Posts Tagged ‘Omer Asik’

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.

U.S. flattens Dominican Republic

VIDEO: Team USA cruises past the Dominican Republic on Wednesday

BILBAO, SPAIN — The U.S. National Team came here with a simple goal in mind. Get in and out of this town without drama and with their unbeaten streak in international competition still in place.

They are 40 minutes away from making good on that promise after running away from the Dominican Republic 106-71 in Group C play Wednesday night in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

The U.S. wraps up pool play Thursday against Ukraine, and can finish with that 5-0 record that U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski told his players was a must if they are intent on chasing down a second consecutive gold medal in this competition.

“These last two games before this one have really gotten us in mental shape,” Rudy Gay said. Obviously, you come over here with USA on your chest and you think things are going to come easy. But they tested us. Today I think we executed and played defense and played together. So this was a big step for us.”

The 58-game win streak in international competition (dating back to 2006 and including World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and exhibition games) is a matter of pride, something the U.S. team uses as motivation each and every night out.

In a group that could end up with five teams sporting identical 2-3 records in pool play, any extra motivation the U.S. National Team can find is probably a good thing. The challenges will get tougher as they continue on into the round of 16, starting this weekend in Barcelona.

“You know everybody is looking at the tape,” Gay said. “Everybody is looking at the Turkey tape,they are looking at New Zealand and seeing how they can match that and take it to another level. What we have to do is learn from those games. We know we’re going to see that kind of play again. So no matter what happens out there, we have to learn from what we did in the past and come out with some [wins].”

Even with comfortable winning margins, anywhere from 59  points on down but always in double digits, there’s clearly still room for improvement aesthetically.

Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried have been dominant consistently on both ends of the floor, controlling the action against opposing big men at will. But the rest of this group seems to still be a work in progress.

“I’m not even worried about our offense,” Klay Thompson said. “If we just play that kind of pressure on defense, we have too much depth and we’re going to give teams headaches. I know our offense is going to come. We’ve got too many talented scorers. So if we keep making those easy opportunities on defense, the turnovers, we’re going to be a problem for every team we play.”

Still, they aren’t wowing anyone, not by their own recent and lofty standards.

And that includes a Spain team that is impressing every time they hit the floor. There’s nothing they’ve done here that Spain won’t be able to handle, not that Coach K or anyone affiliated with the program is willing to admit they’ve given the host nation’s team so much as a glance.

Then again, that’s not a part of the immediate plan. The goal was to get in and out of Bilbao unblemished, without any hiccups, with room to grow and get better as the competition moves into its second phase.

They’ve already clinched the top spot in Group C, and yet lingering doubts remain.

“You have to remember we’re still a team that’s only been playing together a few weeks now,” Thompson said. “We love playing with each other, we’ve got a lot of depth and we just love proving people wrong, too.

“There are a lot of people out there writing us off, thinking we’re in Spain and we don’t have as much international experience as some of these past and that it’s going to be a problem. But as long as you play hard, we’re too talented not to do well here in this tournament.”

Group C: Turkey 77, Finland 74 (OT)

Cenk Akyol‘s’ corner 3 with 4.2 seconds to play in regulation sent the game to overtime as Turkey rallied to knock off Finland and avoid disaster. Omer Asik was dominant for a second straight game, finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds.

Turkey won the game without ever leading in regulation.

The free throw discrepancy was even more staggering, with Turkey sinking 29 of their 45 attempts to Finland’s 6-for-10 showing. Petteri Koponen missed two free throws in the final seconds, either one of which could have made it a four point game, leaving the door open for Akyol’s corner-3 heroics.

Turkey is 2-2 with their game of pool play against the Dominican Republic Thursday. Finland is 1-3 with their final pool play game against New Zealand.

Group C: New Zealand 73, Ukraine 61

It took a few days but New Zealand finally broke through with a win in pool play, knocking off Mike Fratello‘s team with a complete performance just hours after being blown out by the U.S. National Team.

Kirk Penney led the Tall Black with 17 points as they finally made some news here for something other than the Haka.

