Gibson for a difficult layup with a foul on James, pretty much ending any suspense. There was no overcoming that margin on this cold shooting night.

James was an assist shy of claiming his his first triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but was 11-for-27 shooting. Smith put in 18 points on 17 shots. Love was the only player to make half his shots, finishing with 14 points and five boards and Kyrie Irving registered 11 points on 16 shot attempts.

Lue informed the media at morning shootaround that he would go with a 10-man rotation in order to develop an identity with the second unit. Veteran James Jones, who was out of the rotation under Blatt, was the first to sub in. Mo Williams, who hadn’t played in 10 of his last 13 games, soon after entered. The surprising aspect is that Lue used 10 players in the first quarter, showing how serious he is about improving his bench.

The results didn’t prove beneficial. Chicago’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 22-8.

With the franchise invested in Lue for the long haul, his objective is still to win games, but he also wants to restore his team’s passion.

“I’m not really worried about, right now this early, about the games, I really just worried about the spirit is more important than anything,” he said. “Getting our spirit right, getting our spirit together and I think everything else will take care of itself because we got a lot of great players.”

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Silver: Time zones, miles still hurdles to expanding NBA Euro presence

The world is shrinking, but not fast enough for some NBA devotees in Europe.

Of the questions NBA commissioner Adam Silver fielded in his news conference prior to the 2016 Global Games London Thursday – Orlando vs. Toronto at The O2 Arena – most of them had something to do with geography, distance, time zones and the logistical challenges of staging North American basketball games on other continents.

As Silver answered, he stood five times zones and approximately 3,500 miles away from NBA headquarters in Manhattan. Both the Magic and the Raptors had crossed “the pond,” a.k.a., the Atlantic Ocean, to participate, and both teams had been given four open days before their game Thursday and three more after to adjust to jet lag and otherwise re-acclimate.

Travel issues, more than financial opportunities or hoops missionary work in fertile markets, remain the top challenge to All-Star Games staged overseas, European expansion or other international flag-planting by the league, Silver said. Disrupting the routine of finely tuned athletes locked into the grind of an 82-game regular season is something around which the NBA treads lightly.

“We’re becoming more sophisticated about the impact of fatigue on our players,” Silver said deep into the media session, “and the direct correlation of fatigue and injuries. We want to talk to players association about it. As we all know, when you change time zones … it’s often difficult to sleep when you’ve had quick changes in time zones.”

Just scheduling NBA teams for matinee tipoff times in the States – to provide live televised games overseas – is challenge enough, Silver said. Coaches routinely circle afternoon games on their schedules as potential trouble, given how disruptive it can be to players’ habits and body clocks.

So while it’s easy enough for a player such as Toronto’s Luis Scola to suggest that the NBA send four teams to London or Paris to boost efficiency – playing three regular-season games against three foes, rather than the single Raptors-Magic game – there is a much bigger picture involved.

“I’d love to hear [Scola’s] views on the travel,” Silver said, eliciting some laughter. “Ultimately that is our desire, to bring more teams and be able to play more games. We have a fairly dense schedule throughout the season. We’re playing roughly, over 165 days, 82 games. It’s an average of roughly 3 ½ games a week.”

Clearing out sufficient time for multiple teams –including those from the Central, Mountain and Pacific U.S. time zones – to make the trip, getting All-Stars from as many as 24 franchises to adapt and play, venturing to France and beyond for regular-season games or anchoring a division of NBA expansion teams in Europe all would pose challenges the league is studying, Silver said. For now, there are no simple solutions.

“The next step is to continue to work on grass roots basis here in Europe,” the commissioner said of Thursday’s event. “What’s important for us – while selling out a game in an hour and bringing in a tremendous media interest, that’s all fantastic for us – but it’s got to be part of a larger program. These games can’t just be viewed as one-off experiences.

“We want to make sure we’re part of a larger platform to grow the game. So we’re going to continue to play these regular-season games. We’re working closely with FIBA, closely with the Euroleague to continue building the game of basketball here. And as I said, we to make sure it’s not just a spectacle to come in with two teams and then have interest drop off tremendously once we leave – we want to make sure we have an ongoing impact.”

