Posts Tagged ‘Nenad Krstic’

Get to know the name Bogdanovic


VIDEO: Post Draft: Bogdan Bogdanovic

MADRID – It was a good weekend for players named Bogdanovic at the Palacio de los Deportes, site of four round-of-16 games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Croatia’s Bojan Bogdanovic — the one who was drafted in 2011 and will be playing for the Brooklyn Nets this season — scored a game-high 27 points on 11-for-19 shooting in his team’s loss to France on Saturday.

Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic — the one drafted this year by the Phoenix Suns – followed that up with a game-high 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting in his team’s 90-72 win over Greece on Sunday. The younger, shorter Bogdanovic and Serbia advanced to Wednesday’s quarterfinal against the winner of Argentina-Brazil.

“I think he was looking for this kind of game for a long time,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said afterward. “He was anxious to have this kind of game.”

Bogdan had an up-and-down week in Granada as Serbia went 2-3 in group play. He was had his best game against Iran, but shot just 10-for-27 (37 percent) in Serbia’s three losses to the three other teams that advanced out of Group A (which is now 3-0 vs. Group B in Barcelona).

At the end of Serbia’s 74-73 loss to France, coach Djordjevic put the ball in Bogdanovic’s hands. But he turned the ball over (on a play where Djordjevic wanted a foul called), leading to France’s game-winning free throw. After starting his team’s first four games, Bogdanovic came off the bench in the Granada finale against Spain.

He did the same on Sunday, and finally found a real rhythm offensively. Shortly after entering the game with 2:14 left in the first quarter, he hit a contested jumper from the elbow. He then hit two catch-and-shoot threes early in the second period to help Serbia maintain a narrow lead.

Bogdanovic started the second half and scored four points in the third period as Serbia really gained control. Another catch-and-shoot three gave his team an 11-point lead early in the fourth. A few minutes later, he scored his most impressive two points of the day on a running lefty hook on a post-up against Greek point guard Nikos Zisis.

It was a performance that made you realize why the Suns drafted him, even though he clearly falls short of his listed height of 6-6.

“He’s a huge talent,” Serbian center and NBA vet Nenad Krstic said. “I’ve seen him play even better games, but today he was huge for us, because it was an elimination game.”

“He’s this kind of player,” Djordjevic added. “That’s why he was drafted. That’s why he’s going to Fenerbahce next year.”

That’s the thing. Phoenix will have to wait for their Bogdanovic, just like the Nets had to wait for theirs. Bogdan signed a four-year contract with Fenerbahce Ulker and won’t be able to come to the NBA until 2016 at the earliest.

That might help him be a more consistent contributor when he does finally arrive. It will also help with the confusion for NBA fans. Only one Bogdanovic will be in the league this season. The other will be in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Round of 16 features four big games


VIDEO: FIBA: Day Six Wrap

MADRID – It’s fine to assume that the United States and Spain will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sept. 14. But it wouldn’t be wise to wait until then to pay attention to the action in Barcelona and Madrid, because there’s plenty of good basketball to be played between the 16 remaining teams.

The knockout rounds get started with eight games on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be at least four good teams packing their bags before the weekend is done. It’s win-or-go-home time, there are still 47 active NBA players in the tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long. Anything can happen, including an upset of one of the two favorites.

Don’t be looking for that this weekend, though. Appropriately, USA and Spain play two of the worst teams remaining. But there are four games – three in Madrid and one in Barcelona – that could go either way. And for NBA fans, there are more reasons than that to watch.

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

USA (5-0) vs. Mexico (2-3)

Barcelona – Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, ESPN2

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Things won’t get interesting for the U.S. until at least the semifinals. But there are still things to work on before then. The defense could be tighter, the half-court offense could definitely be sharper, and Derrick Rose needs more court time to start finishing plays better.

This will be free agent Gustavo Ayon‘s last (and best) chance to audition for NBA teams. Mexico also has Nets back-up point guard Jorge Gutierrez and was one of the best offensive rebounding teams in group play, grabbing 37 percent of available offensive boards.

