Posts Tagged ‘Mike Krzyzewski’

Thunder happy to have fresh KD


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook talk about coming into the season well-rested

OKLAHOMA CITY – Kevin Durant turned 26 on Monday. Not exactly old age, but he’s also no longer the kid leader of the 25-and-under Oklahoma City Thunder fun bunch climbing the rungs of the NBA ladder.

He is on the climb to 30 now and things have become a bit more serious as titles have become more elusive. Human frailty has twice sabotaged potential championship runs in successive seasons and Durant’s upcoming eighth season in the league — and who knows, perhaps his penultimate season in OKC — presents another excellent opportunity to finish first. So with age comes a sharpened perspective, a narrowing of time and thus, a wisdom to make different decisions than one might have made previously.

Durant made one such decision in early August and not everybody appreciated it. After committing to play for Team USA and participating in its July training camp in Las Vegas, Durant exited it conflicted. He wanted to uphold his commitment, but his fatigued body was pushing him the other way and his head was telling him training camps would open two short weeks after the six-week World Cup odyssey with Team USA.

“He had actually texted me before he actually made it public that he was going to take a step back from it,” Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins, a Durant confidant, said Monday. “He asked me what I thought about it. I said it’s what’s best for you. KD did a lot. He carried the load when Russell [Westbrook] was out, he was averaging a lot of minutes, played a lot of time on the court. Going through the season he kept it going to win his MVP and he played at a high level. And we’ve been playing damn near to June every year since I’ve been here. So it’s well-deserved.”

Durant’s decision to leave Team USA three weeks before the start of the FIBA World Cup in Spain came as a surprise to everybody, including chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski. Durant had made a well-intentioned commitment to play even when many of the NBA’s other superstars had not. The 2010 world championship MVP and 2012 Olympic gold medalist put his employer and Thunder teammates ahead of country this one time. He’s been clear he plans to play for Team USA in Brazil 1n 2016.

Yet when Durant offered a well-reasoned explanation for leaving the team on short notice, some called him a quitter, suggested he was being selfish during a summer in which he reaped millions in endorsement deals and said he unfairly left the team in a lurch. The next day, Rudy Gay happily accepted an invitation to replace Durant and the U.S. cruised undefeated to another gold medal, without even having to face Durant’s Thunder teammate Serge Ibaka and might Spain, thought to be Team USA’s toughest foe.  The Americans won their semifinal and championship games by a combined 65 points.

If only they had KD.

“I think it was more so that I didn’t want to be in full-season mode in August or July,” Durant said during the Thunder’s media day on Monday when asked about his decision not to play. “I just wanted that time to just free my body and my mind of it all and just go out there and workout and work on my game and just enjoy the rest of the summer. Because I know how long the season is, and I just wanted to be fully prepared for that.”

Durant has led the Thunder to at least the Western Conference finals in three of the last four years. No player logged more minutes than he did last season and his workload over the last five seasons is beyond reproach.

“I’d rather have a guy tell the powers-to-be, ‘you know what, I can’t give you my 100 precent effort both mentally and physically,’ because if you don’t you’re not going to help your team,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I have a lot of respect for Kevin stepping up. That was not an easy decision, but he stepped up and said, ‘I wasn’t mentally and physically ready to compete with the 12 guys we had.’ He played a lot of basketball. He’s entitled to have a summer off, right?”

Westbrook also pulled out of Team USA to properly rest a right knee that had been operated on three times in the span of eight months and sidelined him for half of last season. Both players had as restful a summer as they’ve had in years. Ibaka is back at full strength from the calf injury that forced him out of the first two games of the West finals against the Spurs. There is a lot of optimism entering camp that OKC is equipped to get back to the NBA Finals.

“I was glad to see him make a decision he felt like he needed to do,” said Nick Collison, Durant’s teammate since his rookie season in Seattle. “He felt that he needed to step away and I was glad he was able to make that decision because I know that was a tough decision. So, yeah, for our team, for us, I think it’s a positive that those guys [Durant and Westbrook] are coming in fresh.”