Among other topics Silver touched on Thursday:

  • The news of Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov firing his GM (Billy King) and head coach (Lionel Hollins) in a major resetting of the Nets is life in the NBA, Silver said. Referring to a “very steep learning curve,” Prokhorov tried to win big sooner rather than later, signing expensive veteran players and trading away assets such as draft picks. “He’s acknowledged ‘lesson learned’ on his part,” Silver said.
  • Kobe Bryant’s ongoing retirement tour has been good for both the league’s ticket sales and for fans’ ability to see one of the NBA’s greatest players one more time. If Bryant is involved in All-Star Weekend in Toronto next month, Silver said, it will be “a showcase for him” and an “opportunity for the larger NBA community to say ‘thank you’ for his service.”
  • Silver remains optimistic that the owners and the National Basketball Players Association can continue making progress in collective bargaining talks “behind closed doors” and avoid a lockout or strike that would cost games and revenue in 2017-18.
  • Silver agreed with one reporter who wondered if young basketball players might be at risk of overuse injuries related to the number of games they play outside of high school or college programs. Unlike youth baseball, which strictly limits kids’ pitching turns and pitch counts, “you often have these young players playing eight games in a single weekend,” Silver said. He said the NBA, along with the NCAA and USA Basketball have a responsibility to study and establish protocols.
  • No sooner had Silver mentioned that approximately 100 foreign-born players were among the 450 or so on NBA rosters to open the 2015-16 season, he was asked about the eventuality of a player one day representing Austria. “We can’t wait to have the first Austrian in the NBA,” the commissioner said. “ And your next question, ‘When will be playing the first NBA regular season game in Austria…’ ”

Morning shootaround — Dec. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jennings open to bench role | Traditional big men explore 3-point line more | Report: Prokhorov close to deal to get full control of Nets

 

No. 1: Jennings more than open to bench role — The Detroit Pistons won last night against the Phoenix Suns, moving them to No. 10 in the Eastern Conference (and a half-game back of the No. 8 spot) as of this morning. They have picked up some big wins this season — against Cleveland at home, on the road vs. Miami, a 2-0 series edge on Atlanta — but are an inconsistent bunch. Point guard Brandon Jennings is on pace to return to the team in three to four weeks and while Reggie Jackson has entrenched himself as the starter, Jennings isn’t about to rock the boat for his own benefit. Terry Foster of The Detroit News has more:

Brandon Jennings spends too much time on the Internet. He heard from Pistons fans that he might not be a good fit coming off the bench for the Pistons.

He will be rusty. His ego is too big. He is accustomed to being a starter.

That makes Jennings bristle. He sees a young team with potential. He sees a starting unit that is bonding and making things work. The last thing he wants is to disrupt things when he returns to the lineup in three weeks.

“I am not going to mess up the chemistry,” Jennings said. “The starters have chemistry and they have been playing well. If I can come off the bench and help out, then why not?”

“Always in my head (I am a starter),” Jennings said. “But sometimes you’ve got to take the back seat and do what is best for the team.”

And if he never starts?

“I want sixth man of the year,” Jennings said.

Jennings coming off the bench is best for the Pistons. This bench has been inconsistent at best and at least twice cost the Pistons wins.

Forward Stanley Johnson is emerging as its best player. He is coming off a nice 19-point, 10-rebound outing against Houston. If the Pistons can pair Jennings with Johnson, they can become the two J’s crew and get the Pistons through rough spots, particularly in the late third and early fourth quarters.

The Pistons need Jennings but do not want to rush him. He works daily to strengthen his left calf and work on conditioning for a Christmas return. Jennings shoots every day and has gone through every workout except five-on-five scrimmages. He believes his offense will come, but Jennings mostly works on his movement to be a more competent defensive player.

“I am tired of shooting by myself,” Jennings said. “I am tired of not playing one on one with anybody.”

And he is tired of being patient.

“I am feeling pretty well,” Jennings said. “I am more confident. I still have to be patient. That is the main thing. I have been learning patience the whole 10 months.”


