Posts Tagged ‘Milos Teodosic’

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA one win from gold | Serbia hopes for gold | How James and the Cavs came back from down 3-1

No. 1: Team USA one win from gold —Heading into the 2016 Olympics in Rio, expectations for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team were sky high. And while they may have struggled to reach some of those expectations, and haven’t blown out every opponent along the way, with Friday’s 82-76 win over Spain, Team USA is now in the gold medal game, one win from leaving Rio with their ultimate goal accomplished. Against Spain, with the offense struggling to pull away, it was the defense of DeAndre Jordan that helped Team USA survive and advance. As our own John Schuhmann writes, Jordan has embraced his role with Team USA …

The U.S. offense was never pretty on Friday. It only once scored on more than three straight possessions. Kevin Durant (14 points on 6-for-13 shooting) and Kyrie Irving (13 points on 5-for-9) were held in check. Klay Thompson led the U.S. with 22 points, but had rough moments shooting. After scoring 129 points per 100 possessions through its first six games, the U.S. scored just 82 points on 74 possessions (111 per 100) on Friday.

The second half (37 points on 39 possessions) was particularly ugly. This was not a repeat of the last two gold medal games in which the U.S. beat Spain 118-107 and 107-100.

“It was a different type of game,” Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “It was a very hard game. It wasn’t easy flowing and both teams had to make big plays.”

Jordan made a lot of them. With the 6-11 center being disruptive on pick-and-rolls and at the rim, a potent Spanish team was held to just three scores on its first 10 possessions, allowing the U.S. to build an early, 14-7 lead that it never gave up. Jordan blocked Nikola Mirotic on Spain’s third possession, deflected a Sergio Llull pass on the next one, and forced Llull into shooting a tough, rainbow foul-line jumper two possessions after that.

“The key of the game was their defense, their athleticism, their size,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “They made our offense get difficult during most possessions.”

Pau Gasol led all scorers with 23 points, but needed 19 shots to get them. Jordan allowed him some open threes, but forced him into tough shots in the paint and a few turnovers.

Every night, somebody else has stepped up for the U.S. Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Paul George have all had their signature games. Though he scored just nine points and made just one of his four free throws, this game belonged to Jordan.

“He’s locked in,” Kyle Lowry said. “He wants this medal. He wants it really bad. I think we all want it and tonight he just led by example. We just feed off his energy.”

That energy came on both ends of the floor. Jordan not only affected Spain’s shots and passes, he helped get his team extra possessions. Jordan was only credited with three offensive rebounds, but got his hands on a couple of others. The U.S. finished with 21 offensive boards and 25 second-chance points.

“His activity sometimes didn’t translate in the stats,” Krzyzewski said, “but it translated into disruptive play or taking away from the continuity that Spain normally has.”

Jordan’s skill set isn’t necessarily a great fit for the international game, which values spacing and perimeter shooting. But his combination of size and athleticism can overwhelm smaller, more ground-bound opponents. And every single opponent is smaller or more ground-bound.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Spanish veteran Juan Carlos Navarro thought he had a clear lane to the basket on a fast break. But Jordan came along and erased Navarro’s shot, his fourth block of the afternoon. And by the end of the game, he had 16 rebounds.

Krzyzewski has shuffled his lineups (both the starting lineup and bench units that get extended run) much more than usual in this tournament. But he’s seems to have found a formula that works. Cousins better complements the defensive perimeter of Lowry, Butler and George, while Jordan fits better on the starting lineup with an offensive backcourt of Irving and Thompson.

As he is with the LA Clippers, he’s the role-playing complement to the stars.

“I have one job on this team and that’s to come out and play with as much energy as I can on both ends of the floor,” Jordan said. “I’m used to doing that. That’s the type of player that I am, so it just comes naturally. Anything I can do for this team to help us advance and keep winning, I’m going to do that. And I take pride in it.”

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No. 2: Serbia hopes for gold —Team USA’s path to gold still has one major hurdle, as they will play against a streaking Serbia squad on Sunday in the gold medal game. Serbia advanced to the gold medal match yesterday by blowing out Australia 87-61. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Rio, Serbia still has designs on going home with gold …

For the second straight time in a major international tournament, it will be the United States vs. Serbia for the gold medal. And for the second time, Serbia has followed mediocre pool play results with an impressive run in the elimination rounds.

At the 2014 World Cup of Basketball, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Egypt and Iran – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – France, Brazil and Spain – that did. Then it beat Greece (the top seed from Group B), Brazil and France before losing to the U.S. in the final.

In these Olympics, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Venezuela and China – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – Australia, France and USA – that did. And now it has beat Croatia (the top seed from Group B) and Australia to face the U.S., once again, in the final.

On Friday, Serbia never trailed, beating Australia 87-61 in the second semifinal and earning their first Olympic medal in men’s basketball (since the break-up of Yugoslavia). The question now is whether it will be gold or silver.