Blogtable: The U.S. vs. the World

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rose’s comeback | The U.S. vs. the world | The NBA’s offseason



VIDEO: The Starters discuss whether or not U.S. players are too dominant on the international stage

> What’s your takeaway from the whooping the U.S. put on the rest of the world at the FIBA World Cup? Is the gap widening again? Time for America to call off the dogs, let even younger guys play? Other thoughts?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: To heck with global supremacy and to heck with calling off the dogs. I favor a young-player Team USA and FIBA tournament in general so as to not expose franchise stars to undue risk of injury or fatigue. Basketball is a worldwide sport, the NBA is a league of nations, and it doesn’t turn on which country in a given year puts together the winningest roster. The Olympics doesn’t even move my needle on this. I’m a big believer in putting the day job first, and the NBA’s investment all around — for owners, for fans, for players — ought to be the 800-pound priority.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The gap has always been wide and likely will be for many years to come just as the U.S. men’s national soccer team remains miles away from contending for the World Cup despite making obvious gains. As for allowing the younger guys to play, I’ve always taken this side. To me it makes little sense for the NBA’s elite players to risk injury in a tournament that, frankly, holds little meaning in this country. Look, the World Cup championship game went up against Sunday NFL games. I haven’t seen the ratings, but I’m guessing they weren’t pretty. Now, having talked recently to Chandler Parsons and hearing his real disappointment at not making the team, I’m not here to tell anyone they can’t participate if they want to. But outside of the Olympics — and even then I’m not beholden to the drum beat that our best players must compete so the U.S. is guaranteed of winning gold — we should open the field to a much wider pool of players who can proudly represent the U.S.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No calling off. Send the best team possible and see who wins. It’s the world championships or the Olympics, not AYSO. If the United States wins for the next 20 years, then the event has served its purpose to determine the best. If someone else wins, the victory will have much more meaning than if it came against the D-League All-Stars or a mix of college players.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It just seems that way. There are a lot of reasons why USA never got challenged. The next four or five best teams were all on the other side of the bracket. Spain would have provided a tougher matchup, but crumbled under the pressure of a close game in the quarterfinals. While Serbia was a good team, it had never played the U.S., so that was the first time most of its players had faced that kind of speed and athleticism. And finally, the gold medal game would have been more competitive had the U.S. not shot ridiculously well from 3-point range on that particular night. There’s still a gap in regard to both top-line talent and depth of talent, and Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have done a better job of making the most of that talent than previous regimes had. But the rest of the world certainly isn’t getting worse.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My biggest takeaway is that this rush to judge the team that USA Basketball sent to Spain was as twisted and relentless as anything I’ve seen in two decades in this business. The narrative about this team that was spun before they even left these shores for Spain was pretty comical. No stars = USAB, and more specifically the NBA, Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewskiall getting their commeuppance from the rest of the world was pretty much the way I read it. Foolishness. Complete foolishness. The U.S. team was clearly better and deeper than anyone else in the field, including Spain. (I said it here last week.). Even the haters have to face the reality that the U.S. program is once again the measuring stick. The same built-in advantage certain nations have when the FIFA World Cup rolls around is the same decided edge the (wrongly stereotyped ugly) Americans have now when the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics pop up on the summer schedule. The pool of human resources at USAB’s disposal is as deep as it gets and arguably as deep as it has ever been. And some of these so-called future NBA stars or guys who have dominated internationally and could and would do whatever in the NBA are getting hype they don’t deserve. And it showed when they faced the U.S. “C-Team” that quite frankly trounced the competition in Spain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The more I think about it, the less I understand these international competitions. I get it in soccer, when national teams are assembled every few years for the World Cup, because at least in between in soccer we get the Champion’s League, where we see the world’s best teams all compete against each other. And I think that might be a more interesting concept in basketball than a Basketball World Cup, where the Olympics are still considered the marquee tournament. With that said, just because the US breezed through this tournament without much trouble, using a banged-up roster, it’s probably too soon to say the US is beyond reproach. We never did, for instance, have to play against Spain or France, and we came through the tournament’s easier bracket. If there’s anything we should have learned from recent USA Basketball history, it’s as soon as you start thinking you’re untouchable, watch out.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The crazy thing about this World Cup was that this USA team was arguably second or third string and they still cruised. As someone from outside the U.S., representing a country that would receive a beat down if they faced off, I’m not concerned that they cruised through the tournament! I want to see the best players on the planet playing together. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant playing together at 2012 Olympics was incredible to see. I don’t want to see younger guys play to level up the playing field, I want to see the best team come together.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: I wrote about this at large for NBA Brasil. The gap is wide again because the rest of the world is in transition from the end of its first true NBA generation to the next wave. Just two years ago, a U.S. team with LeBron, KD, Melo and Kobe took all they could handle from Lithuania and Spain. Guys that have given trouble to the Americans in the past 10 years, like Ginobili, Jasikevicius, Kleiza, Papaloukas and Spanoulis are either retired from their national teams or took the summer off. Also, USA Basketball has done a remarkable job with its program, which sets it apart from everyone else. The rest of the world will come back: France, Serbia, Lithuania, Canada and Australia all have quality generations developing for the next Olympic cycle. But, as long as USAB keeps doing things right, the US will stay on top of it.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Although I had expected the US to win the tournament, I was genuinely surprised that a young team without so many of America’s best talents were able to sweep through their competition with such ease. The gap has widened between the USA and the rest of the world for sure, but that is no need for alarm; basketball is a cycle and as a new generation of young international talents mature mature and improve, the gap will be narrowed again. The rest of the world is simply going through a phase where the old ranks (Ginobili’s Argentina, Gasol’s Spain, etc.) haven’t yet made room for the new. I don’t agree that America should call off the big dogs; on the contrary, I want USA to send their best players to the World Cup (which is ALL basketball) instead of the Olympics (where basketball is just one of dozens of sports). The more the US invests in the World Cup, the more the rest of the world will care about it.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: First of all Team USA was lucky not to face Greece, because everybody remembers that “Big in Japan” Greek team back in 2006. Sorry, I had to underline somehow the fact that we were the last country to beat the NBAers. Now, as for the gap-talk, it’s tough to say. On one hand we saw Team USA cruising through the gold medal. On the other hand there is no argument that this was the most FIBA-geared team the Americans have ever assembled. They didn’t thrive playing NBA game style, but they beat the world playing international basketball.  Team USA was so effective because it took bits and pieces from the entire world. These days when international players have become part of the NBA core and more and more European coaches are sitting on NBA benches, we cannot talk about “the gap widening”. The gap is closing in terms of talent, size, coaching and athleticism, but it’s still wide open when referring to administration, planning and management. We really like watching NBA stars on the floor every other summer, so I believe that nothing have to change.