VIDEO: Reggie Jackson powers the Pistons past the Suns

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Morning Shootaround — Sept. 30


VIDEO: Stephen Curry looks ahead to the upcoming season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Derrick Rose injured…again | Next man up in Cleveland…again | Durant back in action | Bennett back home in Toronto

No. 1: Derrick Rose injured…again Just hours after an unprompted Derrick Rose discussed free agency during Chicago Bulls media day, which brought up a whole range of emotions for Bulls fans, Rose unwittingly became involved in another storyline familiar to Bulls fans. During the first practice under new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, Rose caught an accidental elbow and suffered a facial fracture that required surgery. More importantly, it means Rose will be out for time being, although the Bulls are holding out hope he can return for the season opener. For a guy who has battled injuries seemingly non-stop the last few years, it’s yet another tough break, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

Derrick Rose caught an accidental elbow to his face halfway through Hoiberg’s first session and left for tests that revealed a left orbital fracture. The team said Rose, who turns 27 Sunday, will undergo surgery at Rush University Medical Center on Wednesday. A timetable for his return will be determined after the procedure.

Absences following surgery for orbital fractures have run the gamut recently with players missing anywhere from five to 28 games. Whatever the case, Rose’s injury piles on top of Mike Dunleavy’s back surgery last Friday. Dunleavy’s rehabilitation process could sideline the veteran forward eight to 10 weeks.

Suddenly, 40 percent of Hoiberg’s projected starting lineup will miss most, if not all, of training camp. A source said there is optimism Rose will be ready for the Oct. 27 regular-season opener against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

And while this setback pales in comparison to the three knee surgeries Rose has endured, it’s yet another mental challenge for a former most valuable player who tried to remind all of his greatness during Monday’s media day.

“I know I’m great,” Rose said then.

Since becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history in 2011, Rose has missed in chronological order — deep breath here — five games each to a sprained toe and strained back; 17 games to groin, ankle and foot issues; the entire 2012-13 season to a torn left ACL; 71 games to a torn right meniscus; eight games to ankle and hamstring issues and 20 games to a second right meniscus tear.

In all, Rose has played in 100 games over the last four seasons.

Suddenly, Jimmy Butler’s boast he can play point guard may not be a far-fetched idea. If Rose does miss any regular-season time, the Bulls have Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and E’Twaun Moore at the position.

Three players who addressed the media said they didn’t know whose elbow caught Rose.

“Might have been me,” Taj Gibson said. “It’s one of those plays where everybody’s going so hard.”

At least Gibson, who is coming back from offseason left ankle surgery, practiced fully. But with Dunleavy not sure when he’ll return and now the Rose injury, there has been more bad news than good on the Bulls’ injury front.

Whether Rose wears a mask upon his return has yet to be determined. At the very least, he will have to overcome the fear of getting struck in the face again.

With Rose leaving practice early, teammates were left to answer if Rose’s curious and unsolicited comments about his 2017 free agency from Monday were irksome.

“I don’t care what the guy talks about as long as he’s helping us win games,” said Butler, who signed a $92.3 million deal this offseason. “Whatever he’s focused on let him be focused, but I think his objective is to win a championship. I’m pretty sure he talked about that as well — and how he wants to help this team win. Everything else, he is who he is.

“He can talk about unicorns and rainbows for all I care. Just help us win some basketball games.”

***

No. 2: Next man up in Cleveland…again The Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals despite a seemingly non-stop series of injuries, including season-ending stoppages to All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Four months later, the Cavs entered training camp heading in the right direction, with everyone healthy or at least nearing full health. And then Iman Shumpert suffered a wrist injury and, as the Cavs announced yesterday, Shumpert will miss the next 12-14 weeks following surgery. As Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, the Cavs are relying on the same mantra they have for months: Next man up

This wasn’t the best way to begin Day 1 of training camp.

“It’s ‘next man up’ for our team,” LeBron James said. “It’s a big blow for our team. He’s a guy that we wanted around here long-term, and he still will be around here long-term obviously, but the next man up will be ready to go until he gets back.”

Cavs coach David Blatt echoed those sentiments.

“He will eventually be back and in the meantime, we will follow the same philosophy that we had all last year: Face the adversity, next man up and play the game that we know how and the way that we should,” Blatt said.