The U.S. won the ’14 gold medal game by 37 points, but only beat Serbia by three last Friday, allowing Serbia to shoot 52 percent. The U.S. defense has shown improvement since then, but will be tested by Serbia’s passing and the playmaking (and shotmaking) of point guard Milos Teodosic.

“We gave them a pretty good fight,” Serbian big man Miroslav Raduljica said about last week’s meeting, “showed that they’re not unbeatable, and that we can play against them.”

Going to settle for silver?

“No, never,” Raduljica replied. “We are Serbian.”

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No. 3: How James and the Cavs came back from down 3-1 After engineering a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, LeBron James has taken some time off this summer. But in this wide-ranging interview with Business Insider, James recalls the Cavs being down 3-1 in the Finals and how he and the Cavs were able to come from behind to win the title …

James: We lost our defensive pressure. Golden State turned up the pressure, and they were able to steal our home-court advantage to go up 3-1.

So I’m sitting at home, recalibrating and thinking about the game. And everyone is kind of down at that point. For me as a leader, I couldn’t allow myself to get in a funk. I just started to try and recalibrate and say, “Listen, we’ve got to go to Golden State for game five. We’ve got to come home anyways. So why not come home and give our fans another game, and give them an opportunity to have a game six?”

And that was my mindset. I was very relaxed going out to Golden State for game five, and obviously we saw what happened in that game. I was extremely confident in my teammates’ abilities throughout game five, and then coming home in game six to our fans, who are ecstatic and crazy as can be.

And then, in game seven, it’s one game. It’s sudden death, and it doesn’t matter what’s going on at that point. I believe in one game, I’m going to take myself every time.

If you just give me one game for it all, I’m going to take it myself. And we were able to do something that’s never been done, like you mentioned, a comeback from 3-1. And to win it on their home floor — it was an amazing feat for our franchise.

Shontell: You told a great story on the Jesse Williams “Open Run” podcast you just launched about how you spent that night of game four. You sent a group text to your troops, and you said — what did you say?

James: We have a group chat throughout the season where we talk about everything, with all the guys. We talk about everything from “Hey, this is what time we’re doing dinner” to “This is what time the bus is” or just mentally preparing for games.

I was sitting at home with my wife, and we we’re watching Eddie Murphy‘s stand-up comedy [“Raw”] because I wanted to get my mind off the game and bring some more joy into the room. And then I sent a group chat text to my guys, saying, “OK, listen: It doesn’t matter what just happened. And I know we’re all down about it, but in order for us to accomplish what no one believes we can do, we have to refocus and we have to re-lock in. You guys do your part, and I promise you, as the leader of the team, I won’t let you down. Just follow my lead.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol thinks Spain may have squandered their best chance for Olympic gold … Dwyane Wade says he’s always embraced being the underdog … Will the All-Star Game in New Orleans help Anthony Davis find his mojo? … Randy Foye wants to give back this season in Brooklyn … The Denver Nuggets have reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent Nate WoltersJames Harden was at Old Trafford yesterday for Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Southampton …

Serbia thumps Australia, sets up another meeting with USA

RIO DE JANEIRO — For the second straight time in a major international tournament, it will be the United States vs. Serbia for the gold medal. And for the second time, Serbia has followed mediocre pool play results with an impressive run in the elimination rounds.

At the 2014 World Cup of Basketball, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Egypt and Iran – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – France, Brazil and Spain – that did. Then it beat Greece (the top seed from Group B), Brazil and France before losing to the U.S. in the final.

In these Olympics, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Venezuela and China – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – Australia, France and USA – that did. And now it has beat Croatia (the top seed from Group B) and Australia to face the U.S., once again, in the final.

On Friday, Serbia never trailed, beating Australia 87-61 in the second semifinal and earning their first Olympic medal in men’s basketball (since the break-up of Yugoslavia). The question now is whether it will be gold or silver.

The U.S. won the ’14 gold medal game by 37 points, but only beat Serbia by three last Friday, allowing Serbia to shoot 52 percent. The U.S. defense has shown improvement since then, but will be tested by Serbia’s passing and the playmaking (and shotmaking) of point guard Milos Teodosic.

“We gave them a pretty good fight,” Serbian big man Miroslav Raduljica said about last week’s meeting, “showed that they’re not unbeatable, and that we can play against them.”

Going to settle for silver?

“No, never,” Raduljica replied. “We are Serbian.”

Teodosic led all scores with 22 points on Friday, shooting 9-for-14 and adding five assists. The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic shot just 2-for-7, but grabbed 11 rebounds.

Friday’s result was a disappointing one for Australia, which looked like the second best team in the tournament. It entered the semis at 5-1, with the tournament’s second best offense and second best defense, having only lost to the U.S. by 10. The Boomers beat Serbia by 15 in their first meeting (though the game was much closer than the final margin would have you believe).

But the Australia offense came up empty on Friday. The Boomers shot a brutal 6-for-29 in the first half, scoring just five points in the first quarter and nine points in the second. They trailed by as many as 31 points midway through the fourth.

Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes combined for just 11 points on 3-for-9 shooting. Matthew Dellavedova, who had 13 assists in Australia’s first game vs. Serbia, registered just two on Friday. And Patty Mills made just one of his nine 3-point attempts.

“This definitely wasn’t what we were expecting,” Dellavedova said. “I really don’t know what happened. They played well and we didn’t.”

Australia still has a chance to earn its first Olympic medal in men’s basketball, but will need to beat Spain in Sunday’s bronze medal game.

2016 Olympic quarterfinals preview

RIO DE JANEIRO — The 2016 Olympic basketball tournament is wide open. Eight great teams remain and every one of them has a chance at a medal.

The United States is the only undefeated team among them and carries a 50-game winning streak in international tournaments into the quarterfinals. But, it has looked vulnerable over its last three games, allowing Australia, Serbia and France to score more than 110 points per 100 possessions. If it doesn’t get enough offense in any of its next three games, the U.S. can lose.

And every other team can win. The only team in the quarterfinals that doesn’t have a quality win in Rio is Serbia. But Serbia lost to France by one and had a wide-open three to send its game vs. the U.S. to overtime. And, oh yeah, Serbia won silver at the 2014 World Cup, having beat Greece, Brazil and France to get to the final (after, just like this year, picking up no quality wins in pool play).

Here’s a rundown of each of Wednesday’s quarterfinals…

Pace = Possessions per 40 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Stats are from games vs. remaining teams. For full Olympic pace & efficiency stats, go here. (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers’ Jordan, Warriors’ Durant share deep bond | Report: LeBron to host team workouts in L.A. | Young, Russell mending relationshipReport: Grizzlies tried to sign Teodosic

No. 1: Durant, Clippers’ Jordan share deep bond — In just about every sense of the word, the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors are rivals in the NBA. With Kevin Durant moving from Oklahoma City to Golden State this summer, that rivalry takes on added spice as the Clippers were one of the teams attempting to woo him. Yet despite the added aspects to that rivalry, Durant and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan remain as close as ever. Michael Lee of The Vertical details that bond as he catches up with the pair of Team USA teammates in Rio:

“If I were to get married today, he’d be in my wedding,” Durant told The Vertical about Jordan. “That’s how it is. That’s my brother.”

Numerically, Durant and Jordan were bound to be attached at the hip at some point during these Olympic games. Number 5 and No. 6, respectively, in your program for Team USA, the tallest players on the roster – don’t bother looking at the height listings in your program – are always side-by-side during the pregame introduction and national anthem.

But they have also been almost inseparable off the floor since the games began. They were seated next to each other, pumping their fists and cheering, and using their cellphones to record Michael Phelps collecting a couple more gold medals. They’ve joined teammates on trips to the Ipanema Beach to play volleyball, to Copacabana Beach to watch volleyball, to Olympic Stadium to see Usain Bolt scorch the track and to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue to admire one of the world’s great wonders.

The newest Golden State Warrior and the longest-tenured Los Angeles Clipper are proving that players from those hated rivals can get along. It helps that they’ve been friends almost a decade – beginning when Durant failed in recruiting Jordan to Texas, growing stronger a few years ago when Durant decided to make Los Angeles his offseason home and continuing through now, as they try to bring a third consecutive gold medal back to the United States.

When relayed Durant’s comments about being in his whenever wedding, Jordan nodded and told The Vertical, “For sure, he’s going to be in mine.”

Durant first met Jordan shortly after he committed to Texas and tried to convince Jordan, who was a year younger, to join the program. Jordan wasn’t swayed because he had little confidence they’d ever be college teammates, and signed with rival Texas A&M.

“I said, ‘Why would I come there, when you’re going to leave after your first year?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t think I’m going to leave. I think I’m going to stay.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘I’m telling you.’ And obviously, you know what happened,” Jordan told The Vertical with a laugh. “Ever since then, we’ve been really, really cool and he’s one of my best friends in the world.”

This summer, Jordan was on the other end, heading up to the Hamptons, along with Steve Ballmer, Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin and Lawrence Frank, to make a recruiting pitch for Durant to join the Clippers. “I tried every day,” Jordan told The Vertical. “We had a shot. And if you ask him, he’d say we had a shot. People can be happy for him, mad at him, but at the end of the day, he did what was best for Kevin, and he can live with that.”

In addition to hanging out with Durant, the Olympics have also given Jordan the chance to connect with players whom he’d always viewed as the enemy. Those differences have been put aside in pursuit of a similar goal, quarrels that become more difficult to maintain once those guys have been to your home, dining on your mother’s cuisine. Before leaving for Brazil, Jordan invited his Olympic teammates over for dinner at his mother’s home in Houston.