Croatia (3-2) vs. France (3-2)

Madrid – Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, NBA TV

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This game features a couple of fascinating matchups between French vets and Croatian young guns. On the wing, we’ll see the Blazers’ Nicolas Batum vs. incoming Nets rookie Bojan Bogdanovic, who has been the tournament’s sixth leading scorer at 20.0 points per game. And at the four, we’ll have the Spurs’ Boris Diaw vs. Sixers draft pick Dario Saric, one of the most intriguing young talents we’ve seen in Europe in a long time.

A more important matchup could be between two NBA draft picks at center. France’s Joffrey Lauvergne (rights held by Denver) will be outsized by Croatia’s Ante Tomic (Utah), but could use his quickness to make things tough on the seven footer.

Croatia has been inconsistent, but has a ton of talent, including incoming Pacers rookie Damjan Rudez. France is the safer pick here and beat Croatia without Diaw a month ago, but Croatia might have the higher ceiling on a good night.

Slovenia (4-1) vs. Dominican Republic (2-3)

Barcelona – Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, NBA TV

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Slovenia had the No. 1 offense in group play, even though it continued to be rather conservative with Goran Dragic‘s minutes. He had a ridiculous effective field goal percentage of 69.6 percent in his team’s five games, but is just the tournament’s 10th leading scorer.

The Dominican Republic features Francisco Garcia (20.2 points per game), some solid role players, and a decent defense. It got through via a tiebreaker and didn’t have any quality wins in Group C, but if Garcia and fellow gunner James Feldeine get hot, this could get interesting, because Slovenia hasn’t proven it can get stops.

Spain (5-0) vs. Senegal (2-3)

Madrid – Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, NBA TV

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Spain’s point differential wasn’t as big as USA’s, but it had more impressive wins in Group A, beating Brazil, France and Serbia (all medal contenders) by an average of 19.7 points. The hosts have been a more cohesive unit with more depth.

Their success starts with their huge frontline, featuring Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, who will play all of the team’s meaningful minutes at the four and five (sorry, Victor Claver fans). But their guards have done a fine job of providing ball pressure and pushing the ball in transition, where this team is a highlight machine.

Senegal, with the Wolves’ Gorgui Dieng leading the way, was one of the feel-good stories of group play. But that story comes to an end Saturday night in Madrid.

Lithuania (4-1) vs. New Zealand (2-3)

Barcelona – Sunday, 10 a.m. ET, NBA TV

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Despite losing point guard Mantas Kalnietis in its last exhibition game, Lithuania has been one of the best teams in the tournament. It avoided the U.S. until the semis with Thursday’s big win over Slovenia and, therefore, should be considered the team most likely to play for the bronze medal.

Donatas Motiejunas and Jonas Valanciunas are the names NBA fans know, but this is a deep and experienced roster that likes to grind it out at a slow pace.

That slow pace could help New Zealand hang around for a while. But this team lacks the talent and size to match up with a European power.

Greece (5-0) vs. Serbia (2-3)

Madrid – Sunday, 12 p.m. ET, NBA TV

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You might remember the infamous bench-clearing brawl, featuring Nenad Krstic throwing a chair at Giannis Bourousis, that these two teams had in a 2010 “friendly” game. And therefore, you might be curious to see what happens when they meet again.

Extracurriculars aside, this should be one of the best games of the weekend. Serbia is obviously the best team with a losing record, having lost to France by a point and having held a seven-point lead over Brazil in the fourth quarter. Giannis Antetokounmpo is reason enough to tune in to see Greece, but this team’s talent goes well beyond his long arms and strides. It went undefeated in Group B for a reason.

Turkey (3-2) vs. Australia (3-2)

Barcelona – Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBA TV

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This is where Australia wanted to be, seemingly throwing away Thursday’s game vs. Angola in order to avoid the U.S. until the semifinals. Doing that though, they put themselves in the best game of the Barcelona side of the bracket.

Neither Aron Baynes (who’s still a restricted free agent) nor Joe Ingles (who might get an NBA contract before Baynes does) played against Angola, but have been Australia’s best players. Jazz rookie Dante Exum has had a limited role behind the Cavs’ Matthew Dellavedova.

