Posts Tagged ‘Puerto Rico’

FIBA Update: Puerto Rico Is Going To Spain

.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – FIBA qualifying is still as wide open as ever, especially in Caracas, where the final day of pool play will determine the Americas’ three automatic berths for next summer’s World Cup of Basketball.

All we know right now is that Puerto Rico is going to Spain next summer. They clinched a spot in the FIBA Americas semifinals and one of the four bids with a thrilling victory over Venezuela on Saturday night.

Venezuela led by 22 points in the second quarter and was up 11 with four minutes left in the fourth, but J.J. Barea and Renaldo Balkman led Puerto Rico all the way back. Venezuela had chances to win at the end of regulation and overtime, but Donta Smith came up empty both times.

Barea led all scorers with 30 points, hitting seven of his 11 3-point attempts, two of them desperation heaves late in the shot clock in the final minutes of the fourth and overtime. Balkman, meanwhile, finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and three blocks. The competition isn’t the best and he has his issues, but he has looked great in these games.

Venezuela, playing without Greivis Vasquez and Greg Echenique, still has a shot at the top four, but must beat on Sunday night and get some help in one of the earlier games.

The Dominican Republic came up with two huge wins over the last two nights to put themselves in great position for one of the top four spots. They handed Puerto Rico their only loss on Friday and then beat Canada on Saturday, coming back from early deficits in each game.

So if the D.R. can beat 2-5 Uruguay on Sunday, they will qualify for a major international competition (Olympics or World Championship) for the first time since 1978. They’re playing without Al Horford, but have been led by James Feldeine, a New York native who plays in the Spanish League, and the Rockets’ Francisco Garcia.

Mexico is the other team with its destiny in its own hands. And with Puerto Rico having already clinched a top-four spot, Mexico has a better shot of knocking off P.R. and clinching their own berth in the W.C.O.B. on Sunday.

The big game on Sunday will be between Canada and Argentina (2 p.m. ET). The loser of that game will finish fifth or sixth and fail to qualify for the World Cup. The winner, however, isn’t necessarily in either, because they could be tied for fourth with Venezuela.

In a two-way tie, head-to-head is the first tiebreaker.

If Canada, Mexico and Venezuela all win Sunday, Mexico would finish third (with 12 points), Venezuela would finish fourth (because they beat Canada), and Canada would finish fifth.

If Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela all win Sunday, Mexico would finish third (with 12 points), Argentina would finish fourth (because they beat Venezuela), and Venezuela would finish fifth.

If Canada and Venezuela win, but Mexico loses, all three teams would have 11 points. In that case, Canada would likely finish third (with a +41 point differential going into Sunday), and fourth place could come down to Venezuela’s margin of victory over Jamaica.

If Argentina and Venezuela win, but Mexico loses, all three teams would have 11 points. In that case, Argentina would finish third (2-0) against the other two, Mexico would finish fourth (1-1), and Venezuela would finish fifth (0-2).

That’s not all the possibilities, because the Dominican Republic (if they don’t beat Uruguay) could finish with 11 points too. But you get the picture.

FIBA Americas standings

Team W L PTS Diff. Sunday opponent
Puerto Rico 5 1 11 +46 Mexico
Dominican Rep. 4 2 10 +30 Uruguay
Mexico 4 2 10 +16 Puerto Rico
Canada 3 3 9 +41 Argentina
Argentina 3 3 9 +13 Canada
Venezuela 3 3 9 0 Jamaica
Jamaica 1 5 7 -52 Venezuela
Uruguay 1 5 7 -94 Dominican Rep.

So there are five teams playing for three spots on Sunday. Here’s the schedule, with all the games on ESPN 3.

Sorting out Eurobasket

Eurobasket is 3/5 of the way through the first round, which will wrap up on Monday. The top three teams in each group will advance to the second round.

In Group A, Mike Fratello’s Ukraine squad remains unbeaten, but will play Tony Parker and France on Sunday. In Group B, Lithuania got a big win over Latvia on Friday. Slovenia remains in control of Group C, while Greece and Italy will play for the top spot in Group D on Friday.

Eurobasket top offenses (points scored per 100 possessions) through three games:
1. Greece – 119.2
2. Georgia – 113.9
3. France – 112.9

Eurobasket top defenses (points allowed per 100 possessions) through three games:
1. Spain – 75.6
2. Finland – 83.4
3. Czech Republic – 87.0

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas top four
12 FIBA Americas top four
13 FIBA Americas top four
14 FIBA Americas top four
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

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

FIBA Update: Spain Upset, Puerto Rico Stays Unbeaten

x

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Thursday was a big day in FIBA qualifications, with the second round of FIBA Americas getting started and Day 2 at Eurobasket seeing a thrilling upset.