“Six months ago, I never would’ve thought I would’ve invited Draymond [Green] to my house,” Jordan told The Vertical, adding that his relationship with Durant had no influence on befriending the other Warriors on the Olympic team. “Once you’re around these guys you realize, ‘Oh, they’re cool.’ Before, I only looked at Draymond as Draymond who played for the Warriors. We always clashed. So, now that we’ve been together for over a month, it’s been amazing. We hate each other during the season, but it’s bigger than those two teams. Winning a gold medal, representing your country. We don’t even think about that anymore. Which is crazy. I’m happy to be playing with these 11 guys and we’ll be bonded for life after this.”

With Griffin missing most of last season with a nagging quad injury and a broken hand from a fight with a former team employee, Jordan was able to earn some of the appreciation he has long sought when he made first-team All-NBA despite never making the All-Star team. “I could care less about the All-Star team now,” Jordan told The Vertical. “Yeah, I really don’t care about it anymore. I’d rather go on my week vacation, to be honest. And being an Olympian, and potentially a gold medalist, that’s better than that. It’s cool to be appreciated and highly valued by your peers. That, to me, is the biggest thing.”

Durant believes the recognition was long overdue. “As a basketball player, you an appreciate what someone like him does, he sets screens, does all the small things, rebounds, blocks shots, talks out there, he’s an anchor on defense,” Durant told The Vertical. “If you’re really into the game of basketball, you can really appreciate him. That’s why he’s paid like a max player, because the Clippers know what he brings and how he helps the team. He helps everyone win.”

Fom the Donald Sterling fiasco, to Paul and Griffin both getting injured in a first-round loss to Portland last season, the Clippers haven’t been able to catch many favorable breaks, but Jordan is undeterred.

“Every team goes through ups and downs, and some dark times, but you’ve got to keep fighting through and find a way,” Jordan told The Vertical. “That makes for a better story for me. This is my ninth season, and I definitely want a chance at winning something that’s never happened before, with the Clippers. It’s big. I want a chance at the title.”

Jordan said there wasn’t any more urgency to win next season, simply because Paul and Griffin can both become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2017. “They’re both extremely talented players,” Jordan told The Vertical. “I believe whatever decision they make is going to be a great decision. I’m not worried about it right now. I don’t expect it to be a distraction during the season. I can’t speak for them, but at the end of the day, they’ve got to make the best decision for themselves and their families. Whatever happens, happens.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 13




NEWS OF THE MORNING
USA talent prevails | Schmidt not shy | Noah still loves Chicago | Kobe changed Team USA culture
No. 1: U.S. talent survives teamwork — Sometimes it just pays to have more raw talent than the other guys. So many times in international competition that’s what enables the Americans to survive and advance and stack up gold medals. That’s what happened again when Serbia threw a big scare into Team USA Friday at the Olympics. The Americans got another lesson in teamwork, but survived, Paul George told our John Schuhmann:

“We relied on natural talent to get us over this one,” Paul George said after the U.S. escaped vs. Serbia, needing Bogdan Bogdanovic’s open 3-pointer to miss long to avoid overtime.

Sometimes, stats can deceive. On Friday, the U.S. made 27 field goals and was credited with 28 assists, because FIBA gives out assists for passes that lead to made free throws. But the ball moved much better on the other end of the floor.

With the U.S. having less than three weeks to prepare for the Olympics, they’re typically better defensively than offensively. With their superior speed and athleticism, along with the ability to shuttle new players in every five minutes, the Americans can overwhelm inferior opponents.

But aggressive perimeter defense can be susceptible to good pick-and-roll play and ball movement. And that’s exactly what both Australia and Serbia brought in the last two games. Matthew Dellavedova and Milos Teodosic got things started with smart pick-and-roll decision-making, and the ball didn’t stop moving until it found the open man.

“These international guys, they really know how to move and really know how to cut,” George said. “It’s more so about how they run their offense that’s wearing us down.

“In [the NBA], there’s movement, obviously. But with these guys, it’s constant. You don’t ever sit still. In our game, there’s moments when you sit still, you can have a rest period. There might be an action that guys just run on one side. [Here] you’re constantly moving from side to side and it’s like they don’t get tired. And that’s new to us. That’s very new to us.”

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No. 2: Oscar Schmidt ranks self top 10 — If you were ever fortunate enough to see Oscar Schmidt play for the Brazilian national team, you know he was not at all shy about shooting. Anytime. Anywhere. Any situation. Now 58, the Hall of Fame guard hasn’t changed at all. He told Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports that if he had chosen to make the jump to the NBA during his career, he would have ranked among the best to ever play in the league:

At age 26, Schmidt declined playing for the New Jersey Nets after going in the sixth round of the 1984 Draft. Instead, Schmidt elected to continue racking up his more than 49,000 points, across four countries, until he was 45. Had he decided to come to the NBA and tested his talents against the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, Schmidt is fairly confident in what he would have done.

“I would be top 10. Ever,” Schmidt said, waving his hand near his chest for inflection. “For sure. One guy can’t defend me. You need two. At least.”

Schmidt will forever be revered in this futebol-crazed but basketball-hugging country, but he is somewhat envious of this current Brazilian national team, which has a chance to play Olympic games on their home soil. “That was my dream to play a competition like that,” Schmidt said.

