Posts Tagged ‘Nemanja Bjelica’

Blogtable: Top international newcomer?

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: Top international newcomer? | Most entertaining team? | Too many preseason games?

VIDEOMario Hezonja finishes the fast break with authority

> There are 100 international players on NBA opening-night rosters. But who’s the top international newcomer we should keep an eye on, the player who’s going to have a huge impact on the league this season?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Emmanuel Mudiay. He’s going to be dynamic in Denver once his head clears and he gets used to the speed of the NBA game. Mike Malone will give him the ball and push through his mistakes. A lot of talent and potential there.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHuge impact? I’m not sure any international newcomer is going to be able to qualify by that standard. But the one I’m most intrigued to track is Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica. The 27-year-old Serbian forward was the 2015 Euroleague MVP and is said to possess an NBA-ready offensive game, not just as a shooter but as a facilitator. Then there is his nickname: Professor Big Shots. I know NBA broadcasters are pulling for Bjelica to live up to that over here, just so they can substitute it for attempts to pronounce his name. Assuming Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell gives him sufficient minutes in the rotation.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI’m not sure “huge impact” is the right description. But I’ll definitely be watching Mario Hezonja in Orlando. The 6-foot-8 forward from Croatia is quick, athletic, fearless and downright cocky. He’ll make shots. He’ll make plays. He’ll make his teammates angry at times by going off the reservation. He’ll make highlight reels. As they used to say in the old days at Disney World, he’s an “E-ticket ride.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAt the risk of getting into semantics, but also the actual answer, no newcomer will have a huge impact this season. But a couple names that fit into the keep-an-eye-on category: Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks and Mario Hezonja of the Magic. Porzingis has a slight edge in immediate impact because he will have more opportunities in New York, even on the same frontline as scorer Carmelo Anthony, than Hezonja will have while trying to push his way to the forefront on an Orlando roster with Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris and Aaron Gordon. But I would not be surprised if both have that huge impact you’re looking for, just un future seasons.

Shaun Powell, I’m not sure if any newcomer will have what can be defined as a huge impact, but I’ll be mostly curious about Mario Hezonja in Orlando. This kid has some swagger about him, won’t hesitate to fire away and will dunk in your grill if he gets the chance. Does Emmanuel Mudiay qualify asa n international newcomer? If so, then him as well.

John Schuhmann, The only international newcomer who could possibly have a “huge” impact on this season is Kristaps Porzingis, and that’s if he’s not making an impact at all. If Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks decide that Porzingis’ timeline doesn’t match that of Anthony, they could demand (in Anthony’s case) or explore (in the Knicks’ case) a trade by the deadline. So Porzingis would have then indirectly changed the landscape of the league. Among those that aren’t going to make much of an impact, I’ve long been a fan of Marcelo Huertas‘ pick-and-roll passing, though he might be driven crazy by the Lakers’ second-unit gunners.

Sekou Smith, Kristaps Porzingis has enough upside for 100 newcomers, but I’m going with Mario Hezonja in Orlando. He showed off skills in summer league that opened eyes around the league. The bounce and confidence definitely stood out. His willingness to challenge anybody at the rim really impressed me. Even with his deep shooting range, the trait that will serve him best this season is his fearlessness. He’ll need it playing for coach Scott Skiles, who has a history of being extremely tough on rookies. As for the huge impact, I don’t see “huge” happening for any of these guys.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI don’t know if his impact will be huge, but the best international newcomer is going to be Kristaps Porzingis. He is a longterm project, of course, but his shooting range and length advantage will enable him to help the Knicks as a rookie – and they’re going to need him as they show improvement from last year’s 65-loss season.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog I’m not big on the Magic for this season — they are in a tough spot, trying to climb their way up through a highly competitive division — but I love their newcomer Mario Hezonja. A 20-year-old guard from Croatia, Hezonja plays as though nobody’s told him he’s not supposed to be doing the things he does on the court. Oh, you want to drive and dunk on someone? Do it, Super Mario. I know the Magic have Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton in the backcourt and that’s the future they’re building on, but I think it’s going to be tough to keep Hezonja off the floor.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 19

VIDEO: Recapping the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket semifinals


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.


