Posts Tagged ‘Nicolas Batum’

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.

Bracket set as group play wraps up


VIDEO: John Schuhmann talks to GameTime about the World Cup

GRANADA, SPAIN – The final day of group play at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup not only determined who made it to the round of 16, but who they would play … and who they could play after that.

Let’s make it clear. There are two great teams in this tournament. They are Spain and the United States, and you will have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t think they will meet in the gold medal game in Madrid on Sept. 14.

After that, however, there are at least nine teams that could think they have a shot at a bronze medal. But you can only get to the bronze medal game if you first make the semifinals. And it will be extremely difficult to make the semis if you face Spain or the U.S. before then.

So, for those nine teams, with Spain clinching spot A1 (for finishing first in Group A) and the Americans clinching spot C1 (first in Group C) on Wednesday, there are two desired quarters of the bracket to be in. In Madrid, there’s the A4-B1-A2-B3 quarter, which avoids Spain until the semifinals. And in Barcelona, there’s the C4-D1-C2-D3, which avoids the U.S. until the semis.

Brazil clinched its spot as A2 with its win over Serbia on Wednesday. Everything else was up for grabs on Thursday.

Group A

Final placement:

  1. Spain (5-0)
  2. Brazil (4-1)
  3. France (3-2)
  4. Serbia (2-3)

Thursday notes:

  • In the first game that didn’t matter, Brazil hammered Egypt, 128-65. After its big breakout on Wednesday, the Brazil offense continued to roll, with Leandro Barbosa scoring 22 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) and dishing out five assists in just 23 minutes.
  • Ultimately, the second game was the only game that counted for anything. After Wednesday’s win over Egypt, Iran had a shot at fourth place if it could pull off an upset. And it showed a lot of heart, cutting a 17-point deficit down to five with a late rally. But it fell short, and France prevailed 81-76.
  • France could have put itself in the more favorable A4 spot with a strategic loss. And it did try to get its best players some rest; Nicolas Batum sat for most of the second half. But when Iran made it close at the end, Batum and Boris Diaw were back on the floor and France played to win.
  • France coach Vincent Collet: “You can see we wanted to win this game, no question. We know, being third, we could cross with Spain in the quarterfinals. That’s basketball.”
  • The third game could have meant something, but was rendered meaningless by the Iran-France result, because even if Serbia tied France with a 3-2 record, the head-to-head tiebreaker went to France. Still, Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic get tossed and Marc and Pau Gasol each played 28 minutes in Spain’s 89-73 win.

Group B

Final placement:

  1. Greece (5-0)
  2. Croatia (3-2)
  3. Argentina (3-2)
  4. Senegal (2-3)

Thursday notes:

    • We got another thriller from the Philippines, and this time, they won! The overtime result locked Senegal into the fourth spot in the group and a matchup with Spain on Saturday.
    • Croatia clinched its spot in the round of 16 with a 103-82 win over Puerto Rico. Nets incoming rookie Bojan Bogdanovic had another big game with 23 points on just eight shots, getting to the line 17 times.
    • Sixers youngsters Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, along with GM Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown, were in Sevilla to support future Sixer Dario Saric, who shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and showed off his open-court skills one more time.
    • The final game was for first place in the group and avoiding Spain until the semis. Greece built an early lead and held off Argentina for a 79-71 victory, which left them as one of just three undefeated teams in group play.

    Group C

    Final placement:

    1. USA (5-0)
    2. Turkey (3-2)
    3. Dominican Republic (2-3)
    4. New Zealand (2-3)

    Thursday notes:

    • At the start of the day, all six teams were still alive.
    • New Zealand’s 67-65 victory over Finland sent the Haka to Barcelona and sent Finland and meant that Ukraine would have had to beat the U.S. to advance.
    • That didn’t happen.
    • So, after USA’s win over Mike Fratello‘s crew, we knew what Group C teams were in. And Turkey’s win over the Dominican Republic in the nightcap put them opposite the U.S. in the Barcelona side of the bracket.
    • Ultimately, what knocked out Ukraine was one point. Dominican Republic, New Zealand and Ukraine all went 2-3 and all went 1-1 against each other. In those three games, Dominican Republic had a point differential of plus-3, New Zealand had a point differential of minus-1, and Ukraine had a point differential of minus-2.