Turkey has had, by far, the biggest free throw attempt differential (plus-71) in the tournament, in part because opponents hack Omer Asik whenever he gets the ball near the basket. But their zone defense also keeps opponents out of the paint and off the line.

Australia ranked last in group-play 3-point attempts, but made 52 percent of the ones they took. That shooting vs. Turkey’s zone could determine who plays Lithuania on Tuesday.

Brazil (4-1) vs. Argentina (3-2)

Madrid – Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, NBA TV

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FIBA knows how to save the best for last. These two teams ranked third and seventh in pace-adjusted point differential in group play.

If this matchup looks familiar, it’s because these two teams faced each other in this same round in the 2010 World Championship, in the final of the 2011 FIBA Americas tournament, and in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympics. Each time, Argentina won by five points or less. The 2010 game, in particular, was an early-round classic.

So Brazil is out for a little revenge, and has arguably been the third best team thus far, picking up quality wins over France and Serbia. Argentina, of course, has #FIBAScola.

If you’ve only watched Luis Scola play in the NBA, then you’ve been missing out. The Scola that plays for his national team is a scoring machine. Brazil’s NBA trio of Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao will try to slow him down on Sunday.

Brazil’s own offense, fueled by a crafty backcourt of Marcelo Huertas and Leandro Barbosa, has picked up of late. It’s a shame that, for the third straight major international tournament, one of these two teams won’t make it past the first knockout round.

France bounces back on Day 2


VIDEO: Mike Fratello talks about the depth of international competition

GRANADA, SPAIN – Entering Day 2 of competition in Group A at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Serbia-France looked to be the game of the day. And it didn’t disappoint, as France came back from an 11-point deficit to pick up a much-needed 74-73 win in the final seconds.

Joffrey Lauvergne, acquired by the Nuggets in the 2013 Draft, hit the game-winning free throw with 1.1 seconds on the clock after drawing a foul on Serbia’s Miroslav Raduljica.

This was a much different performance for France than we saw in Saturday’s loss to Brazil. Nicolas Batum didn’t have a big game, Boris Diaw was saddled with foul trouble and Evan Fournier couldn’t make a shot, but their offense was much more efficient than it was the day before, scoring 74 points on just 67 possessions.

It was starting center Lauvergne and reserve guards Antoine Diot and Edwin Jackson who provided big lifts. Both scored 15 points and were a part of a huge 10-0 run that got France back in the game early in the third quarter. Jackson assisted Diot and then scored six straight (including a four-point play) on the run.

Lauvergne (19 points, six rebounds, 7-for-10 shooting) played as many minutes in the first quarter on Sunday (10) as he did against Brazil. He was matched up against and severely out-sized by Raduljica (21 points, seven boards, 8-for-13), but used his mobility to make it a pretty even matchup.

“Raduljica is big,” Batum said afterward. “He’s a problem on offense. But Joffrey’s more quicker than him. So, he moves a lot and did a great job for us.”

Lauvergne tied the game with 1:31 left on beautiful feed from Diaw and had a half a step on Raduljica on a broken-play drive from the foul line when the Serbian center was called for the game-deciding foul.

Lauvergne looked to be a little out of control and Raduljica was clearly upset about the call. But he held his tongue after the game. Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion, however.

“Every bad call that was called today,” Djordjevic said, “was called against us.”

He said he didn’t have a good look at the Raduljica foul, but was more unhappy with a no-call on the other end of the floor. After Diaw tied the game with a drive with 18 seconds left, Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic drove into traffic off a screen from Raduljica and lost the ball out of bounds with 4.8 seconds left, leading to France’s final possession and Lauvergne’s free throw.

A French defender had reached in on Bogdanovic, and Djordjevic wanted a foul on the play.

“It was a tie game,” Djordjevic said. “There was four seconds left. We would have had two shots. It was definitely a foul. It was a bad call.”

Djordjevic wasn’t the coach four years ago, but this is the same team that felt it got hosed against hosts Turkey in the semifinals of the 2010 World Championship, a game Turkey won on a play in which Turkish point guard Kerem Tunceri appeared to step out of bounds.