The Ukraine followed the lead of the U.S. National Team and stood and faced the Tall Black as they went through their pregame ritual. What Finland, the team New Zealand finishes up pool play with Thursday, will do is anyone’s guess.

Finland has by far the largest and most raucous fan base here, and there has been chatter about the Haka before and after each game the Tall Blacks have played.

“If there’s a Finnish thing I don’t know if there is some Viking action coming back,” said New Zealand forward Casey Frank. We’ve got some berserkers out there. I’m sure we’ll accept it. We’re all for it.”

Maxym Kornieko finished with 15 points and Pooh Jeter 14 for Ukraine (2-2)

U.S. cruises past New Zealand


VIDEO: Team USA rolls past New Zealand

BILBAO, SPAIN — This was more like it, what the U.S. National Team was after. Complete control over a clearly overmatched opponent.

Not that the Americans needed much of a confidence booster in pool play. But it never hurts to remind everyone in the FIBA World Cup field that the reigning champs aren’t ready to relinquish their title just yet.

A slow start in Sunday’s win over Turkey coupled with Monday’s off day left plenty of time for people to question this team’s potential and resolve. Their 98-71 smashing of New Zealand on Tuesday should serve as an appropriate response.

They are far from perfect. But in Group C they don’t have to be. They are still working on things, still tinkering with the right combinations and rotations and still trying to find niches for others. Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried continue to pace the U.S., combining for 36 points and 20 rebounds. The Americans overwhelmed New Zealand inside and went to the free-throw line 34 times. New Zealand was just 4-for-7 from the line.

“We definitely scored the ball, definitely got after it,” Davis said. “It was a good test for us. We like playing against good competition, and they were definitely one of those opponents.”

The shooters got in on the act earlier this time around, as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 4-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line by halftime, when the U.S was already comfortably in control 57-35. The U.S. team didn’t finish particularly well from the perimeter — it was just 6-for-16 (38 percent) for the game. But the team’s strength inside enabled the U.S. to shoot 51 percent (35-for-68) overall.

“We had to come out more mature,” Faried said. “After a [59]-point blowout win we had the night before, we kind of came in and ‘ok, this is going to be easy; we can beat any team.’ Turkey really smacked us; they smacked us in the first half. They woke us up and guys knew it’s not going to be easy, and we have to come out each and every game and play our hearts out and give it our all if we want to go get this gold.”

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski started Derrick Rose after halftime in place of Kyrie Irving, a scoreboard move  that allowed him to get Rose extended minutes in the first of what will be back-to-back-back games.

The U.S. improved to 3-0 with the win and finishes Group C play against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday and Ukraine on Thursday. New Zealand fell to 0-3.

The U.S. ran its streak of consecutive wins in international competitions (World Championship/World Cup/Olympics and exhibitions) to 57.

Group C:  UKRAINE 64, TURKEY 58

Omer Asik finally had a breakout performance, piling up 10 points and 13 rebounds for Turkey in the first half against Ukraine. The New Orleans Pelicans big man owned the space around the basket, dominating in ways that he did not in two previous games.

He finished with 16 points and 20 rebounds, by far his best work of the competition, and got a nod of approval from his new frontcourt mate in New Orleans.

“I love it,” Davis said as the U.S. team watched the end of the game from the tunnel on the end of the court before taking the floor for their game with New Zealand.

Asik’s work alone wasn’t enough to hold off the Ukraine, still smarting from a tough Sunday loss to Finland. Ukraine got huge contributions from up and down the roster while playing without starting shooting guard Sergiy Gladyr (sprained ankle).

Olexander Mishula led the way with 19 points and was money from deep (5-for-8), Ihor Zaytsev added 12 points (including a clutch late jumper) and Pooh Jeter scored 10 points and dished a game-high six assists.

Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said he spent Monday locked in his room studying tape and looking for ways to finally figure out a way to beat Turkey after struggling against them seemingly every time his team has played them during his four years coaching Ukraine.