Max Marbeiter, NBA Germany: Well, at first sight, it seems like there is no chance that we will see an international team beat the USA in the near future. And I guess that’s true at second and third sight as well. To me, Team USA simply got underestimated this time. People just saw who did not come to Spain and thought, “Well without all the big stars they might be in trouble.” Unfortunately they forgot that the NBA does not only consist of the LeBrons and Durants of this world. The team Coach K took to Spain was still miles deep and incredibly talented. I mean, James Harden, Steph Curry and Anthony Davis are among the best players on their respective positions. So that was no Team USA Lite even with LeBron, KD, Paul George and Chris Paul missing. But, I guess you have to keep in mind that the draw kind of twisted the facts. Until the final, Slovenia was the toughest opponent Team USA had to face. At least on paper. All the other big nations played in the other half of the bracket. No one knows if the U.S. had beaten Argentina, Brazil or France as convincingly as they beat the Dominican Republic, Finland or Slovenia. I’m not saying they would have lost, but the games might have been closer. And maybe a final against Spain would have come down to the final minutes, although that’s something we’ll never find out. Nevertheless I don’t think the gap is widening. There’s always been a certain gap as soon as the U.S. sent some of their best players. The athletic advantage is huge. But to me it would be the wrong move to stop sending the best players to a world championship or the Olympics. The big tournaments should have the toughest competition possible. And who knows, maybe one day the United States do get beat by a team like Spain.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: I think the United States has re-opened the gap and that has been confirmed during this World Cup. I could see them heading into the Olympics with this group from 2014.

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…)

USAB program solid from top to bottom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. rolls Serbia, captures FIBA World Cup gold after strong run


VIDEO: Matt Winer reflects on Team USA’s unique path to FIBA World Cup gold

MADRID — After being asked about it for weeks, they can answer honestly and without the least bit of arrogance.

They are indeed unbeatable, the U.S. National Team, winners of 45 straight games in World Cup/World Championship and Olympic competition.