With Egypt and Iran also in Group A, Serbia shouldn’t have any problem qualifying for the knockout round. But they’re now 0-1 in games between the four best teams in the group, with matchups against Brazil (Wednesday) and Spain (Thursday) still to come.

France, meanwhile, is 1-1. The European champs are missing Tony Parker, but look stronger after getting big games from some of their role players. And after the United States and Spain, this tournament appears to be wide open.

So, after Saturday’s loss, this was huge for both Group A placement and France’s prospects down the line.

“You never know,” Batum said about how far his team can go. “It’s basketball. You get a lot of surprises sometimes.”

More notes from France 74, Serbia 73…

  • Bogdanovic got off to a great start, scoring or assisting on Serbia’s first 13 points. There was a smooth-looking, catch-and-shoot 3, a runner in traffic, and a nice dime to a slipping Raduljica. But he shot 2-for-9 after that (missing a couple of open 3s late), with three turnovers and no assists over the final three periods.
  • So it was interesting to see Serbia put the ball in the hands of the 22 year old, instead of veteran Milos Teodosic (who was also on the floor) for the final possession. “He can finish the game,” Djordjevic said of Bogdanovic. “The other players believe in him. He believes in himself. I believe in him. That’s his job.”
  • Nenad Krstic has long been one of Serbia’s best players, so it was a bit startling to see the 31 year old not playing at all on Sunday. He’s recovering from knee surgery, but Djordjevic called it a “technical decision.” “The way Raduljica played, we didn’t need Krstic in this game.”

Other games of note…

Group B: Croatia 90, Argentina 85

Croatia barely squeaked by the Philippines on Saturday, while Argentina blew out Puerto Rico. So it was a bit of a surprise to see this result a day later.

Dario Saric continues to look like a fascinating NBA prospect, even without a pretty smile. Reportedly, Saric had six teeth knocked out by an elbow from Andres Nocioni (of course). But he continued playing and finished with 17 points and nine rebounds in just 25 minutes. He’s a big dude who moves well and has skills. And it’s a shame the Sixers won’t get him for another two years.

The Nets waited three years for Bojan Bogdanovic. The incoming rookie had another solid game, leading Croatia with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting (3-for-6 from 3-point range).

Luis Scola led Argentina with 30 points. The guy who averaged 27.1 points in the 2010 World Championship is now averaging 27.0 after two games in Sevilla. #FIBAScola is a legend.

Group B: Senegal 82, Puerto Rico 75

Maybe Argentina’s Day 1 win wasn’t that impressive, because Puerto Rico is clearly the biggest disappointment of the World Cup so far. And now, with an injury to Carlos Arroyo, they look to be in danger of finishing fifth or sixth in their group and not qualifying for the knockout rounds.

After scoring 11 points in the first quarter, #FIBAArroyo sprained his right ankle in the first minute of the second and was sent to the hospital for testing. Puerto Rico won the first quarter, 29-21, but scored just 46 points after that, with J.J. Barea shooting 4-for-12.

Gorgui Dieng had another big game for Senegal, scoring 18 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and blocking two shots. Senegal looks good for the knockout rounds if it can beat the Philippines on Thursday.

More Day 2 notes

  • Incoming Bulls rookie Cameron Bairstow shot 6-for-7 in Australia’s easy win over Korea. Restricted free agent Aron Baynes has totaled 34 points and 17 boards in two games.
  • The Dragic brothers combined to score 40 points on 14-for-16 shooting (5-for-6 from 3-point range) in Slovenia’s 89-68 win over Mexico. Slovenia’s effective field goal percentage through two games? A ridiculous 67.3 percent.

Big games on tap for Monday

Groups C (Bilbao) and D (Gran Canaria) have the day off. But there will be a couple of intriguing games wrapping up action in Sevilla and Granada.

  • Puerto Rico is now desperate for a win. They’ll face 2-0 Greece (2 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in Group B action.
  • Spain gets its first real test, facing Brazil in the Granada nightcap (4 p.m. ET).
  • NBA TV will also have #FIBAScola and Argentina vs. Andray Blatche and the Philippines at 11:30 a.m. ET.