That was time well spent, though, as Fratello’s team looked sharp from the start and didn’t allow Turkey to dictate tempo to them the way the U.S. did early on in their Sunday win over Turkey.

“My friends who have been here and fans of the team just say great things about the city,” Fratello said of Bilbao.  “Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a whole lot of it. I’ve been seeing a lot of the inside of the hotel … but I walked, I took a walk late [Monday night]. I went around 11 o’clock, just to think, and what do I do, I run into a bunch of Turkish fans. Just what I needed.”

U.S. forced to work on Day 2


VIDEO: Team USA uses late run to rout Turkey on Day 2

BILBAO, SPAIN — An early wake up call isn’t necessarily what the U.S. was looking for on Day 2 of the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But that’s exactly what they got Sunday night against a Turkey team they are very familiar with, the same team Steph Curry mentioned late Saturday night after the U.S. team roasted Finland by 59 points in their opener.

Curry was right. A much better effort was needed against Turkey. And for the longest time it was not there. The U.S. didn’t play with their usual energy or effort for much of the game. They were caught flat-footed on defensive rotations repeatedly, caved to Turkey’s deliberate pace early and then had to battle them on their terms deep into the third quarter before pulling away for the 98-77 win.

A Curry 3-pointer from the corner with 1:45 to play in third quarter gave the U.S. a 64-59 lead they would never surrender. But this was not the way anyone expected them to record their 56th straight win in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition dating back to 2006, not after watching them play as well as they did just 24 hours earlier.

The U.S. battled Turkey on their own soil to win gold at the 2010 World Championship, a spirited battle Curry talked about. Even with different faces, the history between the two programs remains. And you could feel it from the start Sunday.

Turkey led 40-35 at halftime and the whistling and artificial noisemakers in the stands got louder and louder. But the U.S. showed no signs of panic and methodically worked their way back into control after halftime, turning up the pressure on defense, particularly in the passing lanes.

By the time they were finished, the final score masked what was a much tougher Day 2 outing than anyone expected.

“We learned a lot about ourselves as a team,” James Harden said. “We learned we’re resilient. We knew every game wasn’t going to be a 50-point game. We didn’t panic or anything. We had to grind it out and we did that.”

The U.S. also learned that until their shooters start knocking down shots consistently, the heart and soul of this group will be big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, whose combined energy and activity kept them close early and carried them late.

Faried was a force throughout the game, finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds. Davis scored all 19 of his points after halftime and also grabbed six rebounds. The U.S. was outrebounded 21-12 in the first half.

As their activity level cranked up on both ends, the game changed rapidly. The floor opened up and Turkey appeared to finally feel the effects of the second half of a back-to-back against what is equivalent of a NBA team.

“I think we didn’t come ready to play in the first half and we can’t afford to do that if we want to win a gold medal,” Davis said. “So we’ve got to come out ready to play no matter who we’re playing against.”

This group knows what’s at stake every night out, both in reality and reputation. When you’ve won as many consecutive games against the rest of the world, everybody wants a piece of you.

So even the slightest scare, even one that lasts for just two and a half quarters, is enough to get the attention of the rest of the field in this competition. Turkey’s coach Ergin Ataman was ready and his team executed beautifully for as long as they could.

The speech U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski gave at halftime Sunday was required, even if only for the sake of formality. But his team already knew what had gone wrong. A halftime deficit in group play that was not expected to truly challenge this team served as the ultimate wake-up call.

“He didn’t need to say anything,” Davis said of Coach K’s halftime talk. “We already knew.”

Group C: Finland 81, Ukraine 76


VIDEO: Mike Fratello Interview

The Finland team that lost by a staggering 59 points to the U.S. in their opener returned to the building Sunday with a much better effort, holding off the Ukraine before another pro-Finland crowd and then partied outside with their fans after the game.

Shawn Huff led the way for Finland with 23 points and eight rebounds.

“We watched them against the U.S. and we knew that wasn’t the same team we were going to see,” Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said. “That [Saturday night's blowout loss] can happen to you against the United States. The shots they missed against the U.S. they were knocking down today.”