Yes, the best from the U.S. is way better than what anyone else can offer up on basketball’s global stage.

Those NBA players who sported red, white and blue on Sunday in the gold medal game of the FIBA World Cup backed it all up by decimating Serbia early and rolling to a 129-92 win and repeating as champs after winning the 2010 World Championship in Turkey.

Serbian pride was supposed to carry the day and make the final the biggest and best test for a team of U.S. stars who weren’t even considered the “B-Team.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said outspoken U.S. forward Kenneth Faried, who made the five-man All-Tournament team, trying to be mindful of U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s edict to respect the process and opponent. “I know what you are asking. So no, we are not ‘unbeatable.’ But we seemed to prove that theory in a different way tonight. We handled our business and got that gold medal.”

Serbian pride was no match for American hustle, muscle and raw athleticism that Kyrie Irving and the U.S. “C-Team” unleashed on the crowd at the Palacio de los Deportes. The U.S. lead was up to 31 at one point before halftime, a virtually insurmountable lead for a team of 12 NBA players against a Serbian crew that doesn’t boast a single player currently on an NBA roster.

“This is by far the biggest accomplishment in my life so far,” said Irving, who was a perfect 6-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line and flat-out spectacular against Serbian guard Milos Teodosic. “This feels amazing. It’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt. All the emotions haven’t come to me yet but I did this with a group of guys I can call my brothers for the rest of my life.”

With the win the U.S. captured its fifth title and this team put the U.S. in elite company, joining Brazil (1959 and ’63) and Yugoslavia (’98 and 2002) as the only nations to repeat as champs.

For weeks this U.S. team, devoid of superstars like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, not to mention Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George, heard about how vulnerable it was. Spain, and not the U.S. was being touted as the favorite early on.

What is basically an under-25 squad of U.S. stars silenced their critics with one dominant performance after another. Not all of them were as pretty as Sunday’s gold medal game, when Irving set the tone early by connecting on his first five shots and piling up 15 points by halftime. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, saving his best showing for the final game in Spain. He led the U.S. charge with a game-high 26 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. (more…)

U.S., Serbia chasing World Cup Gold


VIDEO: Coach K on Serbia after Saturday practice

By Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

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

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

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

A defensive stopper on Teodosic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USA on the glass

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

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

Home-court advantage?

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

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

Respect your opponent

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

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

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

Serbia has nothing to lose

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

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

Advanced chemistry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thompson’s breakout summer?


VIDEO: Klay Thompson discusses USA’s win over Lithuania

MADRID — Stephen Curry  calls it the “USA vibe,” that flow NBA players get into during competition summers with USA Basketball.  

Those are the summers of sacrifice, of committing yourself to a culture unlike the one you are used to in the NBA, where there are journeyman and role players scattered among stars, superstars and global icons throughout locker rooms around the league.

No one has to worry about those distinctions with USA Basketball. Curry and Mason Plumlee are equals here under the watchful of eye of Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing director, and head coach Mike Kryzyewski.

If they’ve learned anything over the course of the past nine years it’s that a tiered system on the U.S. National Team doesn’t work. It can’t. Especially when guys like Curry’s Splash Brother from Golden State, Klay Thompson, plays the way he has during the FIBA World Cup.

Thompson, you could argue, has been the most consistent and best two-way player on the U.S. roster, not named Kenneth Faried or Anthony Davis. And he’s done it without starting a single game in the lead up to Sunday’s gold medal game.

“I thought Klay’s play in the first half was the biggest reason we were leading at halftime,” Coach K said after Thompson led the U.S. rout of Lithuania in Thursday’s semifinal with 14 points before the break and 16 for the game.

Thompson’s contributions off the U.S. bench, a role he probably hasn’t had to play at any point in his basketball career since before high school, if ever, could pay huge dividends when this tournament is over and he goes back to his role as one of the stars for the Warriors.

“You expose yourself to different stages of basketball,” Curry said of the benefits Thompson will gain from this medal run with the U.S. National Team. “It’s beneficial because you’re being called on to play a different role, to be a scorer off the bench and it’s just different. It adds a little bit of character and charisma to your game. And that should translate to even more success when we get back to Golden State.”