    Group D

    Final placement:

    1. Lithuania (4-1)
    2. Slovenia (4-1)
    3. Australia (3-2)
    4. Mexico (2-3)

    Thursday notes:

    • Here’s where we saw some shadiness. Australia appeared to tank itself into the D3 spot by losing to Angola in the first game of the day.
    • Neither Aron Baynes nor Joe Ingles played. Matthew Dellavedova and David Andersen each played just four minutes. And with a 13-point halftime lead, Australia seemingly escorted Angola to the rim in the second half, allowing what was a below-average offense through four games to score 62 points in 20 minutes.
    • Slovenia’s Goran Dragic didn’t like what he saw…
    • Mexico booked its ticket to Barcelona for a Sunday matchup with the U.S. by knocking off Korea. That result also eliminated Angola.
    • The final game in Gran Canaria was for first place in the group and placement on the non-USA quarter in Barcelona. Lithuania came back from 12 down and held the tournament’s No. 1 offense (through Wednesday) to just two points in the fourth quarter to pull out a 67-64 win over Slovenia.

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.

Brazil gets biggest win of Day 1


VIDEO: USAB: Rose on FIBA Schedule

GRANADA, SPAIN – Group A of the FIBA Basketball World Cup not only has the most NBA players, but also four of the best teams in the tournament. So every day of pool play in Granada will bring at least one big game. Four teams from the group will advance to the knockout rounds, but a higher placement will likely get you an easier opponent in the round of 16.

So Brazil was the big winner on Saturday, holding on for a 65-63 victory over France in the second game of the day in Granada. It was an ugly game throughout, with the two teams combining for 19 turnovers in the first half and shooting just 11-for-35 from 3-point range for the game.

But point guard Marcelo Huertas had enough in his bag of tricks to get the job done in the fourth quarter.

France actually led by nine late in the first, but scored just 10 points on its final 20 possessions of the first half, as Brazil took a two-point lead into the break. The Brazilians led by as many as eight early in the fourth, but couldn’t put France away, because they couldn’t put together more than two straight scores.

“The zone was back all the time,” said Tiago Splitter, who scored just six points on 2-for-5 shooting. “Nobody was getting easy shots. And our shooters didn’t have a good game outside. ”

Huertas was basically the only guy who could get anything going offensively. He scored 11 of Brazil’s 19 points in the period, hitting a three off a Nene post-up, finding space around the foul line for a couple of runners against the sagging French defense, and sealed the game at the free-throw line in the final minute.

“They were deep into the zone,” he said afterward, “so we could attack, either for a shot or to find the open man.”

France got a big game from Boris Diaw (15 points, six rebounds, five assists), but Nicolas Batum (13 points) didn’t shoot well and the other French bigs didn’t get much done inside after the first quarter. Though they closed to within one in the final seconds, they never got a chance to tie or take the lead.

The French are missing Tony Parker and a couple of their NBA centers. They don’t have any time to recover from this first loss, because they play a very tough Serbia team in Sunday’s first game.

Brazil gets Iran on Sunday before facing tougher tests against Spain (Monday) and Serbia (Wednesday). It’s passed the first one, knowing that any win in the first game was important.

“For us, it’s a big win, even if it wasn’t France,” Huertas said. “It’s not a definite step, but it’s a great step.”

More notes from Brazil 65, France 63 …

  • Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn is in Granada to see Evan Fournier (whom the Magic got in the Arron Afflalo trade in June) play. But Fournier was the 11th guy to get in the game for France, entering with 3:06 to go in the first half. He went scoreless with two turnovers in just 8:25 of action.
  • Utah’s Rudy Gobert has potential. He didn’t look comfortable when there was someone between him and the basket, but he had a couple of athletic dunks off feeds from Florent Pietrus and blocked two shots. A few seconds after missing an ugly jump hook, he actually blocked Splitter without leaving his feet.
  • Nene got a couple of buckets off pick-and-roll feeds from Huertas late in the third quarter and grabbed eight rebounds, but otherwise had a rough night. He shot 2-for-6 and committed four turnovers.