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

FIBA Update: Ukraine Advances With Help

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Group E wrapped up action at EuroBasket on Sunday, with Ukraine earning the group’s final spot in the quarterfinals.

Well, they didn’t actually earn it on Sunday, because Latvia’s loss to Belgium in the day’s first game is what got them there. It was an ugly game throughout and it was tied early in the fourth quarter. Belgium took control with a 7-0 run, but Latvia still had two chances to take the lead in the final minute. They missed them both, along with a three to tie in the closing seconds, sending them home.

Latvia had crushed Ukraine on Wednesday, but couldn’t beat anyone else in Group E, so Ukraine didn’t need to beat Lithuania in the day’s second game to reach the quarters. And they didn’t, with Linas Kleiza leading Lithuania to a 70-63 victory.

In the day’s final game, Serbia took Group E’s top seed with a win over France. Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum both shot poorly and Nenad Krstic led Serbia with 19 points.

So Serbia (4-1) is the No. 1 seed from Group E and will play the fourth-place team in Group F in the quarterfinals, which begin Wednesday. They’re followed by Lithuania (4-1), France (3-2) and Ukraine (2-3).

With one more day of action in Group F, we know that Croatia (3-1) and Slovenia (3-1) are in the quarterfinals. And we know the winner of Monday’s second game between Italy (2-2) and Spain (2-2) is also in.

If Spain wins, Italy is also in, because they beat both Greece (1-3) and Finland (1-3). Spain would lose a (head-to-head) tiebreaker with Greece, so a Croatia win over Greece in the day’s first game would help them in case they lose to Italy.

Eurobasket top offenses (points scored per 100 possessions) through Sunday:
1. France – 112.6
2. Greece – 112.2
3. Italy – 111.1
4. Spain – 108.7
5. Serbia – 107.6

Eurobasket top defenses (points allowed per 100 possessions) through Sunday:
1. Spain – 83.7
2. Czech Republic – 93.9
3. Lithuania – 94.6
4. Croatia – 96.8
5. Latvia – 99.7

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 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.

FIBA Update: Latvia, Lithuania Pick Up Big Wins At EuroBasket

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – EuroBasket’s second round tipped off with a couple of important games on Wednesday. We’ve got 12 teams playing for eight spots in the quarterfinals and then six or seven spots in next year’s World Cup of Basketball field.

Though this was the first day of the second round, each team brought two first-round results into the standings. That’s why the day’s first game between Latvia and Ukraine was critical. Mike Fratello’s Ukraine team came in at 1-2, in fourth place in Group E. Latvia was 0-2, in fifth place. And since four teams from each group make the quarterfinals, this game could be the one that ultimately makes the difference.

That’s good news for Latvia, who controlled the game from the tip, had a 42-22 lead by halftime, opened the game up even more in the third quarter, and cruised to a 34-point win. They shot less than 33 percent from 3-point range in the first round, but hit 15 of their 29 3s on Wednesday. Ukraine, meanwhile, couldn’t buy a bucket after finishing the first round with a top-five offense. To get back in the top four of Group E, they’ll have to upset either Serbia (Friday) or France (Sunday).

Though the second game was closer than it should have been, Serbia eventually took care of business against Belgium. Nenad Krstic led the way with 17 points and five assists and, at 3-0, Serbia is looking good for the quarterfinals.

So does Lithuania, who handed France its second loss of the tournament (and first in Group E) in Wednesday’s third game. Lithuania’s top-five defense bettered France’s top-five offense, as Tony Parker was held to just 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting and Nicolas Batum added just eight more.

Group F gets under way on Friday, with the Finland-Croatia game being another one that could ultimately determine who goes to the quarterfinals and who doesn’t.

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 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.

France, Russia Reach EuroBasket Semis

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Hometown and host-nation favorite Lithuania saved its Olympic qualifying bacon with a win over Slovenia in early action Thursday at EuroBasket 2011.