This has definitely been a character building summer for Thompson and other guys used to starting and the spotlight that comes with it in the NBA. He’s perhaps a better defender than anyone imagined. He’s stepped up to the challenge on defense night after night, while serving as the team’s most consistent scoring threat off the bench as well, averaging 12.8 points while shooting 66 percent on his 2-point shots and 41 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

We’ve gotten a glimpse of his game, the entire scope of his game, in ways we don’t normally get to see in the NBA.

“He’s been a lockdown defender for us, no doubt,” James Harden said. “Scoring is never going to be a problem for him. It’s not an issue for this team. So it says something when you see guys working hard on defense and trying to make an impact any way they can.”

That’s the spirit of the program, the one Colangelo and Coach K have tried to foster from the start. And the results have worked beautifully. The U.S, takes a 62-game win streak into Sunday’s gold medal game, having put together a flawless run in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition dating back to 2006.

They also boast a number of breakout stars from every cycle of international competition. This is where new All-Stars, MVPs and scoring champs play their trade every two years, sharpening their skills for the NBA by representing their country and strengthening its basketball tradition.

“The fact is the historical record of the guys who have participated with us shows they go back to their teams and that season immediately following their experience with us they have great results,” Colangelo said.

He cited the 2010 team that won gold at the World Championship in Turkey as the shining example of this experience is all about. That team produced the MVP (Derrick Rose), scoring champ (Kevin Durant) and three new All-Stars, not to mention a NBA champion in Tyson Chandler.

“They all had a great experience in Istanbul and great seasons that followed that journey,” Colangelo said. “We’ve been preaching this gospel, that this is a great experience, you learn to become a better player, in some ways, we think, by exposing them to this culture. They take that back to their teams and their teams are better for it. And the NBA is the ultimate beneficiary of it. So there’s 110 reasons why it’s good for the players to participate.”

Thompson could be one of those players whose next step is the one that launches him into that next level of stardom. He’ll have a new coach, Steve Kerr, and a new system. And that boulder sized chip on his shoulder after surviving a summer filled with trade rumors linked to Kevin Love, who was instead dealt to Cleveland.

Thompson is the one U.S. player who seemed perturbed from the very start that this U.S. team was being doubted and considered an underdog because bigger stars defected, declined to participate or were injured.

“I don’t care who you are, you never want to be counted out or disrespected,” Thompson said. “I never need any extra motivation. I’m always playing my hardest and to win. That will never change.”

U.S. trounces Lithuania 96-68


VIDEO: U.S. uses big third quarter to rout Lithuania

BARCELONA – Any team with designs on knocking off the U.S. National Team before it gets to Madrid and collects gold here at the FIBA World Cup better be ready for the wave.

That wave would be a star-studded second unit capable of generating as much energy and plenty of production on any given night.

Klay Thompson lit the flame in Thursday’s 96-68 semifinal win over Lithuania, carrying the U.S. early, before a quick 10-0 run after halftime turned a tight game into yet another rout at Palau Saint Jordi.

With James Harden and Stephen Curry struggling with their shots, fouls and defense, Thompson served as the emotional spark the U.S. needed to avoid the upset bug that bit Spain a night earlier in a quarterfinal in Madrid. He had 14 points by halftime, when the U.S. held a 43-35 lead, and was locked in on defense from the moment he hit the floor.

He helped turn what was supposed to be the toughest test of the competition, to date, into a laugher minutes after halftime. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski was the first person up off the U.S. bench at the dead ball that ended that 10-0 run, fist-pumping his team’s energy and effort during yet another break out stretch.

The U.S. has had one in each and every game they’ve played throughout this competition, overwhelming the opposition at one point or another with their athleticism, speed, length and defensive intensity.

“We’re relentless,” Kenneth Faried said. “We’re relentless.”

That’s exactly what they were during that third quarter run, which ran all the way up to 18-2 and eventually knocked out a Lithuanian team that has historically played the U.S. tougher than most, dating back to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

But once the U.S. got rolling, there was no chance this one stayed close. Thompson finished with 16 points. Harden matched his 16, all of them coming during that burst after halftime. Curry added 13 and Kyrie Irving led the U.S. with 18, giving Faried and Anthony Davis a night off, at least in the scoring department.