Other games of note …

Group A: Serbia 85, Egypt 64

As expected, this was an easy win for Serbia, which pulled away with a 25-12 third quarter. Milos Teodosic led the way with 15 points, hitting four of his six 3-pointers.

  • Miroslav Raduljica is a hoss, and much bigger than anyone on Egypt’s roster. Starting at center for Serbia, he racked up 10 points and six rebounds in just 12:32 of playing time. He made like Moses Malone on a first-quarter possession that was going to end with either a layup by him or a foul, because he kept missing and Egypt had no chance of outmuscling him for the rebound. It properly ended with an and-one.
  • Raduljica was waived by the Clippers (via the stretch provision) on Friday, just three days after they had acquired him from Milwaukee. After one season in the league, he said he wants to stay (though it was “a little cold in Milwaukee”). He said he’s only heard rumors about any other teams that may want him and “I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen next.”
  • Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic is listed at 6-6, but appears to be a bit shorter. He played neither great nor poorly on Saturday. He dished out four assists and was a game-high plus-23, but took just three shots (all 3-pointers). And it would have been hard to tell how NBA-ready he really is against this opponent anyway. France (Sunday), Brazil (Wednesday) and Spain (Thursday) will provide better tests.
  • After Brazil’s win over France, Splitter was asked about Serbia. His response: “I would say they are more talented than France. France is a very talented and athletic team, but Serbia, they know how to play basketball. They have a very good school of basketball, always.”

Group B: Croatia 81, Philippines 78 (OT)

This was the game of the day, as the Philippines came back from 15 points down to take a three-point lead with a little more than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. After Croatia came back to tie it, the Philippines’ Jeff Chan missed a jumper at the buzzer that would have given Gilas the huge upset.

They took a two-point lead in overtime, but Bojan Bogdanovic put Croatia up for good with four free throws and the Philippines didn’t get a foul call on the game-tying three at the buzzer.

  • NBA free agent Andray Blatche, playing for the Philippines, scored the team’s first two points, but was 1-for-9 from the field early in the second quarter, settling for jumpers. He then got the Croatian big men to bite on a couple of his shot fakes, got to the rim a bit more, and hot nine of 15 shots after the slow start. He was 3-for-4 from 3-point range, hitting a big one to tie the game late in the fourth. He finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds.
  • Croatia’s Bogdanovic, not to be confused with Serbia’s Bogdanovic, looks like he could be a solid player for the Brooklyn Nets this season. He led Croatia with 26 points on 7-for-14 shooting, getting his buckets in a variety of ways.
  • The Philadelphia Sixers look like they’ll be getting a player (eventually) in Dario Saric, too. He’ll have better tests later in the tournament and was able to take advantage of the size discrepancy (the Gilas power forwards aren’t very big) in this game. But he he also made some nice off-the-ball cuts and showed an ability to handle the ball in the open court, as he did in this highlight from Tuesday’s exhibition win over Lithuania.
  • Pacers incoming rookie Damjan Rudez had one smooth-looking, step-in jumper, but didn’t look too good otherwise. He shot 0-for-4 from 3-point range and finished with just four points in 14 minutes

More Day 1 notes

  • Serge Ibaka sat out Spain’s game against Iran. According to Spanish TV, he has a sore hamstring.

  • Group B saw a matchup of #FIBAArroyo and #FIBAScola, who are both *better than their NBA counterparts. Carlos Arroyo didn’t have it on Saturday though, and Luis Scola led Argentina to a 98-75 win over Puerto Rico with 20 points (on just 10 shots) and nine rebounds. J.J. Barea led Puerto Rico, which totaled only five assists, with 24 points. Pablo Prigioni had 10 of Argentina’s 22 assists.
  • * The opposite is true of #FIBANene
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo took just two shots from the field, but filled the box score with 11 points, five rebounds and three steals in Greece’s 87-64 win over Senegal. Gorgui Dieng led Senegal with 21 points and 14 boards.
  • Goran Dragic paced Slovenia to an important 90-80 win over Australia in Group D with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting. The Cavs’ Matthew Dellavedova shot just 1-for-7 for the Aussies.