The thirst to wear a Brazil jersey over one with the NBA logo has at times put Schmidt at odds with current players with different dreams and opportunities who delicately tried to balance both responsibilities. When Schmidt was coming up, the riches that came from being in the league weren’t nearly as lucrative, nor were the risks that come from participating with the national team in the offseason. Even if the pride and love for country were always there, to Schmidt, bypassing a summer spent playing for Brazil was reason to question someone’s patriotism.

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No. 3: Noah ready to tangle with Bulls — While he harbors no ill will toward the Bulls after spending the first nine years of his NBA career in Chicago, Joakim Noah told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that he’s already looking forward to his first trip back to the United Center with his new Knicks teammates:

“I think the Bulls-Knicks games are going to be good ones,” Noah said, smiling. “I’m looking forward to it. I think everybody is. It’s going to be a very competitive game with a lot of emotions. I’m trying to stay in the moment and focus on being as healthy as possible.”

It was clear during an interview last week in his Chicago residence, with its sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the skyline, that leaving the Bulls in the right way was important to him.

“I have no anger towards nobody,” Noah said. “If we had a couple rough years at the end, I’m just still so grateful for the opportunity the Bulls gave me. It’s like a family to me. Even though it’s a new chapter for the end of my career to be in New York, I think Chicago is always going to be a home to me.

“Everywhere I go in this city, it’s always love. If I’m walking in the airport, wherever I am and someone’s from Chicago, it’s never animosity or negative or why did you leave us? It’s always very appreciative. And it’s humbling. I know free agency is a business. But I feel I always show a lot of respect for this city and its people. And I get love back for it. And it feels good.”

***

No. 4: Kobe restarted U.S. gold rushCarmelo Anthony is the team leader, now playing in his fourth Olympics. Kevin Durant is a driving force. Paul George and Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green and the rest are all key parts. But USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo still credits Kobe Bryant with changing the culture and attitude of the club and getting it back on the gold track, according to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News:

“His work ethic, approach and how he appreciates the game is infectious,” Team USA forward Kevin Durant said last month in Las Vegas. “He’s someone who loves to play so much. He’s competitive when he steps in between those lines. He wants perfection.”

Bryant logged ridiculous hours in pursuit of that perfection, just weeks after having poured himself into an NBA regular season that ended with a six-game loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals. Watching Bryant work left Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh shaking his head, mindful that the future Hall of Famer had just logged extended minutes during that playoff run.

“I thought I was working hard,” Bosh said. “Now I have to get back into the gym.”
After training for three weeks together before heading to Beijing, former U.S. Olympic teammate Carlos Boozer noticed the entire roster had adopted Bryant’s routine.

“We all clung to it,” said Boozer, who later played with Bryant as a member of the Lakers in 2014-15 and recently agreed to a deal to play in China. “It soon became our workout, not just his workout.”

Before Bryant signed up for Olympic duty, doubts emerged as to whether his heavy focus on scoring would resonate with a team of fellow superstars.

So shortly after Bryant posted a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, Colangelo met with Bryant and asked him a pointed question.

“What if I said to you, I want you to be a distributor and not a scorer?” Colangelo asked.

Bryant answered exactly how Colangelo hoped he would.

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” Bryant said. “I just want to be on that team.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Monty Williams says he’s ready to coach in the NBA again … The Rockets might be interested in Rudy Gay … J.R. Smith got married, but still wants to get hitched again to Cavs … Oscar Robertson wants you to learn about another Dream Team … It looks like the NBA All-Star Game is heading back to New Orleans for 2017.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 19


VIDEO: Recapping the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket semifinals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lithuania punches ticket | Catching up with Blake | Scott talks state of Lakers

No. 1: Lithuania punches ticket As we move closer to the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the field that will compete for the men’s basketball gold medal is beginning to take shape. After Spain qualified by beating France earlier in the week, at EuroBasket yesterday, Lithuania earned a trip to Brazil by beating a strong Serbia team. As our own John Schuhmann writes, sometimes in international basketball there’s a thin line between dominance and heartbreak …

Lithuania is heading to the Olympics after holding on for a 67-64 victory over the team that had won its first seven games by an average of 15.1 points. It wasn’t a pretty game (the teams combined to shoot 8-for-42 from 3-point range), but appropriately, it went down to the wire.

Lithuania beat up Serbia inside early and built a double-digit lead in the second quarter. Serbia climbed to within one at the half, but scored just nine points in the third quarter and trailed by nine early in the fourth.

Serbia came back again, but fell victim to two tough plays late. With 3:36 left, Stefan Markovic saved the ball under the Lithuania basket … right to Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who put Lithuania up four. Two possessions later, Bogdan Bogdanovic was called for a foul on what looked like a clean block, and Jonas Maciulis put Lithuania up six at the free throw line.

Milos Teodosic put Serbia within one with a ridiculous three with 14 seconds left, but Bogdanovic was bumped and stumbled as he tried to tie the game on a frantic drive after Lithuania missed one of two at the line.

The Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas led Lithuania with 15 points (on just six shots) in less than 27 minutes. Teodosic had 16 for Serbia, but didn’t get enough help from Bogdanovic or the Wolves’ Nemanja Bjelica.

Lithuania punched its ticket to Rio and to Sunday’s gold medal game against Spain. Serbia will play France for bronze on Sunday and will have another chance at the Olympics in one of the qualifying tournaments next July.

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No. 2: Catching up with Blake Between ownership and coaching changes, the last few years for the Los Angeles Clippers have been filled with noise. And perhaps lost in the shuffle in some ways has been the development of Blake Griffin, who has met the high expectations that accompanied being a No. 1 overall draft pick, and made himself into the franchise cornerstone people projected him becoming. Alex Kennedy from Basketball Insiders caught up with Blake to talk everything from his work ethic to the Clippers’ offseason to his myriad off-court pursuits…

Basketball Insiders: You’ve added different things to your game each summer. Where are you working out this offseason and what aspects of your game are you working on?

Blake Griffin: “I did a lot of my offseason stuff here in L.A. I like to get out of the training facility and I work out with my trainer, doing strength and conditioning stuff in El Segundo in his gym. I’ll use just random gyms, like I use this high school gym down in Manhattan Beach sometimes. Then, I kind of bounced around a bit. I did some workouts in New York because I had to be there for a little bit so I worked out there. As far as what we worked on, a lot of face up, off the post, off the elbow, a lot of short roll stuff, getting into the lane, floaters – just because we get so much of that with our spacing of the court and how many pick and rolls we run with CP. [I worked on] a lot of stuff actually off the dribble too, just like one dribble pull-ups and things like that. A lot of post-ups too. This summer, I really did a whole lot and kind of mixed it up. Like last summer, I did so much shooting – a lot of catch and shooting, a lot of pick and pop – and I still did that this summer a lot, but I just tried to kind of focus on literally everything this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: As you mentioned, you spent a lot of time in the gym working on your jump shot last year and it translated to success during the season. Now, after another offseason of work, where is your confidence level with your jump shot?

Blake Griffin: “Every summer and every year, it really gets better and better. I feel a lot more confident going into this season, definitely more so than last season. Each year and each offseason, I try to kind of reflect on the last season and see what I did – what I maybe did too much of, what I didn’t do enough of – and I think last year sometimes I settled [for jump shots] a bit too much. This year, I’m really trying to perfect that balance of pick and pops versus putting it on the floor and making plays, so that’s kind of why I focused on everything this summer. Just being able to use the spacing of our floor, having J.J. [Redick] out there spacing the floor and the same thing with CP when he gets doubled team, [I] just really wanted to being able to have an array of shots and not just focus on pick and pops and catch and shoots.”

Basketball Insiders: I don’t think people realize how hard you work. I’ve known Jamal Crawford for years and he always raves about your work ethic, saying you’re always the first guy in the gym. Can you walk me through one of your typical summer workouts, just so people can get a glimpse of what you do?

Blake Griffin: “A typical day, when I’m really into the full swing of things in the offseason, starts early in the morning because I don’t really sleep in. I wake up around 6:45 a.m. and I’m starting by 7:30 a.m. or sometimes 8:00 a.m. Every now and then, I do kind of a crazy week where I start my workouts at 6 a.m. just to kind of mix it up and make me concentrate a little bit more, taking me out of my comfort zone a little bit. I do that for a week once a month. But once I start with my trainer, we do a lot of corrective stuff early like balance, all of my stuff for my back and any type of little problems I have, we just work on correcting those things. Then, we move on to weights and then for conditioning we do like basically a heart rate training program. It’s kind of a more efficient way of training and doing cardio. We mix it up though. I did a lot of pool stuff this summer, a lot of swimming this summer, which I love. I did a lot of that two summers ago, so I got back into the pool a lot, did a lot of swimming, I’ll do some sand workouts and just kind of mix up the cardio just so I’m not constantly just doing the same thing – running on the treadmill or on the court. After weights, we do that, then I go straight into basketball and we’ll do ball-handling and then we do a lot post-up moves like hooks and things like that and then kind of work our way out. So that’s probably another hour and a half. I try not to be on the court for a ton of time. For me, it’s more about me doing everything [in] game speed and [taking] game shots rather than just catching and shooting and going through the motions. That’s about an hour and half and then a lot of times I mix in yoga. And this summer I really focused a lot on my body, just unloading just as much as I loaded. I’ll do a lot of yoga, do a lot of deep tissue stuff, a lot of stretching and things like that. I thought last summer I worked really hard, but I also didn’t do as good as job of taking care of my body from a deep tissue and stretching standpoint so I made that more of an emphasis this year. It’s a long time working, like five or six hours a day, but I see the difference now in the way my body feels. Going into training camp, I probably haven’t felt better so I’m excited about the work we put in this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: You guys were very active this summer, adding players like Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and others. What are your overall thoughts on the offseason additions?