Pooh Jeter led the Ukraine with 24 points. But he lost his backcourt mate, shooting guard Sergiy Gladyr, to a sprained ankle after just eight minutes. They rallied late behind Jeter but never could come all the way back.

“All we’re thinking about now is Turkey [on Tuesday],” Jeter said. “We have to bounce back.”.

Group C: Dominican Republic 76, New Zealand 63

The Dominican Republic needed each and every one of Francisco Garcia‘s 29 points to bounce back on Day 2 and beat New Zealand. Garcia said he didn’t feel the need to force the action but his coach felt otherwise.

“We always need him to be aggressive and think about scoring the way he did today,” Dominican coach Orlando Antigua said. “I can speak for him as his coach when I tell you that.”

Garcia outdueled New Zealand’s Thomas Abercrombie, who impressed with 22 points and four rebounds. Monday’s day off couldn’t come at a better time for New Zealand.

“We know we’re in a tough spot,” guard Kirk Penney said. “But we also know what has to be done.”

 

Turkey, Ukraine win openers

BILBAO, SPAIN — Turkey rallied from an early deficit to defeat New Zealand 76-73 in the Group C opener here Saturday with New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik logging just 10 minutes for the winners.

Asik’s minutes were limited due to the style of play, according to Turkey’s coach Ergin Ataman, who suggested New Zealand’s style of play will cause problems for anyone in the FIBA World Cup, including the U.S., who boast a roster with four big men 6-foot-10 or taller for the first time in the Mike Krzyzewski era.

“[Asik] is fine,” Ataman said when asked if there was a reason Asik played just 10 minutes and 30 seconds. “New Zealand doesn’t play like any other team in Europe. The quickness for the big men is an issue. So Asik did not play as much. That will be an issue for other teams, including the United States.”

Playing small in recent international competitions was simply a part of the program for Krzyzewski, who always finds ways to adjust his lineups and rotations depending on how he wants his team to play. Coach K and his staff have seen every scheme imaginable during his tenure, so whatever they see here should not surprise them.

And Turkey needed Asik’s rim protecting help, even if it came in limited minutes, to rally in the first half against New Zealand. He scored just one point but blocked two shots and altered a couple of others before Turkey settled into a groove.

They closed the game on a 15-1 run to complete the comeback, negating Corey Webster‘s 22-point game for New Zealand.

The U.S. plays New Zealand Tuesday.

UKRAINE 72, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 62: Pooh Jeter scored a team-high 16 points to lead the Mike Fratello-coached Ukraine team past the Dominican Republic in the Group C opening game here in Bilbao.

Slava Kravstov added 13 points and Sergi Gladyr 12 for the Ukraine. Francisco Garcia (Houston Rockets) led the Dominican Republic with 18 points.

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…)

For Rockets’ Motiejunas, what happens in Vegas should not stay in Vegas


VIDEO: Donatas Motiejunas has been a load for defenders in Summer League

LAS VEGAS — There were 50 seconds left and the Houston Rockets trailed the Charlotte Hornets, 80-79, in the semifinals of the Samsung Las Vegas Summer League. Rockets guard Isaiah Canaan cleared out the left side of the court, then lobbed the ball inside to center Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas caught, leaned back, wheeled toward the center of the court and dropped in a soft hook shot to give the Rockets the lead and the win.

Motiejunas finished the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes, another strong performance in the seven-foot Lithuanian’s brief history of terrific Summer League showings. Just two years ago, a 25-point, nine-rebound showing in his Summer League debut caused NBA TV’s Chris Webber to exclaim, “I came to Vegas and fell in love!”

But in two NBA seasons since then, Motiejunas hasn’t been able to consistently find the same kind of minutes or production with the Houston Rockets. So what is it about Vegas that brings out the best in Motiejunas?