Big games on tap for Sunday

  • Dominican Republic-New Zealand (6:30 a.m. ET) could ultimately be for fourth place (and a trip to the knockout rounds) in Group C.
  • Argentina-Croatia (7:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV) will be an important game for seeding in Group B, though it could be a mismatch given the way the two teams played on Saturday.
  • Serbia-France (9:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV) will be the day’s big matchup in Granada, with France needing to rebound from Saturday’s loss to Brazil.
  • If Dieng’s Senegal team is to have any chance of making the top four in Group B, it probably needs to beat Puerto Rico (1:30 p.m., ET).

World Cup stacked with NBA players


VIDEO: USA tops Puerto Rico in exhibition

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James was always taking the summer off from competitive basketball. Kevin Love decided to do the same just before the U.S. National Team opened training camp in Las Vegas last month. But there are still reasons for Cavs fans to watch the FIBA World Cup, which begins Saturday in Spain.

The Cavs are one of two teams that will have four players taking part in the World Cup. Kyrie Irving, of course, will start (at least some games) at point guard for the United States. He’ll face new teammate Erik Murphy, playing for Finland, in the USA’s first pool-play game.

Murphy, who was acquired in a trade from Utah last month, may not necessarily be on the Cavs’ opening-night roster. Only $100,000 of his $816,000 contract is guaranteed, the Cavs are already over the 15-man roster limit, and they’ve yet to sign Shawn Marion.

Irving has already faced Brazil’s Anderson Varejao in an exhibition game. And he could go head-to-head with his Cleveland back-up — Australia’s Matthew Dellavedova — in the knockout round.

The Rockets are the other NBA team that will have four players at the World Cup. James Harden, the Dominican Republic’s Francisco Garcia, Lithuania’s Donatas Motiejunas and Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou will all represent the Rockets in Spain.

Papanikolaou is one of five incoming rookies at the tournament. The others are the Bulls’ Cameron Bairstow (Australia), the Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia), the Jazz’s Dante Exum (Australia), and the Pacers’ Damjan Rudez (Croatia).

Croatia’s Bogdanovic is not to be confused with Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was selected in this year’s Draft by the Suns and will play at least two years in Turkey before coming to the NBA. The Serbian Bogdanovic is one of six guys taken in the last two drafts who has yet to come over.

The others are Alex Abrines (OKC, Spain), Arselan Kazemi (PHI, Iran), Joffrey Lauvergne (DEN, France), Raul Neto (UTA, Brazil) and Dario Saric (PHI, Croatia). (more…)

Hot jersey, but LeBron needs a number

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – LeBron James‘ new Cleveland Cavaliers jersey is flying off the shelves.

Only that’s not completely accurate. For the time being, LeBron jerseys are still kind of on the tarmac, awaiting takeoff.

lebron6The NBA Store’s website and phone lines are ablaze with demand for LeBron goods. The NBA doesn’t release sales figures outside of its regularly scheduled reports, but a league source provided this glimpse into recent demand for all things LBJ: Since James announced his return to Cleveland on July 11, his Cavs replica jerseys (all three color versions: home, road and alternate) are the top three best-selling items on NBAStore.com. Eight of the top 10 items sold overall since then are LeBron Cavs items.

The store initially sold out of all LeBron jerseys, but it’s now restocked in just about every size. The problem: When shoppers buy their LeBron jerseys, they get this message in red type:

“This item will ship within 2-4 weeks after the player has officially signed his contract and is assigned a number by the NBA.”

Ah, yes. LeBron picked his city. But he has yet to pick a number.

Of course, the NBA won’t assign the King a jersey number, like he’s some 7-year-old at the YMCA.

COACH: “Here you go son, got No. 18 for you.”

LeBRON: Hmm … Got 23?

COACH: “I got 18. Youth medium.”

A week ago, James summoned the aid of his 13.75 million Twitter followers:

lebron23James wore 23 during his first seven seasons in Cleveland, the number he picked as a prodigy at Akron, Ohio’s Saint Mary’s-Saint Vincent’s in honor of his hero Michael Jordan. When James took his talents to South Beach in 2010, he ditched 23 for 6, the number he wore in the 2008 Olympics.