“It had nothing to do with energy,” Irving said of the U.S. second half blitz. “Whatever is needed, we make the necessary adjustments and then just try and go for the win.”

Sunday’s gold medal game (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Madrid is an opportunity for this team to make history by allowing the U.S. to become  just the third country to repeat as World champions. Brazil (1959 and 1963) and Yugoslavia (1998 and 2002) are the others

That marquee matchup between the host nation team and the team filled with NBA stars was hijacked Wednesday night when France upset Spain 68-52 in the quarterfinals in Madrid. Sunday’s final won’t have that sizzling subplot, but that’s not something the U.S. contingent seems to care much about.

They avoided talking about Spain for weeks, no matter how many different ways people tried to get them to address the topic. Now they’ll get to two days to prepare for either France or Serbia, who square off in the other semifinal Friday night in Madrid.

Favored U.S. keeps focus on Lithuania


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

BARCELONA — That fine line between confident and cocky, the one the favorites always walk, is being navigated carefully by the U.S. National Team here at the FIBA World Cup. Upsets have a way of forcing reality onto teams, even one filled with NBA stars who believe, no matter the odds, that they won’t come all this way without leaving with gold.

Mike Krzyzewski‘s unyielding respect for the process and the rest of the field makes much more sense now that France has toppled Spain on the other side of the bracket, leaving a golden opportunity in front of the U.S. as the Americans square off with Lithuania today (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the right to advance to the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid.

“We know what a great team Lithuania is and how well they’ve played the whole tournament,” U.S. guard Steph Curry said during a Thursday morning news conference alongside Coach K. “We obviously knew what happened (to Spain) but it didn’t affect in anything in our preparation. Nobody  really expected it, they beat pretty well in pool play. But that’s the beauty of the tournament. Everybiody gets another chance to get to the medal round and then it’s a one-and-done process. And that makes it even more important for us to come out and focus and take care of our business. Everybody knew about it (France upsetting Spain). But our job is to beeat Lithuania and worry about who we’re going to play in Madrid. That’s the mentality, it was yesterday and it stays the same today.”

During pool play, any mention of Spain drew a polite but curt no comment from Coach K, who  dutifully reminded anyone willing to listen that a place in Madrid had to be earned. Ask about a potential opponent two games away and Coach K wouldn’t let the questioner finish. He’d reiterate that his and his team’s sole focus was on the team they’d face next.

Peppering the players with similar questions resulted in similar responses.

“We’re not focused on Spain or anyone else but … “

It doesn’t seem so strange now, not after seeing Spain crumble under the weight of expectations Wednesday night in Madrid.

In the moments after their quarterfinal win over Slovenia, after TNT’s Charles Barkley picked Spain to win it all and just before Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard and Slovenian catalyst Goran Dragic did the same, Coach K made it clear that his team is not invincible.

“We’re beatable,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

That wasn’t posturing. Coach K knows as well as anyone – Pau Gasol and his Spanish National Team teammates included — just how humbling it can be to live that reality.

The failures of the U.S. team in 2006 is fresh in the minds of those involved with USA Basketball at all levels.

“We’re not an arrogant group that thinks we don’t have to come out and play our hardest and our best every night. That’s just not who we are as a team,” James Harden said. “We respect all of the other teams here. We’re not the only group of NBA guys here, we know that. This is a tournament, a competition, and that means it’s wide open and anybody has a chance to win.”

Having a young team, relatively speaking, that doesn’t include the usual complement of superstars that was expected (Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, etc.) won’t save the U.S. from expectations now that Spain is out. The Americans go back to the top of the heap as the unquestioned favorite to capture gold.

And that means this team must compartmentalize in short order the new dynamics. Serbia and France both sprung upsets on the other side of the bracket. Who’s to say that either one of them couldn’t do it again?

So those slow starts and energy-deficient stretches this U.S. team has struggled through cannot be a part of the process any longer.

“I think we’ve played well,” Coach K said, defending his team. “I don’t know what everybody has been watching, but you know, our guys have played their butts off. They have great camaraderie. You all, some of you, think that flipping the switch, or whatever, is when we start hitting shots. If any team just had to wait for that, then they are flipping that switch all the time, because you don’t hit shots all the time. What you can do is play hard, play defense and rebound. And you can do those things all the time, and our team has done that all the time. So, then when you start hitting shots, everything looks good when you hit shots.”