With Shumpert sidelined, Griffin said there are no immediate plans to tinker with the roster due to the team’s depth. But he’s keeping his options open.

“We’re going to give people a chance to kind of absorb it from within,” he said “but obviously we’re paying a lot of attention to opportunities that we may be able to improve the group. We’ll just play it by ear.”

J.R. Smith will likely get the starting nod in the backcourt along with Mo Williams at the start of the regular season. The acquisition of Richard Jefferson should also play a key part in stabilizing the rotation.

Griffin said Shumpert worked “incredibly hard” this off-season to come into camp in top shape.

Injuries are something that all 30 NBA teams have to deal with at some point. The Cavs know first-hand that injuries at the wrong time can hinder them from reaching their ultimate goal.

“Injuries will probably be the only thing that can stop us long-term, [but Shump] is a short-term thing,” James said.

***

No. 3: Durant back in action One day after he turned 27 years old, Kevin Durant went through his first full day of practice with the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing 55 games last season following three foot surgeries. While the team announced Durant was fully cleared to return to action, as Durant explained yesterday, there’s a difference in being cleared to play and being in game shape. But, as Durant told ESPN’s Royce Young, he’s the same player he was before the injury

“I feel great, actually,” Durant said. “It’s really different being out there in a practice setting. I haven’t been there in a while. It’s definitely going to take me some time to really get comfortable out there again.

“I’ve been injured, but I’m healed now. So I try not to think about it. If I’m on the court, I’m OK. So I’m the same player I was.”

Despite the frustrations of last season, Durant enters his ninth NBA season full of the confidence. Asked about how long it’ll take to rediscover his rhythm, the 2014 MVP says his game isn’t back — because it never left.

“The most humble way I can say it is I’ve always got feel,” Durant said. “Every time I step on the court I feel great. I know how to play the game. My body might say a little different, but I always feel like I’m in rhythm. That’s just from me being a skill player and knowing what it takes to go out there and showcase my fundamentals of the game. I always feel like I’m in feel, but my body has to catch up, I guess.”

The one area Durant said may take a bit of time is his conditioning, though he said he felt like he was in already in a good place.

“My conditioning feels great,” Durant said. “I know it’s gonna take some time for me to really get back to feeling great and mid-season form, but I’m on my way.”

Monday’s practice was also the first for new head coach Billy Donovan, who said the focus was working to establish an identity, specifically on the defensive side.

“I think it went well,” Donovan said of his first NBA practice. “Guys were obviously very, very excited, certainly a lot of teaching to do in the first couple hours just to try and get a defensive system and a philosophy, trying to break down and teach. I thought we got a lot in, especially considering it was the first day.”

Said Durant of adjusting to a new coach: “It’s the first day. We’ve still got to figure it out. It’s just the first day. We’re smart players, and we know how to figure things out.”

***

No. 4: Bennett back home in Toronto The Cleveland Cavaliers made him the first pick of the draft in 2013, but since then Anthony Bennett has struggled to find a home in the NBA. After one season in Cleveland he was traded to Minnesota, and this summer his contract was bought out, making him a free agent. But for Bennett, his latest team is the Toronto Raptors, which is actually home. And as Bennett told CBS’s James Herbert, that’s a good thing

After Bennett walked into the practice court at the Air Canada Centre wearing a Raptors shirt — apparently his new No. 15 jersey wasn’t quite ready, and when he put it on a short while later, there was no name on the back — he called playing in Toronto “the perfect situation for me.” It was “definitely not an easy decision” to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves, but when he got back from the FIBA Americas in Mexico City, his agency and his former team were working on a buyout. Other teams were interested, but he knew where he wanted to be.

“It has been something I’ve been thinking about growing up, watching Vince Carter play,” Bennett said. “And now I’m back here. It’s surreal, but at the same time it’s work. I’m just ready to go all out.”

Playing for the Canadian national team, Bennett had a solid summer. He was perhaps the team’s best player at the Pan-Am Games in Toronto, and he had his moments at the FIBA Americas in Mexico City, too. Unsurprisingly, fellow Canadian Raptor Cory Joseph believes he can build on that.