Blake Griffin: “I’m very excited, man. Obviously with the whole DJ (DeAndre Jordan) thing – that was a priority bringing him back and everybody kind of knows about that – that kind of almost overshadowed all the other things we did. Adding Josh Smith to our bench is huge, adding Lance Stephenson, adding Paul Pierce with all of his his experience, I thought we did a really good job this summer of just putting a plan together of guys that we wanted and positions that we wanted and then going out and actually getting it done. I feel really good about our bench, but obviously, like every team, we have to put it together. But I’m excited, especially since the past of couple weeks we’ve started having more guys in [L.A.] and our team is starting to take a little shape just through our workouts and playing pick-up. I think this could be a special season for us.”

***

No. 1: Scott talks state of the Lakers The Los Angeles Lakers are entering what appears to be Kobe Bryant‘s final season, and aren’t expected to contend for a title anytime soon. But do they feel they’re on the right path to once again becoming one of the NBA’s dominant franchises? Bill Oram from the Orange County Register sat down with Lakers coach Byron Scott for a long Q&A that hits on many topics, from their offseason to Kobe’s future…

Q. You guys missed on some pretty high-profile guys in free agency. After everything settled, how do you feel about roster construction and where you guys are going into October?

A. I don’t look at the summer as a big disappointment, to be honest with you. We missed on a guy we were after, obviously, in LaMarcus (Aldridge, who signed with the Spurs). But to get Roy (Hibbert) and to get Lou Williams and to get Brandon Bass, I think (General Manager) Mitch (Kupchak) did a hell of a job of recovering and making it a summer that you kind of looked back and said, ‘Man, that’s a pretty good recovery.’ I’m happy with the roster we have. We’ve got competition it seems like at every position, which I think is going to be fun to watch in training camp. We’re still very, very young, with the exception, obviously, of (37-year-old) Kobe (Bryant), so I’m excited about that.

Q. When you talk about trying to establish a defensive identity, last year 29th in defense. Do you feel like the moves that were made are moving you closer to that, and getting a team that is in your mold?

A. I think so, I think obviously it starts with Big Roy, Jordan (Clarkson) being a year older, understanding our philosophy on what we need to do on the defensive end, Julius not playing at all last year but understanding what we want to do. So, yeah, I think it is starting to be molded in that direction of being a much better defensive team. We still have a long way to go. We have a lot to work on. And I think we’re probably ahead of schedule right now. These guys have been coming in every day, working out for the past six-to-eight weeks. So that’s something I’m very encouraged about. But from the defensive standpoint everybody that is here, they know how I am about that. They know how important that is to me and to us as a team for us to have any type of success.

Q. How big of a difference does having a defensive-minded center in the middle make?

A. I think first of all it’s a mentality. And I think Roy has shown that from Day One. When he’s out here, the No. 1 thing is he’s a great communicator, which is something we didn’t have on the back end of our defense last year. Our No.2, he has a reputation for protecting the rim, so he knows that’s his bread and butter. And No. 3, the one thing I saw so far with him is that guys are going in for layups the first day he was like, ‘No easy layups.’ And that’s something we didn’t do a good job of last year, is protecting the rim or giving up easy layups. So I think he’s bringing that mentality to our young guys and to the rest of the team and I think hat’s going to be huge for us.

Q. What decisions are you facing with Kobe?

A. I think the biggest decision is playing time, trying to make that as limited as possible and also back-to-back games. That’s something we have to talk about. Other than that, there really is no other decision to make. He wants to play, and he wants to go out the way he wants to go out — if this is indeed his final year. He and I have talked a number of times on the phone, we’ve talked about playing time, we’ve talked about back-to-back, we’re going to probably sit down as we get closer to training camp or as we get in training camp and even talk more about it. Because the one thing I want, if this is his last year, I want him to go out standing. I don’t want him to go out hurt. I want to make sure I do everything in my power to make sure we stick to the game plan, as far as his minutes and as far as back-to-back games.

Q. What do you mean by as “limited as possible?”

A. I didn’t mean play as limited as possible. Obviously we want to keep him as efficient as possible, but I know he knows his body better than anybody. When we start talking about those minutes, I want to listen to him more than anything. I’m not going to go by what I think he can play like I did last year, I want to really go by what he thinks he can play. Then I want to make sure we stick to that.

Q. To what extent do you regret the way that decision was made last year? There was a lot made about you playing him more minutes than he thought he should play. Is that a burden for you? Do you feel some guilt?

A. I felt bad about it. I don’t know if I would say guilty. I know Kobe’s a competitor and he’s going to play as many minutes as you want him to play. I’m also a competitor, so I want to win and I know having him on the court gives me the best opportunity to win. But I also know that I’ve got to think about him more than anything. And I thought there were points in time last year where I thought he could play a certain amount of minutes. He told me Day One the minutes that he thought he could play in and like I told him at the end of the day, ‘You were absolutely right and I was wrong.’ I won’t make that mistake again.