Neither number seems like a proper fit for The Return. His first number, 23, still invites all those insufferable comparisons to Jordan. And 6 would just feel weird in Cleveland after all that’s gone down since the original Decision. It should stay in Miami.

With James winding down a Nike-sponsored tour of China, maybe picking a number will soon become top priority. Right behind getting Kevin Love. (For the record, Love wears 42, in honor of the uniquely gifted former NBA star Connie Hawkins. In Cleveland, Nate Thurmond‘s 42 is retired in the rafters.)

All this number talk shouldn’t be shrugged off. A player’s number is a key part of his identity. It typically holds a special meaning.

So we’ve been busy mulling a third number for Phase Three of James’ career. We want his fans to get their jerseys sooner rather than later.

The old flip-flop

32: Obviously it’s the reverse of his original 23, which wasn’t an original at all. James wore No. 32 as a freshman in high school apparently because 23 was already taken by an older kid who didn’t quite yet recognize James as the King. There’s a larger hook here. The player James is most compared to stylistically is not Jordan but Magic Johnson. There’s been a lot of big names to wear 32, which might or might not motivate James to pick the number: Bill WaltonShaquille O’NealKevin McHaleKarl Malone, Julius Erving with the Virginia Squires and New York Nets and one of my personal favorites, Seattle’s “Downtown” Freddie Brown.

The old flip-a-roo

9: Flip the 6 and what do you get? Yep, 9. Makes sense. Plus, James already has done 9, so it makes even more sense. He wore the number for a season as an all-state receiver in high school before giving up football to focus on hoops. Last summer James purchased new Nike uniforms for his alma mater’s football team. For the arrival of the new gear, James actually showed up in full uniform, pads and all, and surprised the gathered crowd. The number he chose for his jersey? Yep, 9. There’s some standout players currently wearing 9; Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo. Old-time great Bob Pettit wore it, too.

Honoring the Big O

14: Forgive me for bringing up Mount Rushmore, but it was LeBron who started the whole thing when he said Oscar Robertson would be on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore (along with Magic, Michael and Larry Bird). LeBron’s game can also be favorably compared to Robertson, the original triple-double machine. Robertson wore 14 with the Cincinnati Royals for a decade. He averaged a triple-double in his second season and darn near did it three other times. Bob Cousy, Sam Perkins and LeBron’s Cavs teammate on the 2007 Finals team, Ira Newble, also wore No. 14. This would be an intriguing choice and would once again shine a worthy spotlight on the Big O’s amazing career.

1: When Cincinnati traded Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson, the Big O traded in his 14 for 1. LeBron choosing 1 could have dual meaning, paying respect to Robertson while proclaiming to world, “I’m No. 1.” A lot of No. 1s have come and gone in the league, but the list is short in terms of all-time greats. Tiny Archibald wore it before he got to Boston, then there’s Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups and, of course, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks.

King Football

84: It seems every year we hear fantasy stories about LeBron joining an NFL team and instantly becoming an All-Pro receiver. Hey, at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, who’s gonna get in his way? So why not buck traditional NBA numbers for a traditional NFL one? Since James was an All-State receiver in Ohio (we covered his No. 9 above) it makes sense that he pick a traditional NFL receiver’s number (between 80 and 89 and 10 and 19). My first inclination is to pick 88 because of LeBron’s love for the Dallas Cowboys and the lineage of players — Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and now Dez Bryant — who made the number famous. Only three NBA players have ever worn 88 and one currently does: Portland forward Nicolas Batum. So, scratch that. If we narrow the numbers to tight ends, the position LeBron would likely play in the NFL, he’d probably choose between two Cowboys greats, No. 84 Jay Novacek and No. 82 Jason Witten. One has more titles than LeBron. Go with Novacek. Only one NBA player, Chris Webber, has ever worn 84 and for only one season (2007 with Detroit). No NBA player has ever put on 82 (according to basketball-reference.com).

Alternatives:

29: It’s the sum of LeBron’s first two numbers, and it’s a pretty rare one in the history of the NBA with Paul Silas being the most famous 29.