The crowd faves were just the warm up act, however, as France (as noted by my main man and NBA.com’s John Schuhmann) and Russia played their way into the semifinals with wins …

Russia 77, Serbia 67 (Box Score)

There is only one team still playing in EuroBasket that hasn’t tasted defeat in this competition. Russia has won nine straight games and will take that unblemished mark into a semifinal showdown against France. When you have the most versatile player in the competition, do-it-all swingman Andrei Kirilenko, leading the charge every night, it makes sense that Russia continues to wear down the competition. Kirilenko finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks.

“Two years ago we played in the same phase against the same group of great players and the same great coach and we lost, as I said then, by a better team,” said Russia coach David Blatt. “We moved forward from there. We provided our players with the kind of teaching and culture it takes to build a successful national team. We got back two of our main players – Kirilenko and [Viktor] Khryapa, who didn’t play in 2009, and you saw tonight how important they are. But the story is the other players who matured and are now a higher level basketball players. It’s a sweet win, but the joy is short, because we play tomorrow in the semifinals. We’ve had a great run so far.”

(more…)

Shaq: An Incomplete Timeline

MIAMI – As Doc Rivers was talking to a throng of reporters before the Boston Celtics’ shootaround at AmericanAirlines Arena this morning, I turned around and saw Shaquille O’Neal walking toward the Celtics’ locker room. Except that he wasn’t walking.

I’m not sure how bad Shaq’s limp was before this series began, but I can definitely say it was very pronounced this morning.

“There’s just nothing he can do,” Rivers said. “It’s not like he’s not trying. I told our team that yesterday. He’s done everything you possibly can do to get healthy. And unfortunately for him, he just hasn’t been able to do it.”

Obviously, with the possibility of Shaq’s season and career being over, a lot needs to be said and written. Here’s are some random thoughts that come to my mind… (more…)

Surveying Sunday’s Wounded

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Watching Shaquille O’Neal hobble to the locker room Sunday had to scare the shamrocks out of Celtics fans worldwide.

His return had been talked about for weeks, particularly since that trade deadline move that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City and left Shaq as the Celtics’ low-post savior for the playoffs. But now a strained calf has Celtics fans biting their nails, wondering when the Big Shamrock will be ready for action with the start of the playoffs just days away.

The calf strain O’Neal suffered has nothing to do with the Achilles injury that cost him the last two months, per Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Still, Rivers admitted that what went down Sunday was “scary,” and especially so for a team that’s already trying to get injured bigs (Jermaine O’Neal is back, Nenad Krstic is on the way) back into a groove.

How much longer with the Celtics be without Shaq? WEEI’s Paul Flannery says that’s just one of the questions the Celtics need answered this morning. Rivers tried:

“I don’t know, is the answer,” he said. “I don’t think very long honestly. That’s what [team doctor Brian] McKeon and [the medical staff] thought, that it’s very minor. Scary, more than anything. We’ll see.”

Will this affect your plans to play him if he can come back during the regular season?

“I don’t know what to do, honestly. My inclination is not because he needs to play and we have to play at full tilt in six games, so I don’t know the answer yet.”

Celtics fans weren’t the only ones gasping in horror over the weekend.

Lakers fans had a scare of their own when the linchpins to the low-post advantage that’s helped power them to back-to-back titles, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, both went down with knee injuries in their loss to the Nuggets.

(more…)

Will Ainge’s Latest Gamble Pay Off?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The final grades on the Celtics’ controversial trade deadline move that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City aren’t in yet.

They aren’t due into the office for at least another month, or however long the Celtics’ playoff run lasts.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge might not want to see those grades if the Celtics can’t get back into a groove. They’ve stumbled since the trade, going 10-8 since then and have lost seven of their last 12 games. Their chemistry is off and they just don’t look like the dominant team they were before the deal went down.

All that said, Ainge has gambled big before and hit the jackpot — most recently in the summer of 2008 when he blew up the roster to assemble the Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

With those three in the starting lineup, along with Perkins and All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, the Celtics had never lost a playoff series. And now they never will, because Perkins is one of the 10 players and a draft pick that Ainge has moved since that championship season.

Like we said, Ainge has gambled before.

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