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

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 6

VIDEO: Day 1 Wrap: EuroBasket 2015


Colangelo looks ahead to 2016 | Nowitzki, Schröder lead German win on Day One of EuroBasket 2015 | Bonner looking beyond basketball | Philippines still working to add Clarkson

No. 1: Colangelo looks ahead to 2016 The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are about a year away, but USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo understands that it’s never too early to look ahead. Speaking with the Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn, Colangelo looked forward to some of the USA’s most likely competition for a gold medal in Rio…

“Well, first of all, there’s a wave — just like the NBA — there’s a continual wave of new young players. Generally speaking, that’s true internationally also,” Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “I think without question, you’d have to say Spain, if they get their players to perform and are healthy, despite the fact they are aging, they’re very formidable.

“Serbia is considered a very strong international team coming into this Olympic year. I think France is another team, age aside, there’s a lot of talent, and a big sleeper in the whole mix is Canada. Canada has some extraordinary, very good, fine young players and they’re going to be heard from. If it’s not ’16, it will be ’20.”

The Serbian team is led by Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica and Fenerbahce Ulker’s Bojan Bogdanovic. Depending on the status of Spurs guard Tony Parker for next year’s Games, France could be the stiffest competition with Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert, and Joffrey Lauvergne.

Team Canada is loaded with young prospects such as Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Andrew Nicholson, and Cory Joseph. The Canadians are currently vying to qualify for their first Olympic Games since 2000.

“If you’ve competed your whole life, you certainly understand that the wins yesterday are yesterday’s news,” Colangelo said. “All that matters is now. That’s a driver for all of us who are involved in USA Basketball. The culture that we’ve tried to build is very unique. We’re all very proud to represent our country.”

Colangelo, 75, has been the GM and owner of the Phoenix Suns, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and was critical in bringing the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix in the 1990s.

“As Americans we’re taking a lot of heat around the world and when you have a chance to represent your country on the international stage we take that very seriously,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with a long career in sports and a lot of success, but at this stage of my life, to be able to lead an organization that is doing all of what I just said, makes it special for me.

“Back in ’04 as I watched where we were, USA Basketball, some of the other countries really had togetherness, like Argentina, like Spain. That was something I thought we needed to develop. So developing a national team concept, stating that we had to change our culture and to see where we are, it makes you feel very good. There was a plan. Right now we’re on a roll.”


No. 2: Nowitzki, Schröder lead German win on Day One of EuroBasket 2015 EuroBasket 2015 tipped off yesterday in several cities across Europe, and in early action Germany froze Iceland behind 15-point games from both Dallas Mavericks’ forward Dirk Nowitzki and Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schröder. The Netherlands also made headlines as they knocked off Georgia on day one

Iceland outscored Germany 22-12 in the final quarter as Jon Steffansson topped all scorers with 23 points for the team considered an outsider in the tough Group B.

Nowitzki needed time to get into the game but also contributed seven rebounds. Schroder had six rebounds and four assists.

The group stage of the tournament is being played in four cities across the continent.

Poland beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 68-64 in Group A in Montpellier, France, the Netherlands stunned Georgia 73-72 in Group C in Zagreb, Croatia, and the Czech Republic routed Estonia 80-57 in Group D in Riga, Latvia.

Robin Smeulders sank a jumper with 18 seconds remaining to lift the Dutch to victory as they returned to the competition for the first time since 1989. Charlon Kloof led all scorers with 22 points. Georgia got 16 points from the Dallas Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia and Tomike Shengelia also added 16.

Jan Vesely led the Czech Republic with 16 points and eight rebounds.

Marcin Gortat, the Washington Wizards center, had 10 points and seven rebounds for Poland, while Adam Waczinski had 15 points. Andrija Stepanovic led Bosnia with 20.