33: It’s just a great basketball number worn by such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Bird, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Scottie Pippen and the underappreciated Alvan Adams.

40: This comes with an eye toward some serious goal-setting, as in 40K, as in 40,000 career points. No player has ever reached it. Abdul-Jabbar remains the league’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points. James, 29, has scored 23,170 points in 11 seasons. It is doable.

Blazers’ would-be depth all in Vegas


VIDEO: The Trail Blazers’ young guns rout the Hawks in Las Vegas Summer League

LAS VEGAS – Two seasons ago the Portland Trail Blazers’ bench was remarkably young and perilously inadequate. Last season, the addition of veteran Mo Williams plus incredibly good health among the starting five limited opportunity for the Blazers’ babies.

As Summer League heats up, that banging sound you hear is opportunity knocking. Which young Blazers finally walk through that door will be an intriguing story line to monitor. The choices are all right here in Vegas. In fact, if the Blazers don’t boast the most players from their big-league team on their Summer League squad then they’re right there near the top.

Six of Portland’s 15 roster players are on its Summer League squad: Guards Will Barton, Allen Crabbe and C.J. McCollum, as well as frontline teammates Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson. All six players have either one or two years of league service, and all six are seeking to make a first-time impact in the Blazers’ rotation.

McCollum, Robinson and Leonard are all top 11 draft picks.

“It’s an important summer for our young bigs and and our young perimeter guys,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said as he watched Portland’s summer team beat down Atlanta, 91-76. “CJ, Will and Allen, there’s an opportunity. I can’t say how many minutes, but there’s an opportunity. Joel, Meyers and T-rob, after signing Chris [Kaman], there’s some competition.”

Kaman was granted a two-year, $9.8 million contract coming off two subpar seasons with Dallas and then the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet Portland felt compelled to sign him up as backup to starter Robin Lopez because they’ve haven’t been able to count on Leonard or Freeland.

The young guards won’t have to contend with Williams, who remains on the market as an unrestricted free agent, however the Blazers signed steady veteran in Steve Blake.

“In my rookie year everyone talked about the bench,” said Leonard, who took a step back last season, partly due to injury. “Last year was a much better year for us, young guys stepped up. Now we need to have even more of a deep bench, confidence from coach to put us in there and know the score isn’t  going to down, we’re going to keep it there or we’re going to increase the lead. It’s confidence in the starters and coaches that when we come in we’re going to do a good job and they can know we’re going to be all right.”

Self-confidence is a big pat of it, too. The leader in that category could be Thomas Robinson, the fifth overall pick two years ago by Sacramento, who was traded by the Kings and then the Rockets. He played in 70 games for Portland last season, averaging 4.8 ppg and 4.4 rpg in 12.5 mpg. He provided some high energy moments off the bench during the playoffs and now the 23-year-old says he’s discovered what it takes to be a productive NBA player.

“I am where I was supposed to be after my rookie year, making that leap to knowing what type of player you are in this league and knowing what you’re going to do for your team,” Robinson said. “That’s where I am now, where I should have been last year.”

Few expected the Blazers to end up where they did last season, winning 54 games and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the last 14 years. They have a dynamic starting five with All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, streak-shooter Wes Matthews, stat-stuffer small forward Nicolas Batum and Lopez, their lunchpail center.

Bench parts at every position are on the roster. Now, with another year under the belts, the question is which ones walk through that door.

Are Blazers too stubborn to survive?

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

VIDEO: Spurs-Blazers: Game 4 Preview

PORTLAND, Ore. — By now, everyone knows the definition of insanity.

So the question becomes: Are the Blazers are crazy enough to think they can stop the Spurs without changing the way they defend Tony Parker?

“I think our pick-and-roll [defense] is we like to keep guys on one side and when we keep it on the side our bigs play best,” said guard Damian Lillard. “We have been living all season on guys taking mid-range jump shots and that’s what [Parker] likes, so it’s been working against us.”

Yes, it has.

Parker probably couldn’t do more damage to the Blazers if he took the court swinging a sledgehammer. He comes off screens, gets into the paint and simply breaks them down. If Parker is not pulling up and sticking 16- to 18-foot jumpers right in the faces of the Blazers, then he’s dishing to teammates for easy buckets.