“I feel like it’s a new beginning here,” Joseph said. “I think he’ll do great for us, for the city, for the country. I think he’ll revive his NBA career.”

While the homecoming angle is nice, Bennett’s redemption story has been written before. He looked in shape and confident at last year’s summer league, where he said he was having fun again after a rookie year filled with adversity. Just like with Team Canada, in Vegas he showed off the athleticism that made him such a great prospect, screaming into the stands to punctuate his dunks. He didn’t play much in his second season, though, and it wasn’t pretty when he did. Bennett missed way too many midrange jumpers and often looked lost on defense. He has a long way to go, and there are proven players in front of him.

As Raptors training camp begins, Bennett will find himself battling Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola at power forward. DeMarre Carroll is also expected to spend some time at the 4, and James Johnson could be in the mix, too. Given Toronto head coach Dwane Casey‘s preference for veterans and his dedication to defense, it seems unlikely Bennett will be a regular part of the rotation.

“This is an opportunity,” Casey said. “This is a good place for him. It’s home. He should feel comfortable. But, all the [playing] time and everything else, he’s going to have to come in and earn it, which I’m sure the other players would be happy to hear.”

For the Raptors, there was little risk in signing Bennett. He’s on a one-year contract for $947,276. Where he was selected doesn’t matter anymore.

“It didn’t work out in a couple places,” Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri said. “I think he’s moved past that. I think the experiences he’s gone through will help him. For us to get a Canadian 22-year-old power forward that is athletic and can play at the minimum? We’ll take it. He’ll have a chance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Allen says the Blazers have moved on from losing LaMarcus AldridgeBen Gordon went vegetarian and now hopes to make the Golden State Warriors roster … In Denver, Kenneth Faried is the Nuggets’ biggest wild card … The Brooklyn Nets want Brook Lopez to take more of a leadership role

Canada blows chance at Olympic berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Canadian Men’s National Team had won its previous seven games by an average of 26.3 points and by no less than 17. Statistically, it had been the best team at the FIBA Americas tournament by a wide margin.

But with an Olympic bid on the line in the semifinals on Friday, Canada blew it.

Thanks to a last-second foul call on a rebound, Venezuela came back from a seven-point deficit with 3:00 to go to upend Canada 79-78 and earn its first trip to the Olympics since 1992. Aaron Doornekamp committed the foul (which was reviewed to see if it occurred before the buzzer) and Gregory Vargas hit the first of two free throws with three tenths of a second left to put Venezuela up one. He missed the second on purpose and Canada had no chance to get a final shot off.

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After a couple of big buckets from the Magic’s Andrew Nicholson and a jumper from the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk, Canada led 75-68 with three minutes to go. But Venezuela guard Heissler Guillent hit two huge 3-pointers to make it a one-point game. Then Olynyk lost the ball at midcourt and fouled Guillent when trying to recover it.

After Guillent’s two free throws put Venezuela up one, Nicholson hit one of two to tie the game. Venezuela then isolated Guillent on Cory Joseph. He missed the three, but Venezuela got a second chance to win the game with the Doornekamp foul on the rebound.

Olynyk led all scorers with 34 points on 11-for-13 shooting, adding 13 rebounds. Brady Heslip (10 points) was the only other Canadian in double figures. Andrew Wiggins scored nine points on 4-for-11 shooting, while Anthony Bennett went scoreless in 16 minutes. Olynyk and Wiggins combined for 10 turnovers.

Venezuela was playing without Greivis Vasquez and had no NBA players on its roster. Canada had nine.

The Toronto Star‘s Doug Smith was in Mexico City

Forget for a minute the call that put Gregory Vargas on the line with three-tenths of a second left, because it was an uncharacteristic performance from Canada all night that has derailed their Olympic dreams for now.

There were 17 turnovers, many ghastly and unforced; there were a dozen loose balls that weren’t corralled, there were missed rebounds and a general malaise that was in stark contrast to the way Canada had played each night for more than a week.

Nerves? Perhaps.

“It seemed like we were a little bit unsure,” said Triano. “I think this is a great experience for our young kids, Kelly (Olynyk, masterful with 34 points) is one of our most veteran guys, he’s been here before . . . a lot of these other guys have not been in this climate.”