No. 3: Bonner looking beyond basketball Matt Bonner may not rate extensive playing time with the San Antonio Spurs, but the role player understands his job and has won a couple of rings during his tenure in Texas. Now, as he enters his twelfth season, the always-interesting Bonner is showing he understands what’s required to continue a career in basketball beyond just playing the game, as our own Ian Thomsen writes

“I don’t have a set number of years that I’m going to play,” said Bonner, looking ahead to his upcoming 10th season with the Spurs — which will be his 12th in the NBA overall. “I’m going to play as long as I can play. With my skill set, as long as I’m healthy, I think I can keep playing. And I’m fortunate to play for an organization that values recovery and keeping guys healthy and extending careers.”

Bonner is 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds with three-point range (41.4 percent for his career, which ranks No. 15 in the NBA all-time), enabling him to stand up to big men defensively and create mismatches at the other end of the floor — the same formula that has enabled Robert Horry and others like him to play into their late-30s. But Bonner also has recognized that long-term plans evolve quickly, and that the future arrives with the furious speed of these young players who were stampeding back and forth across the Summer League court in July.

When the Spurs’ season ended with a loss to the Clippers in the opening round — the first time in four years that San Antonio hadn’t played into June — Bonner tried to take advantage of the silver lining. At age 35, he signed on for two of the several hands-on courses in the NBPA’s career development program.

Bonner was in Las Vegas to investigate a potential career in an NBA front office. Even as he studied these young players who were dreaming of the same kind of playing career that he had made for himself, Bonner found himself looking beyond. He wasn’t going to be able to play basketball for another 30 years, and at the same time he was too young to retire.


No. 4: Philippines still working to add Clarkson There are just a few weeks before FIBA Asia tips off, meaning time is running short for the Philippines to add Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson to their official roster, which would also require Clarkson missing some of Lakers training camp. But after meeting yesterday with Lakers execs Jeannie Buss and Mitch Kupchak, the Philippines officials feel like they have a better grasp on what’s needed to make it happen, writes Nelson Beltran in the Philippine Star

“It’s still a work in progress but with better clarity,” said SBP vice chairman Ricky Vargas after a meeting with Los Angeles Lakers team president Jeanie Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak in LA.

Vargas said the Lakers officials have no objection for Clarkson to play for the national team on a long-term program.

But a stint by Clarkson in the forthcoming Asian meet is subject to the approval of “the Lakers coaches” since it will run in conflict with the Lakers’ media day on Sept. 28 and the Lakers’ training camp in Hawaii on Sept. 29-Oct. 7.

In the Asian meet, Oct. 1-3 is set for the quarterfinals, semifinals and final.

“They requested some time to talk to the Lakers coaches,” said Vargas.

Accompanied by PBA board member Patrick Gregorio in a six-day whirlwind trip to Taipei, Hong Kong and the US, Vargas also announced a positive dinner meeting with the father of Jordan.

“(He’s) appreciative of reception his son received from the Filipino basketball fans and from Gilas Pilipinas team,” said Vargas of his talk with Mike Clarkson.

“They asked to review the arrangement and wanted assurance that we secure Lakers permission to allow him to skip three days of training camp,” Vargas also said.

“We go home tomorrow bringing with us a more positive feeling and a commitment from the Lakers and parents that Jordan will be part of Gilas program for the long term,” Vargas added.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Josh Powell is leaving his gig as an assistant with the Rockets to try and play for the Bucks next season … Nate Robinson is reportedly considering an offer from a team in ChinaSteph Curry says Riley Curry taught him how to dance

France and Serbia both playing their best at the right time

VIDEO: France and Serbia advance to the semifinals

MADRID — We knew that Spain’s road to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup final was tougher than that of the United States. France proved that with its 65-52 upset of the hosts on Wednesday.

That wasn’t the only surprising result in the quarterfinals in Madrid. After looking like the third best team in the tournament through its first six games, Brazil got hammered by Serbia 84-56. So instead of Spain-Brazil in the semis, we’ve got France-Serbia on Friday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

France and Serbia finished third and fourth in Group A. But they’re both playing their best at the right time, and at least one of them will be winning a medal. Their first meeting went down to the wire, with France winning 74-73 thanks to a no-call on one end and a foul call on the other.

Serbia was upset about that finish. And they were upset about the way they lost in the semifinals of the last edition of this tournament. Up 82-81 on host Turkey with 4.3 seconds left, Serbia just needed a stop to advance to the final and guarantee itself a medal. They forced a loose ball, but Turkey point guard Kerem Tunceri picked it up and drove for a layup to win the game.