Through the first three games of a shockingly devastating 3-0 blowout, Parker is averaging 29.3 points and 8.5 assists per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the field.

Yet the Blazers keep insisting that the solution is just to play harder, not different. It is as if they view change as conceding a weakness.

“It’s not just the pick-and-roll,” said guard Wes Matthews. “It’s everything. It’s us forcing an air ball down 11 in third quarter after being down 20 and Boris Diaw grabs the rebound and makes a layup. It’s those plays. Those are the deflating ones, not so much an All-Star and Finals MVP with pick-and-rolls.”

But it is the pick-and-roll that gets everything started for San Antonio and gives a potent Spurs offense too many easy openings.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts continues to point out that his team has done a much better job of containing the Spurs in the second half of each game. But that’s after the Blazers have fallen behind by 19, 26 and 20 by halftime.

“You can change a little,” Stotts said. “You’re not gonna make drastic changes. You have to do things that fit your personnel, do things that you’ve worked on all year. But we can play zone a little bit, do more switching. There are things that you can tweak here and there, but I think it’s more sustaining what we’re doing.

“Nic [Batum] did a good job on Parker in the second half. We’re not built to be a trapping aggressive, double-teaming team. We haven’t done that all year and you’re not going to do that against the best passing team in the league.”

While it is admirable to have a consistent philosophy, firm beliefs and a resolute will, that can also be mere stubbornness.

“I don’t know if there’s any words for it,” Matthews said with an admiring shake of his head. “They’re playing extremely well. Everybody’s playing at a high level. Everybody on their team is looking like a first option on any other team. They’re playing well together. They’re shooting the ball well. Their conversion rate on our turnovers and our mistakes is off the charts. But they’re beatable. They are beatable.”

Not if they don’t stop Parker from beating them.

Snakes alive! Spurs squeeze Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

VIDEO: Spurs stifle Blazers in Game 2

SAN ANTONIO – It was the middle of the second quarter and the Blazers’ biggest offensive weapon had finally found a clear path to the basket.

LaMarcus Aldridge slammed his dunk attempt off the back iron.

On the next trip down the floor, Aldridge took another feed, had another open path to the hoop.

And clanked another dunk.

Snakes in the Portland locker room. Snakes on the rim.

When the Blazers eventually slithered out of the AT&T Center on the wrong end of another clubbing, they probably didn’t feel bitten by a viper as much as squeezed breathless by a powerful boa constrictor.

Aldridge can’t find room to move in the low post. Damian Lillard can’t find enough opportunities to work his shimmy-shake magic. Wes Matthews can’t find anything to do except toss up his arms in frustration and plead his case to referees. The numbers on a map say it’s just 200 miles between Houston and San Antonio, but the Blazers have discovered the brand of basketball might as well come from opposite sides of the planet.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Rockets’ played one-on-one. Now the Spurs play all-as-one.

In the first round, the Rockets played with frantic, nervous energy. Now the Spurs play with the quiet, deadly hum of high voltage power lines.

In the first round, the Rockets often treated the fourth quarters and the final minutes of games as something to give away. “Here, take this.” Now the Spurs treat the opening quarters of games as time to simply smack the Blazers and bloody their noses. “Here, take that.”

At this rate their stock is dropping faster than Johnny Football’s. Maybe even the Cleveland Browns wouldn’t take a gamble on the Blazers.

For a Portland team that just four days ago was still celebrating the first playoff series win for the franchise in 14 years, this has been a step up in class like going from kindergarten to quantum mechanics. While Houston poked and prodded and tweaked and adjusted a defensive plan to try to turn down the heat from the boiling concoction that was Aldridge, the Spurs have turned to Tiago Splitter and told him to be the lid on the pot. He bumps Aldridge. He grinds Aldridge. He bangs Aldridge. He flusters Aldridge. And then Splitter gets help in close to the basket from Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard and anybody else who just feels like taking a swipe or throwing shoulder.

“I missed two dunks and four or five layups,” Aldridge said after a 6-for-23 shooting night and just 16 points. “If those shots go in, then the whole game is different.”