In the second semifinal, Argentina beat host Mexico to earn its fourth straight trip to the Olympics. Mexico led by five at the half, but the game was tied with less than six minutes to go in the fourth quarter when a 6-0 Argentina run gave them a lead they wouldn’t give up.

Luis Scola (18 points and 10 rebounds) and Andres Nocioni (10 and 13) both had double-doubles for Argentina as Manu Ginobili watched courtside. The Bucks’ Jorge Gutierrez had 17 points and four steals for Mexico, but fouled out with more than three minutes to go. After averaging 19 points through Mexico’s first eight games, Gustavo Ayon (eight points) had a quiet night, even though, like both Scola and Nocioni, he played all 40 minutes.

Canada and Mexico will have another chance to qualify for the Olympics in one of next year’s Olympic qualifying tournaments, but will most likely have to go through tougher competition out of Europe.

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Canada plays for Olympic berth Friday

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Friday a big day for Canada basketball.

Canada has produced two of the last three No. 1 picks in the Draft, as well as more than a dozen other NBA players, most under the age of 25. And now it can take a big step on the international stage.

The FIBA Americas semifinals take place in Mexico City on Friday, with two Olympic berths on the line. Saturday’s final is kind of an afterthought, because the Americas gets two bids to Rio, in addition to the two it’s already been awarded.

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In the first game on Friday, Canada will play Venezuela for the fifth spot in next year’s field. Canada lost its first game in Mexico to Argentina, but has won the last seven by an average of 26 points (and by no less than 17). Statistically, coach Jay Triano‘s team has been, by far, the best team in the tournament.

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Andrew Wiggins has led the way with 15.5 points per game. Wiggins, Nik Stauskas and Brady Heslip have combined to shoot 53-for-108 (49.1 percent) from 3-point range. Cory Joseph has run the show and Anthony Bennett has looked like a guy who might be able to contribute to the Wolves this season.

But it would all be for naught if the Canadians don’t beat Venezuela. The Venezuelans are without Greivis Vasquez, but have been the best defensive team in the tournament thus far.

Canada last played in the Olympics in 2000. It’s only Olympic medal (silver) came in 1936. With all its young talent, it could join the likes of France, Serbia and Spain as contenders for the No. 2 basketball country in the world behind the United States in the coming years. And Friday’s game against Venezuela would be a critical step in the process.

The second semifinal is a rematch Wednesday’s pool-play finale, in which Mexico used a huge fourth quarter to force another meeting for the Americas’ other Olympic berth. Argentina had been playing for the No. 1 seed and a matchup with Venezuela in the semis, but couldn’t hold onto what was a 13-point lead at the end of the third quarter.

Mexico is led by Gustavo Ayon, who has averaged 19.1 points and 11.6 boards. Luis Scola (22.4 ppg) and Andres Nocioni (17.0 ppg) have combined to average almost 40 points for Argentina.

The losers of Friday’s games will play for third place on Saturday, and will still have an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics. They’ll receive bids to next year’s qualifying tournaments, which will produce the final three bids to Rio.

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Morning Shootaround — May 23


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”

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No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”

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No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”

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No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”

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No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

Morning Shootaround — April 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul George makes Pacers better right now | James Harden is the ultimate facilitator | Noah, Bulls would love a piece of Cavaliers in the playoffs

No. 1: Paul George makes Pacers better right now — The future can wait. Paul George is back and ready to lift the Indiana Pacers right now. That chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference race got a lot more interesting after George made his triumphant return from injury. Will it be enough to lift the Pacers past the crowd and into that last spot? Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star tackles that question and more:

Paul George makes the Indiana Pacers better, not in the future but right now. And not a little better, but a lot better. At both ends. The Paul George that came back Sunday night against the Heat came back a star in full, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes, making a mess of the Miami Heat’s half-court offense, breaking the game open with consecutive 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter.

This game was not going to be easy for the Heat, not without injured center Hassan Whiteside and not playing their second road game in 24 hours and their third in four days, but it wasn’t going to be this ugly. It wasn’t going to be a 112-89 blowout for the Pacers, except for one guy.