The issue? Replays showed that Tunceri’s foot was on the sideline when he first touched the ball. And that was just one of many calls that Serbia, who lost to Lithuania in the bronze medal game, was upset about. So they’re out for some revenge on Friday, in more ways than one.

The winner will face the U.S. for the gold medal on Sunday, and will be the toughest opponent the Americans have faced in the World Cup. The loser will face Lithuania for bronze. Here are five things to watch…

Offense vs. defense

Serbia had the World Cup’s fourth most efficient offense through the quarterfinals, having scorched Brazil’s defense (which had ranked third through the round of 16) in the second half on Wednesday. France comes in with the fourth best defense in the tournament, having shut down Spain’s No. 2 offense in the quarterfinals.

Both performances were impressive. The other end of the floor will matter too, but if France can slow down the Serbian offense, they’ll be in good shape.

Another (big) game for Milos?

Milos Teodosic is one of the most entertaining basketball players in the world. The 6-foot-5, 27-year-old combo guard was coming off the bench for Serbia in its first four games, but has started the last three. And he saved his best performance for the quarterfinals, dropping 23 points on Brazil, with 16 of those coming in what was a tight first half.

Teodosic will take some crazy shots, but they often go in. And if he’s hitting from the outside, Serbia’s pick-and-rolls become very difficult to defend and other things open up in their offense.

France’s young bigs

It’s difficult to say that France is “missing” Joakim Noah, because the Bulls’ center has only played in one tournament (2011 Eurobasket) for them. They are missing two centers from last year’s Eurobasket championship team: Alexis Ajinca and Johan Petro, as well as the Pacers’ Ian Mahinmi, who injured his shoulder before the World Cup began.

That left 22 year olds Joffrey Lauvergne and Rudy Gobert to man the center spot. The 6-foot-10 Lauvergne is a natural power forward who was a non-factor on last year’s team. Gobert wasn’t on the roster.

But the two young guys have held their own and played their best games against the Gasol brothers on Wednesday. For Gobert in particular, it was a breakout performance, as he outrebounded Pau and Marc 13-12.

Having played two years for Partizan Belgrade, Lauvergne has some extra motivation against this particular opponent. In the first meeting, he (19 points, six rebounds) went toe-to-toe with former Milwaukee Buck Miroslav Raduljica (21 and seven). And it was Lauvergne’s free throw after a foul call on Raduljica that won the game for France with 4.8 seconds left. It’s a fascinating matchup of quickness vs. size.

Batum vs. Bogdanovic

Teodosic’s move to the starting lineup sent Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic to the bench. But the 22-year-old, who will be playing in Turkey this season, responded well. He scored 21 points in Serbia’s Round of 16 win over previously unbeaten Greece and has shot 12-for-20 (6-for-12 from 3-point range) in his two games in Madrid.

Bogdanovic is clearly shorter than his listed height of 6-foot-6 and French forward Nicolas Batum has a few inches on him. But Batum considers Bogdanovic a serious challenge.

“He’s one of the guys I hate to play against,” Batum said earlier this week. “I hate guarding him, because he can really score.”

Bjelica vs. Diaw

These two teams have two of the most skilled power forwards in the tournament, providing another fun matchup.

Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica, whose draft rights are held by the Minnesota Timberwolves, is a tantalizing player. He’s 6-foot-10 with terrific all-around skills. He didn’t score a lot in the quarterfinals, but beat Brazil’s bigs off the dribble to create for others, dishing out five assists, while scoring eight points and grabbing eight boards.

Boris Diaw has the size and quickness to match up well with Bjelica. His passing skills are well known, and he was more aggressive against Spain on Wednesday, taking 12 shots and hitting three of his seven 3-pointers.

Serbia blows out Brazil, sends a message to U.S. and Spain

MADRID — Warning to Spain and the United States: Anything can happen in 40 minutes of single-elimination basketball. Witness Serbia’s 84-56 thrashing of Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

After Miroslav Raduljica was waived by the Los Angeles Clippers the day before the World Cup began, Serbia didn’t have a single player on an NBA roster. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but they proceeded to go 2-3 in Group A, beating only Egypt and Iran.