Krzyzewski said he’s pleased with his team’s growth and maturity throughout the course of training camp and competition. The U.S. has maintained a sense of calm on the floor when things don’t come quickly. “So far they’ve been great about it, and I think part of it is how we handle things,” he said. “Like the mood we try to create. You want to be serious, but not to an extent where you become tight. They need to be loose.”

That was easier to do before France turned this competition upside down with that 68-52 beating of Spain. The seriousness of it all, the fact that if you don’t play your best in this one-and-done scenario could be the difference between playing to capture back-to-back titles or playing for third place.

There’s no extra motivation needed then.

“To play to get to the gold medal game, that’s the main motivation,” Klay Thompson said. “And [Thursday] is September 11, an infamous day in American history, so we just want to honor our country in that aspect.”

Faried, U.S. bigs ‘ready for whatever’

(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

The big men for Team USA have key to its success in the World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

BARCELONA — Playing the underdog is one thing.

But being disrespected?

That’s something U.S. National Team forward Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets) cannot tolerate. Not at home and certainly not on the other side of the world here in the FIBA World Cup.

Faried took offense to the suggestion that the U.S. big men — he and Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee — will no longer dominate the opposition now that they are down to their final two games of this competition.

“Massively direspectful,” Faried said after practice Wednesday at Palau Saint Jordi when it was suggested that the dominant run for the U.S. bigs was over. “We’ll have to see tomorrow, I guess.”

Lithuania’s frontline, led by Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors), is next up in Thursday’s semifinal. And Brazil and Spain, with their deep frontcourts loaded with NBA big men could await in the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid.

The battle of bigs Thursday, though, is first up on the priority list. And Lithuania, unlike quarterfinal victim Slovenia Tuesday night, had no answers for Faried, Davis and the crew.

The U.S. dominated the offensive boards (23) and controlled the action as a result of their relentless work on the boards early.

“Coach definitely wants all the bigs to get offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, and wants every rebound to be ours so they only get one shot,” Davis said. “So that’s what me, Kenneth, DeMarcus, Rudy (Gay), that’s all we try to do; Andre and Mason, just try and get every rebound.”

Valanciunas had grabbed 13 in Lithuania’s quarterfinal win over Turkey, outworking Omer Asik (New Orleans Pelicans) en route to a monstrous rebounding performance.

“He’s, so far, going to be the best low-post presence that we’ve faced,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He gets a piece of the paint in numerous ways. And he’s a great offensive rebounder. Not a good one, but a great one. And I think he’s a tough guy to match up with. Just the opposite when you’re trying to match up on the perimeter when their bigs take you outside. Thes guys take you inside and trying to outrebound them will be a challenge for our team.”

A challenge Faried says he and his U.S. counterparts are more than ready for.

“He’s a good big, and he’s going to be a force down there,” he said of Valanciunas. “But we’re ready for him. We’re ready for whatever.”

Coach K mum on Deng, Ferry

Krzyzewski said that he would rather not comment on the goings on back home involving two of his former players at Duke, Miami Heat forward Luol Deng and Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who are at the center of controversy involving racist comments Ferry uttered on a conference call earlier this summer.

Ferry has been disciplined internally by the Hawks and Deng has already released his statement in response to the firestorm Ferry’s statement caused.

“I’m not up to date or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “I am not abreast … I’m just not there, so I don’t want to comment on anything that I don’t know anything about. I don’t know much about it … so I’d rather not comment on it.”

Splash Bros to the rescue

If one Splash Brother struggles, you can count on the other to pick up the slack. Klay Thompson‘s 20-point performance in the win over Slovenia came on the heels of Steph Curry‘s 20-point effort in Saturday’s win over Mexico.

Thompson has stepped up to any and all defensive challenges as well, digging in on opposing perimeter players and showing himself to be a more than capable one-on-one stopper for a U.S. team that didn’t necessarily have a specialist to fill that role, at least on paper.

“Klay has been a consistent high-level performer for us,” Coach K said. “He’s just doing what he does in the NBA, and that’s being an outstanding player. He can hit shots but he can really play defense. We knew that when we started trials that he would be a valuable, valuable … A number of these guys are like having starters in there all the time, but Klay has accepted his role really well.”