Down goes Spain

The story of the day was Slovenia coming back from 10 points down to beat Eurobasket favorite Spain. The Suns’ Goran Dragic led the way for the tournament’s hosts, registering 18 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

The game was more important for Slovenia, who now looks like a strong candidate to earn one of Europe’s six automatic berths to next year’s World Cup, than Spain. The two-time defending Euro champs have finished first (2011 Eurobasket, 2009 Eurobasket, 2006 World Championship) or second (2012 Olympics, 2008 Olympics, 2007 Eurobasket) in six of their last seven international competitions (the exception being the 2010 World Championship), despite losing preliminary-round games in almost all of them.

But there wasn’t any clear gamesmanship on Spain’s part. Marc Gasol played all but three minutes on Thursday.

Down to the wire

Slovenia-Spain was a great game, and it wasn’t the only thriller on Thursday. Latvia edged Montenegro on a jumper by Kristaps Janicenoks in the final seconds, Croatia beat Georgia on a Ante Tomic, pick-and-roll layup, and Belgium outlasted Germany in overtime.

The ends of these FIBA games can be really fun, because there are fewer timeouts in the final possessions. You’re not allowed to call a timeout on a live ball.

What happened to Turkey?

As someone who witnessed Turkey’s magical run to the 2010 World Championship gold medal game first-hand, it’s disappointing to see how much they’ve fallen off. They’ve been a mess offensively without long-time point guard Kerem Tunceri (whose absence on the roster was the coach’s decision, according to my Turkish friends on twitter) and with Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova combining to shoot 11-for-38 (29 percent).

More disappointing is the Turkish defense, which was dominant in 2010 and has allowed about 108 points per 100 possessions in their two games this week. With their size, they can extend their 2-3 zone out beyond the 3-point line, but they didn’t really go to it until the third quarter on Thursday. And when they did, Italy just picked it apart.

The good news for Turkey is that Hedo’s tan looks fabulous.

Greece back on top

The bad news for Turkey is that, after a day off, they next face Greece, who has the tournament’s best point differential after two games. Greece had a couple of down years (they didn’t qualify for last year’s Olympics), but has looked strong in wins over Sweden and Russia.

Greece is one of seven unbeaten teams. The most surprising of the seven has to be Finland, who has been led by former first-round pick Petteri Koponen. Also unbeaten is the Ukraine, coached by TNT’s Mike Fratello.

Big wins for Canada, Puerto Rico

While Spain can brush off Thursday’s loss, every game at the FIBA Americas tournament is critical right now, because the top four teams after this round of games will earn the automatic bids to next year’s World Cup of Basketball.

So Canada’s 89-67 win over Mexico, putting them in second place with three games to play, was huge. The Spurs’ Cory Joseph, now averaging 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists, has been one of the best players in the tournament.

Also big was Puerto Rico’s win over Argentina. Puerto Rico trailed by 16 midway through the second quarter, but came back and took control with a 13-0 run late in the third. They haven’t clinched a top-four spot just yet, but as the only undefeated team in the tournament, they’re in great shape.

Former Knick and Nugget Renaldo Balkman has been huge for P.R., averaging 20.6 points and 8.4 boards through five games.

Action in FIBA Americas and Eurobasket continues Friday.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 FIBA Americas champion
12 FIBA Americas 2nd place
13 FIBA Americas 3rd place
14 FIBA Americas 4th place
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

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

Argentina Tops Brazil For Title

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If the championship game of the FIBA Americas didn’t really mean anything, since both teams had already locked up their Olympic bids, someone forgot to tell the players from Argentina and Brazil. Because Sunday night’s game in MarDel Plata, Argentina didn’t look anything like a friendly exhibition.

Luis Scola scored a tournament-high 32 points to lead Argentina to the 80-75 win and their second FIBA Americas title, their last coming a decade ago. Scola earned MVP honors after carrying his team in a tight game for the win. Carlos Delfino added 16 points and nine rebounds for the winners. Marcus Vinicius led Brazil with 17 points and Tiago Splitter added 12.

Scola was joined on the All-Tournament team by his Argentina teammate Manu Ginobili, the Dominican Republic’s Al Horford, Puerto Rico’s Carlos Arroyo and Brazil’s Marcelo Huertas.

By virtue of making the title game, Argentina and Brazil earned spots in London next summer for the Olympics. Horford led the Dominican Republic with 23 points as they topped Puerto Rico 103-89 in the third-place game. The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela all earned invites to the qualifying tournament next July with their top five finishes in this competition.

Argentina Wins Battle Of Unbeatens

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (NEW JERSEY BUREAU) – Day 4 of the FIBA Americas Championship 2011 in Mar del Plata, Argentina brought the two biggest matchups of the tournament thus far. Neither game disappointed, though a couple of guards (Marcelo Huertas and J.J. Barea) did.