Q. How do you avoid making that mistake again when it’s December and you guys are on a bad run and Kobe’s playing well and he seems to be OK? You don’t do it?

A. I don’t do it. Stick to my guns. This is what we talked about, this is what we felt would be the best way to use you and to make you the most efficient that you could be, I’m going to stick to it. Win or lose, I’m going to stick to it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Warriors consultant Jerry West says as far as he’s concerned, talent trumps numbers … Former Pistons great Bill Laimbeer was named WNBA Coach of the Year for a second time … Former Cleveland Cavaliers great Zydrunas Ilgauskas found a new part-time gig: high school assistant coach …The Knicks are hoping Sasha Vujacic can help teach the triangleHarrison Barnes reportedly has a new agent

MVP Irving takes Serbia to school, USA to World Cup gold


VIDEO: USA takes gold with rout of Serbia

MADRID — Maybe it’s LeBron James that will have to adjust more to playing off the ball this season, because Kyrie Irving is going to need it quite a bit.

Irving arrived at USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas on July 28, looking sharper than any of the other 30 guys in the gym. While other guards may have offered the roster better passing or two-way play, Irving’s one-on-one skills were impossible to ignore.

“Coach called me about three times [before camp] and kept asking me if I was in shape,” Irving said. “So there was a little bit of pressure there. But coming in, being ready and throwing myself in there, whatever happens happens and living with the results.”

The results speak for themselves. Seven weeks later, Irving was dropping 26 points on Serbia in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gold medal game on Sunday and earning tournament MVP honors.

After Serbia built an early lead and Anthony Davis was sent to the bench with two fouls in the first four minutes, Irving went to work, scoring 15 points as the U.S. turned an eight-point deficit into a 14-point lead by the end of the first quarter.

Especially against slower defenders, Irving can always slice and dice his way to the rim. And he did that a couple of times in that first-quarter run.

But Irving is also a dangerous shooter off the dribble. When his jumper is falling, he’s basically impossible to guard. And it was falling, and falling, and falling on Sunday. Irving shot 6-for-6 from 3-point range, including 3-for-3 in that first quarter.

Before the game, there may have been questions about how well Irving could defend Serbia’s star point guard, Milos Teodosic. That didn’t really matter, because by the end of that first quarter, it was clear that Teodosic had no chance in trying to defend Irving.

“He made so many plays and kept the pressure on their guards to defend him,” Stephen Curry said of Irving. “He gave us what we needed, him and James [Harden] in the first half, to open up the game.”

When the U.S. is hitting its 3s, their opponent’s main defensive strategy basically goes out the window. That was the scenario in the gold medal game as, led by Irving, the Americans shot 11-for-16 from beyond the arc in the first half.

“That made the difference,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said. “I don’t think anything worked, what we planned.”

The U.S. didn’t stop at the break, scoring 38 points on 19 possessions in the third quarter, rolling to a 129-92 victory and an average margin of victory of 33 points in its nine World Cup games.

“They really kicked our butt tonight,” Djordjevic said.

The U.S. didn’t have Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Russell Westbrook at point guard. And Derrick Rose was shaking off the rust of not having played since November and Damian Lillard was left at home so the team could carry an extra big man.

None of that mattered, because Irving held it down at the one. When Rose took a few days off after the first exhibition game in mid-August, Irving took over the starting point guard spot and never gave USA coach Mike Krzyzewski a reason to go back to his original lineup.

“Playing with this team,” Irving said, “you have so many pieces to go to. It’s easy for me to take a back seat when Stephen Curry’s hot or James Harden is hot or AD is in the post and he’s killing another big man. It’s easy for me to do that.”

Irving may never be a true, makes-his-teammates-much-better point guard. But good luck staying in front of him. And good luck trying to defend him at all when his jumper is falling. Uncle Drew will be taking you to school today, kids.

“I’m doing whatever’s needed to win, playing with the best in the world,” Irving said. “I feel like that’s where I want to be and where I should be. Going back to Cleveland, I’m just going to have the same mind set, just being myself, working extremely hard every single day, and maintaining my confidence that has made me who I am and who I want to become.”

The Cavaliers have Kevin Love. They have the best player in the world. And now they have best player at the World Cup, who is only 22 years old.

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…)

USA-Serbia gold medal live blog


VIDEO: GameTime: FIBA Finals Predictions

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

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

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

Read NBA.com’s preview here.

Pre-game

Tip-off

End of first quarter: USA 35, Serbia 21

Halftime: USA 67, Serbia 41

End of third quarter: USA 105, Serbia 67

Final: USA 129, Serbia 92

U.S., Serbia chasing World Cup Gold


VIDEO: Coach K on Serbia after Saturday practice

By Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

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

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

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

A defensive stopper on Teodosic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USA on the glass

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

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

Home-court advantage?

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

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

Respect your opponent

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

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

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

Serbia has nothing to lose

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

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

Advanced chemistry

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

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

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

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

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

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