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Do you like Vegas?” the man they call D-Mo says with a smile. “First time when I play it was just after the draft. I came here to prove to everyone I’m not just a simple European guy, a typical one, that I can fight and play. This year, I came here to get into shape for National Team, because the guys started training camp July 7, and my team said they prefer me to stay here and play a couple of games here. We lost two games in a row, I was pissed, and then we start winning, winning, winning. I could not say no, not to play. I just wanted to win.”

The Rockets’ winning streak has pushed this Vegas trip to the limit — after Monday’s championship game, Motiejunas will take an overnight flight to Houston, unpack and repack, and then hop on an evening flight to Frankfurt to join the Lithuanian National Team.

“It’s intensive, but I’m happy. I’m playing, I’m getting a lot of touches, I’m enjoying these guys. Like I said, they did an incredible job the last couple of weeks, separate players becoming team, not easy to do.”

Along with Canaan, Motiejunas has been Houston’s best player in Vegas, averaging 17.7 points per game to go along with 7.7 rebounds through six games. And with Houston trading away Omer Asik, as well as whiffing on Chris Bosh in free agency, the opportunity for Motiejunas to become a regular Rockets rotation player is there for the taking.

“His homework for Summer League was tougher post defense and rebounding, and I think he’s done both those things,” says Houston Summer League coach Chris Finch. “He’s very skilled offensively — he’s a guy that can score in the post and make plays off the dribble as a big guy. And those are things we can do with him in our offense with the Rockets once we can get him a consistent role. But the defense and the rebounding is what is going to get him that. He did a good job last season of working his way into the rotation, so he’s on the growth path.”

In other words, Motiejunas will have to fight and show toughness to earn minutes. Which is something he says he’s not afraid to do.

“I’m trying to show toughness! Trying to get there!” he laughs, grabbing my arm. “I don’t know, how is going on? Is it getting better?”

You look pretty tough to me, I said.

“OK! It means it’s working out.”

“D-Mo is tough. He is a fighter,” says Finch. “He works hard — you’re never going to find a guy who out-works him. He needs to learn to play with physicality without fouling, physicality without getting out of position, that kind of stuff. That’s why we’ve asked him to be more physical this year defensively and on the glass.”

For his next act, Motiejunas has to translate his Summer League showings into the regular season, finding a way to perform in the regular season as he has in the summer season.

Clearly, for the benefit of both Motiejunas and the Rockets, the trick to going forward is going to be getting what happens in Vegas to not stay in Vegas.

Morning shootaround — July 14


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: KG open to Nets return? | Report: Spurs, Bonner reach deal | Bulls round out roster | Ariza-to-Houston deal grows

No. 1: Report: KG still ‘excited’ to play for Nets — Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett will be entering his 20th NBA season if he chooses to play in 2014-15. The likelihood of him playing next season was always up in the air … but is it even more so now? Garnett’s longtime teammate, Paul Pierce, agreed to a deal with the Washington Wizards over the weekend and led some to think perhaps KG will hang it up for sure this summer. ESPN.com’s Mike Mazzeo writes that Garnett may still be back in Brooklyn next season anyway:

Despite the loss of Paul Pierce via free agency, Kevin Garnett likes the direction of the Brooklyn Nets and is “excited” about joining them for the upcoming season, sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard.

Garnett, who turned 38 in May, is due $12 million in 2014-15, which would be his 20th NBA season.

He has yet to publicly announce that he’s playing this season, but all indications continue to point that way. On Saturday, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com that the Nets still expect Garnett to return.

Pierce elected to sign a two-year contract with the Washington Wizards for $11 million with a second-year player option, sources told ESPN.com.

Pierce and Garnett had been teammates since 2007-08. They won a championship together with the Boston Celtics.


VIDEO: Paul Pierce and the Wizards agree on a two-year deal (more…)

Rockets back to spinning wheels again

HOUSTON — This is the game the Rockets have chosen to play. Go Fish at a high-stakes poker table.

It was less than a week ago when Dealin’ Daryl Morey bet on a starting lineup that would have included Dwight Howard, James Harden, Chris Bosh, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley.

Sometimes you draw to a busted flush.