And if pigs had wings, it would be tougher for us to catch that bacon.

It’s never a good thing when coach Terry Stotts is pointing out the highlights of not giving up any fast break points and holding the other guys to just 44 points in the second half. Not when his team gave up 70 points and trailed by 19 at halftime.

On one hand, all the Spurs have done is held the home-court advantage as they now head out to Portland. On the other hand, the Blazers have held the lead for a grand total of 16 seconds in two entire games of playoff basketball.

These are not the Spurs who looked disinterested and disjointed through the first six games against Dallas in the previous round. Now they are back to rolling up and down the court like a road grader, flattening anything in their path. Their deepest-in-the-NBA bench is back. So is their swagger. Manu Ginobili throwing football-style touchdown passes to Leonard on the break. Boris Diaw doing the Jell-O roll through the paint to drop in the kind of shot that was so tasty it made you want to lick the spoon.

These are not the Blazers who looked like the poised ones down the stretch against the discombobulated Rockets.

“No panic,” said the Blazers’ Nicolas Batum. “We know we’ve done bad the last two games.”

On the bright side, nobody was bitten.

Slowing Parker is job one for Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Can the Blazers bounce back in Game 2 vs. the Spurs?

SAN ANTONIO — Gregg Popovich knows a way to slow Tony Parker down. He sat him down for 19 days smack in the middle of the season.

It’s not quite that easy for the Trail Blazers, who have to figure job one in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals is to stop the Spurs’ All-Star point guard from running amok as he did in the series opener.

While all of the very deep San Antonio lineup washed over them like a sandcastle at the beach, it was Parker’s 33 points on 13-for-24 shooting that set the pace and kept the Blazers on their heels all night long.

Parker attacked Portland running the fast break and repeatedly pulled up to knock in mid-range jumpers as the Blazers’ defense concentrated on not letting him get to the rim.

According to the Blazers’ statistics, Parker shot 5-for-5 in the transition game and 8-for-12 when he was able to get into the paint.

“He’s going to get there sometimes,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “That’s what he does. We had him 5-for-12 on midrange shots. That’s a number we can live with. But 5-for-5 in transition, that’s a number we have to be better with.

“We have to keep the ball out of the middle as much as we can. The more we can keep him out of the paint, that takes away opportunities for him and his teammates.”

Those were opportunities that might have have come for the Spurs once more this springtime if Popovich hadn’t made the bold decision back on Feb. 10, following a loss at Detroit, to simply shut down his trigger man and leading scorer for nearly three weeks.

“I thought he was more mentally tired than physically tired,” Popovich explained. “He needed time away. No more shootarounds, no more game plans, the whole ball of wax. He just needed to shut down from it all.”

What looks like a perfectly logical move with a 31-year-old who is expected to carry so much of the offensive burden, was not exactly one that Parker swallowed easily. After all, Popovich did not take the same tack with 38-year-old Tim Duncan or 36-year-old Manu Ginobili.

“I [thought] it was too long,” Parker said. “At the same time, I trust Pop. He did a great job with me, Timmy, with Manu, managing us during the year to make sure we stay fresh for the playoffs. You can see the results.”

Including his Game 7 close-out performance in the first round over Dallas, Parker has rung up back-to-back 30-point games after hitting that level just three times during the entire regular season and appears energized.

The Spurs frequently ran Parker off picks against the Blazers and got him the open looks at the basket.

“I’m supposed to provide support,” said Portland center Robin Lopez, who stayed at home to guard the paint. “We’re encouraging him to take mid-range shots. Tony hit a few. In the best of all worlds, we’d be forcing everybody baseline.”

Parker was guarded during the game by Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wes Matthews. While the preference for Stotts may be to use the length of the 6-foot-9 Batum on Parker, making that shift would force the Blazers to be undersized in their other matchups against Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

“If you take Nic off Leonard, it opens things up for Kawhi and shifts everything down,” Stotts said. “But we’ve done things like that in the past. We have to be able to make those changes and subsequent adjustments.”

Which leaves the dilemma of how to slow Parker?

“You have to be physical with him, like Wes did at the end of the game,” Batum said. “Wes pushed him fullcourt. That’s what you have to do.”