Now, after an 18-point victory over 5-0 Greece and a 28-point win over 5-1 Brazil, Serbia finds itself in the semifinals and in position to win a medal. On Friday, it will play the winner of Wednesday’s second quarterfinal between Spain and France.

Behind some big defensive stops by Nene, Brazil took a three-point lead with two minutes to go in the second quarter. But Serbia ended the half on an 8-0 run and proceeded to score 16 points on its first five possessions of the third, thanks to a seven-point possession that was a result of two technical fouls on Brazil. The rout was on from there.

Though their names might not be familiar to the average American basketball fan, there are a lot of very good players on this Serbian team, a mix of young talents and veterans who have enjoyed a lot of success on the international level.

Milos Teodosic, the veteran point guard who would make for a explosive NBA reserve, led Serbia with 23 points, shooting 3-for-5 from 3-point range. Nemanja Bjelica, a 6-foot-10 forward with tantalizing skills whose rights are held by the Minnesota Timberwolves, took advantage of mismatches and finished with eight points, eight rebounds and five assists. And Phoenix Suns draftee Bogdan Bogdanovic continued to show improved play off the bench, extending the Serbia lead to 29 with a ridiculous, step-back 30-footer with a hand in his face.

“He’s not at all a bench player,” teammate Vladimir Stimac said of the 22-year-old Bogdanovic, who will play in Turkey next season. “This guy is probably going to be a legend of Serbian basketball.”

Bogdanovic acknowledged afterward that his team isn’t 28 points better than Brazil.

“This was not a real result,” he said, “but I think we deserve it.”

Serbia is playing its best at the right time. Brazil, meanwhile, had made it clear that it wanted to medal at this tournament, and it was the third best team through the round of 16, with only a loss to Spain in Group A. But its group of four NBA players will be going home empty-handed, and both the U.S. and Spain should take note.

Serbia Earns Final WCOB Automatic Berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Serbia grabbed Europe’s final automatic berth to next year’s World Cup of Basketball with a big win over Italy in the seventh place game at Eurobasket on Saturday.

Serbia took control with a 15-1 run spanning the first and second quarters and they were able to handle any run that Italy tried to make, cruising to a 12-point victory. Nenad Krstic led Serbia with 17 points, while Nemanja Bjelica contributed a double-double and the Warriors’ Nemanja Nedovic added 12 points, four rebounds and four assists.

It was a tough finish to the tournament for Italy, who got just eight points on 3-for-13 shooting from Marco Belinelli. They won all five of their first-round games and beat Spain in round 2, but they lost five of their last six games to finish eighth and out of the WCOB field. Now, they may have to compete with Brazil, Canada, China, Greece, Nigeria, Russia, Tunisia and Turkey for the four wild card spots to be chosen later this year.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Mexico FIBA Americas champion
12 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas second place
13 Argentina FIBA Americas third place
14 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas fourth place
15 France Eurobasket finalist
16 Lithuania Eurobasket finalist
17 Croatia Eurobasket 3rd/4th place
18 Slovenia Eurobasket 5th/6th place
19 Ukraine Eurobasket 5th/6th place
20 Serbia Eurobasket 7th place
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

Notes from Serbia 92, Spain 89

ISTANBUL — Another classic at the Sinan Erdem Dome.

Milos Teodosic was the hero, pulling up for a loooong three with 3.1 seconds left to win the game for Serbia. Spain, the defending world champions, will not medal here in Istanbul. They will move to the consolation bracket now, with Serbia advancing to Saturday’s semifinals, where they will play the winner of tonight’s Slovenia-Turkey game.

Many will call this an upset, but I don’t really see it that way. Serbia had the most efficient offense in pool play, and through the round of 16, they were the third best team in the tournament statistically (behind the U.S. and Turkey), ranking second offensively and third defensively.

Spain, with as much talent and experience as they have, just hadn’t played that well.

Of course, this game was won by the narrowest of margins. It’s not like Serbia was far and away the better team on Wednesday.