Bosh spurned the Rockets’ $88 million, four-year offer to stay in Miami for $118 million. Simple math.

Now Parsons walks up I-45 to Dallas for $46 million over three years. Simple gaffe.

The Rockets could have kept Parsons for the upcoming season for the final year on his rookie contract, roughly $964,000. But the team chose not to pick up the option in order to keep the right to match any offer that he received. Then they didn’t.

Nice season the Rockets had there in 2013-14. They won 54 games, grabbed the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and were feeling pretty good about themselves until nobody covered Damian Lillard with 0.9 seconds to play.

But when the heartache of that Game 6 loss and sudden ouster in Portland finally faded, there was reason to look ahead. Until this. Now the Rockets are back on the hamster wheel making no progress.

No offense to Trevor Ariza, but he doesn’t move the Rockets up in the West pecking order, doesn’t move the overall program forward.

Then again, the Rockets don’t actually have a program other than to keep swapping names and players and draft choices and salary cap spaces like trading cards. For a fellow who looked like the smartest guy in the room last summer when he landed Howard, Morey celebrates the first anniversary of that coup by telling Houston fans: “See you next summer. Please.”

While the Spurs win their fifth championship in 15 years by building a sense of family and togetherness, the Rockets are like the guy dealing three-card monte on the sidewalk, looking to just outsmart all of the other saps. They’re not looking for a path to long-term stability and success, just shortcuts to the top.

The Rockets brass reportedly also did not believe that a core lineup of Howard, Harden and Parsons was a championship contender. They wanted and needed Bosh with his champion’s pedigree because there remain serious questions about whether Howard or Harden can ever be the lead horse to pull a wagon. So how good is that lineup without Parsons?

The Rockets did not match the Dallas offer to Parsons because they did not want it to eat up too much of their payroll, so they could jump back in and play this game again next summer.

How do you develop real fan loyalty when you keep asking them to trust you and trust you and trust you for a future that’s out there in a world of analytics and promises beyond the stars?

What’s there to sell? Salary cap space, trade exceptions, maybe another video display on the front of the Toyota Center where they could photoshop LaMarcus Aldridge or LeBron James into the jersey of another current player next July.

Hopefully, that cap space and trade exception can come off the bench for some significant minutes, because in all of the grand hustle, an already thin roster became positively anorexic with the leaving of Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Parsons.

There was a palpable sense of shock and betrayal in Houston when Bosh — who definitely played the flirting game — did not jump into the Rockets’ arms as soon as James announced his return to Cleveland.

But there is no room here for hurt feelings. The Rockets, just like the Heat with LeBron, have to know and understand this game they like to play is the equivalent of a pickup in a singles bar. Sure, we can have some fun. But did you really think we were getting married?

It’s all those fans that keep going home alone at closing time who get stuck with another tab.

2014 Free Agency — Still Going …

From NBA.com staff reports

Just because LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol and so many other high-profile free agent targets have already made their decisions doesn’t mean this summer’s free agent party is over. The center of the basketball universe is in Las Vegas for Summer League, that’s where the games are being played and the movers and shakers are stationed right now. But the grind of free agency continues all over the place. We’re not done yet …

Update, 1:17 a.m. — Take some quiet time, Pau

After a long day of team decision-making and contract-negotiating, Pau Gasol is ready to ponder his vacation and his future … quietly, of course.

Update, 11:42 p.m. — Rio still feeling the Heat

Another original “Heatles” member is getting closer to being back in the fold, with Mario Chalmers getting a couple more years in Miami.

Update, 11:33 p.m. — Three more years!

Looks like Pau Gasol is ready for the (semi) long haul in bringing a title to Chicago, working on a three-year deal for reasonable price.

Update, 9:48 p.m. — More shooting for SVG

The Detroit Pistons ranked 29th in 3-point percentage last season. And it’s been obvious from the start of free agency that priority No. 1 for new president and coach Stan Van Gundy is improving that mark. He started by adding Jodie Meeks (40.1 percent from three last season) and Cartier Martin (39.1 percent). Now, he’s adding more shooting with the additions of D.J. Augustin (40.1 percent) and Caron Butler (39.4 percent)...