And the guy isn’t Luis Scola.

All due respect to Scola. He had 23 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes. He was sensational. But he was not the point of this game, not the spark, not the havoc-wreaking agent at both ends that Paul George was in his return after missing 76 games following that gruesome broken leg in August with Team USA in Las Vegas.

The Pacers are better with George, but how much better? Good enough to pass the Boston Celtics, who are a game ahead for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot? I asked Pacers coach Frank Vogel exactly how much better this Paul George, rusty as he may be, makes the Pacers for the final five games.

“Tough to measure,” Vogel said, “but certainly we’re a lot better with him. We missed him on both ends, but what he’s able to do on the defensive end is almost unparalleled in the NBA. Certainly we’re a lot a stronger on that end, and (with) the scoring punch he gives us on the offensive end as well.”

Boston has the tiebreaker on Indiana, so the Pacers have to not only catch the Celtics but pass them to make the playoffs. Each team has five games left. Time is running out. But it’s like Vogel said.

“There’s no bad time to get a Paul George back,” he said.


VIDEO: Paul George’s return was a hit for the Pacers

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International scene in transition


VIDEO: Gold Medal Postgame: Coach Krzyzewski

MADRID — Serbia had looked really good in its previous three games, beating 5-0 Greece by 18, walloping 5-1 Brazil by 28, and putting up 90 points against a France defense that had just shut down Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But you don’t really know how good you are until you play against the best. And when Serbia faced the U.S. for the first time since the former was part of the larger Yugoslavia, it got crushed, 129-92, in Sunday’s gold medal game.

Serbia has a lot of young talent and a very good coach. It should be one of the best national teams in Europe for years to come. Though it won silver at 2009 Eurobasket and finished fourth at the 2010 World Championship, this run at the World Cup could be the start of something even bigger.

“This is a very, very big success for our country,” Miroslav Raduljica said. “We put a good, healthy foundation for something in the future.”

But the gap between one of the best national teams in Europe and the best national team in the world seems to be pretty wide, especially when you consider that LeBron James and Kevin Durant weren’t representing the U.S. this summer. The Americans have come a long way since the 2002 World Championship, having won four straight gold medals with a stable and sustainable system under USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

So does any other nation have any hope of knocking off the Americans any time soon?

“I think we can lose our next game,” Krzyzewski said after extending the USA’s winning streak to 63 games (45 FIBA and FIBA Americas games, 18 exhibition games) on Sunday. “That’s the way we prepare, because we know how good everyone is. So I don’t see a gap. I just see good basketball, and then we’ve been able to win.”

For the USA’s opponents, it helps to know what you’re up against. And Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said Sunday that his team was at a disadvantage having never faced the speed, athleticism and talent of the best players in the world. Now, it has that experience.

“Each time we play against a team like that,” Djordjevic said, “we are growing up as a team. And we need this more often, because we have to understand how we have to bring up our level of athleticism, our level of defense, our level of passing, to achieve the level these USA players have. So this was a great, great night for us. A great game. We can learn a lot from this game.”

The U.S. is always going to have the talent. But a lot of other national teams, especially those from Europe that play together almost every year, have the edge when it comes to chemistry. And each time they play the Americans, they gain reps against the best. So, the next time we see this matchup, Serbia will be more prepared.

Here are a few more ramifications of what went down over the last 16 days in Spain.

A summer off

Along with the gold medal comes automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So, for the fourth straight time (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015), the U.S. won’t need to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament in the year between the Olympics and World Cup.

If they had lost on Sunday, they would have needed to qualify for the Olympics through the Americas. And it would have been interesting to see what kind of team Colangelo and Krzyzewski put together next summer in a tournament that has far less appeal than this one. But they won’t have to worry about that.

Things are going to change after 2016, however. And an Olympic gold in Rio will not earn instant qualification for the 32-team, 2019 World Cup. Instead, in a format change that was announced last year, there will be 16 teams from the Americas competing for seven spots in the World Cup via a qualification similar to that of the soccer World Cup, with some games taking place during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons. That, of course, will bring up even more questions about who will play for the U.S. and other nations with key players in the NBA. (more…)