None of these four guys can make a huge impact individually. But collectively, they will space the floor for Detroit’s bigs. And none of them break the bank, with contracts that can easily be worked into trades.

Of course, Greg Monroe remains unsigned as a restricted free agent. Butler probably shouldn’t be a starting small forward anymore, but he could definitely make Josh Smith more of a permanent four than he was last season.

One more note: The Augustin addition is bad news for second-year point guard Peyton Siva, whose contract would become guaranteed on July 20 if he’s not waived by then. Siva must not have made enough of an impression on Van Gundy in Summer League.

Update, 8:40 p.m. — Birdman back

LeBron James is gone, but the rest of the Heat’s rotation is quickly coming back together. Earlier Sunday, Miami reached an agreement with Mario Chalmers on a new contract. And now, it’s the Birdman who has re-upped.

Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James Jones are still free agents, but the Heat are reportedly working things out with Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.

Update, 7:02 p.m. — Three-way deal for Ariza

Before the Draft, the Houston Rockets agreed to send Omer Asik to New Orleans. On Saturday, they agreed to sign Trevor Ariza to a four-year contract. And on Sunday, those two deals came together in the form of a three-team sign-and-trade transaction.

Update, 6:30 p.m. — Mirotic is on his way

Pau Gasol isn’t the only international big man that the Chicago Bulls are adding this summer. Nikola Mirotic, a first-round pick in 2011 from Montenegro, announced that he’s on his way as well.

Update, 6:06 p.m. — His name is Rio

Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade may have lost Superfriend LeBron James, but they will still have Mario Chalmers to yell at …

Update, 5:58 p.m. — Rockets pass on Parsons

In a bit of a surprise, the Houston Rockets will let Chandler Parsons head to their division rivals, who have made some upgrades (Parsons and Tyson Chandler) this summer …

At one point, we thought the Rockets were going to have a lineup of Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Parsons, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard. As it turns out, they’ve dealt away their depth (Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin), swapped Parsons for Trevor Ariza, and helped three fellow Western Conference teams (Lakers, Mavs and Pelicans) improve. They’re also giving the Washington Wizards an asset…

Update, 5:16 p.m. — Champs in tact

Fourteen different Spurs logged at least one minute in the playoffs. We know now that at least 13 of the 14 will be back in silver and black (Aron Baynes remains a restricted free agent) …

Update, 5:07 p.m. — Together Forever

Kirk Hinrich once played for a couple of teams other than the Chicago Bulls. Really. But he won’t be leaving Chicago again, at least not this summer …

Update, 4:32 p.m. — Mavs get at least one SF today

The Dallas Mavericks are still awaiting word from the Houston Rockets on their offer sheet for Chandler Parsons, but that isn’t stopping them from signing a back-up plan. If you need size on the wings, you could do worse than Richard Jefferson, who has shot 41 percent or better from 3-point range in three of his last four seasons

Update, 4:20 p.m. — Hinrich will be a Bull forever

The Charlotte Hornets were in the market for Kirk Hinrich, but with their agreement to sign back-up point guard Brian Roberts, it appears that Kirk Hinrich will be back in Chicago for more years of being Derrick Rose‘s back-up and/or fill-in …

Update, 3:48 p.m. — Kemba’s new back-up

Much to the chagrin of Hang Time’s Sekou Smith, Luke Ridnour‘s services are no longer needed in Charlotte, because Brian Roberts is a Hornet once again. He’ll be the first guy to play for the Charlotte version after playing for the New Orleans version …

Update, 3:24 p.m. — Deng had choices

Joining Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra in sunny South Florida is a pretty good move, but Luol Deng had other options on Sunday…

Update, 2:30 p.m. — Filling LeBron’s shoes

LeBron James took Luol Deng‘s job in Cleveland. And now the Miami Heat have replaced James with Deng. Bosh, Deng and Wade isn’t a bad core to build around …

https://twitter.com/WojYahooNBA/status/488390123893960706

Update, 2:05 p.m. — Show Luol the money

There are a few teams still looking for a small forward who can play both ends of the floor. Luol Deng knows that and knows he can take advantage of the market …

Update, 1:55 p.m. — Trying to get (most of) the band back together

The Heat will have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh back, but there are still some more roster spots to fill, and some guys they can bring back. The Birdman is one of them …

Update, 1:50 p.m. — Who?

The Bulls are moving on without that guy who scores 27 points a game …

Update, 1:30 p.m. — Wolves draw a line in the sand

The Timberwolves aren’t selling Kevin Love for pennies on the dollar …

Update, 12:35 p.m. — Melo’s City, Melo’s Heart

It’s not the most original concept, but you see the trend here …

Update, 12:21 p.m. — Still waiting on Rockets

Tick, Tock!

Update, 11:56 a.m. — Heat still a 50-win outfit?

Jeff Van Gundy says yes.

Update, 11:50 a.m. — LeBron Jersey of The Day

Welcome home!

Update, 11:26 a.m. — Evan Turner smiling through free agency

Jay and Bey don’t care about free agency!

Update, 11:09 a.m. — Gilbert explains how he and LeBron cleared the air

The greatest rebound of Dan Gilbert‘s professional career has to be coming back from his dreaded letter after “The Decision.” Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press weighs after talking with Gilbert, who took Albom through his reconciliation process with LeBron:

He pondered that as the plane descended into Florida. He and James hadn’t spoken since that night. Four years. They’d seen each other a few times. “I’d sit on the baseline when he came back to play in Cleveland. He’d look at me from the free-throw line. Not good. Not bad. Just look.”

Now he was scheduled to meet James, in secret, to discuss what seemed impossible just days earlier — a return to the Cavs. The whole world was hanging on the news. But as Gilbert glanced out the window, for a moment he wasn’t a billionaire Detroit businessman or an NBA owner. He was every guy seeing his ex-wife after the divorce, every teen guitarist seeing a former friend who broke up the band.

“I had told LeBron’s guys, whether he comes back or not, I really want to clear the air. It shouldn’t be like this.”

He hoped that part would go smoothly. Then someone on board yelled the media had discovered his plane was en route, and a new airport had to be quickly found.

Gilbert realized nothing was going to be easy.

The moment of truth

But then, saying you’re sorry never is. You do it anyway. Long after the basketball smoke clears from this story, that’s the human part we ought to remember.

You shouldn’t be known for the worst thing you ever did. Gilbert entered that private home meeting by himself, no assistants, and sat down at a dining-room table across from James and a few associates.

“First thing I said to him was, ‘LeBron, you know this is true. We had five good years and one bad night. Like a marriage that’s good and then one bad thing happens and you never talk to each other again.

“ ‘I’m just glad we’re here, whether you come or not, LeBron. This has been hanging over my head.’ ”

To his surprise, he soon heard James saying the same thing. The superstar said he regretted the infamous “The Decision” broadcast. He said he didn’t think it out properly. In short, many of the things Gilbert was thinking about his own actions.

“I apologized and we talked and it took maybe 15 or 20 minutes. That’s it. Then I said, ‘Is that enough about the past?’ And we started talking about the future.”

Update, 10:40 a.m. — Wizards replace perfect fit with a Hall of Famer

Even swap?

Update, 10:38 a.m. — Mavericks-Rockets rivalry extends off the court

Never let business get personal.

Update, 10:20 a.m. — Rockets on the clock for Parsons

This is going to be a long day in both Houston and Dallas as the Rockets consider their options on Chandler Parsons. The countdown clock is ticking for Daryl Morey and Co. Do they match the Mavericks’ offer sheet to Parsons now that Trevor Ariza is in the fold?

They have until 11:59 p.m. to decide.

Update, 9:50 a.m. — The ultimate power

The power of LeBron!

Update, 9:40 a.m. — Deng, Heat far apart

The Heat can close the gap and stay relevant in the Eastern Conference chase with Deng in the fold.