Trending up: Dominican Republic (3-1)
Trending down: Brazil (2-1)

Canada 84, Cuba 62 (Boxscore)

Canada went back to shooting poorly (4-for-15) from 3-point range, but that didn’t matter, because Cuba was much worse (1-for-14). After the teams each scored a bucket in the first two minutes, Canada went on a 15-0 run and never looked back, earning their second straight win.

After hitting some big threes against the Dominican Republic just 17 hours earlier, Andy Rautins was 0-for-5 from beyond the arc, but he got to the line eight times in 21 minutes.

If Canada beats Venezuela on Saturday, they’d finish in a three-way tie for first with Brazil and the Dominican Republic. But thanks to the tie-breaker (see below), the best they can do is finish third in Group A (unless Cuba pulls off a miracle upset of Brazil).

Uruguay 77, Panama 61 (Boxscore)

Uruguay established itself as the third best team in Group B with a comfortable victory. The game was close until early in the third quarter, when Uruguay took control with a 19-6 run. Esteban Batista was the star of the game, finishing with 24 points (on 9-for-13 shooting) and 10 rebounds.

Dominican Republic 79, Brazil 74 (Boxscore)

After the way the Dominican Republic played against Canada just 24 hours earlier, this was maybe the most surprising result of the tournament. Brazil led by seven late in the third quarter, but a pair of Francisco Garcia threes highlighted an 11-2 Dominican run that gave them the lead heading into the fourth.

The fourth quarter was tight throughout, but the Dominican defense was at its best and never gave up the lead. Garcia sealed the game when he stripped Tiago Splitter in the post in the final minute.

  • This was easily Garcia’s best game of the tournament. He hit four of his five attempts from beyond the arc and finished with 14 points.
  • This was easily Marcelo Huertasworst game of the tournament. He shot 7-for-11 from the field, but was sloppy with his passing, committing 10 turnovers.
  • One of those turnovers was a clean strip by Dominican big man Jack Michael Martinez, who switched out on Huertas on the perimeter at the end of the second quarter. Martinez stole the ball and found Al Horford under the basket on the other end to give D.R. a four-point lead going into the half.
  • Brazil was an efficient 25-for-41 from inside the arc, but made just five of their 22 shots from 3-point range and just nine of their 16 free throws.
  • Despite the loss, Brazil is still in position to win Group A. If both Canada (2-1) and Brazil (2-1) win on Saturday and there’s a three-way tie with the Dominican Republic (3-1), the tiebreaker is determined by the ratio of points to opponents’ point in the head-to-head games between the three teams. Brazil’s ratio was 143/136 (1.05), the Dominican’s was 151/147 (1.03), and Canada’s was 130/141 (0.92).

Argentina 81, Puerto Rico 74 (Boxscore)

This was the game to determine first place in Group B, and it lived up to the billing. It was tight until early in the third quarter when Argentina was finally able to corral Carlos Arroyo and used a blistering 16-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into an 11-point lead.

Arroyo didn’t get nearly enough help from his teammates. Meanwhile, Argentina played like a cohesive unit, getting big contributions from Manu Ginobili (23 points), Luis Scola (16 points, seven boards and two blocks) and Carlos Delfino (14 points and three steals).

  • Arroyo had a pretty amazing minute of basketball late in the first half, when he was wholly responsible for a 7-0 run that gave Puerto Rico a 33-27 lead. It started with a pretty pick-and-roll feed to Daniel Santiago. Then, after Ginobili missed a shot, Arroyo hit Alex Galindo with a nifty touch pass on the break. And on the possession after that, he stepped into a three on another high pick-and-roll. Less than two minutes later, he hit Santiago with another pretty dish for a three-point play.
  • Arroyo is about 10 times more entertaining (and aggressive) when he plays for Puerto Rico than when he plays in the NBA.
  • J.J. Barea is far less so. For the second straight game, Barea struggled from the field, shooting 3-for-10 after a 1-for-8 game against Uruguay on Thursday. And when Argentina double-teamed Arroyo in the second half, Barea wasn’t able to pick up the slack.
  • Delfino was just 1-for-4 from 3-point range, but had two incredible and-ones under the basket in the third quarter.
  • After scoring 10 points in the first quarter in each of Argentina’s first two games, Scola had just 10 through the first three quarters on Friday. But he hit three straight shots midway through the fourth to help put the game away.
  • After sitting out the first two games, Fabricio Oberto got his first action of the tournament. He scored two points in 12 minutes.

What’s Next For J.J. Barea?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Aside from Dirk Nowitzki, no player on the Dallas Mavericks’ roster has seen his stock rise higher than J.J. Barea has the past two months.

The Mavericks’ backup point guard turned the postseason into his own personal coming out party. When he was inserted into the starting lineup in The Finals, the Mavericks took off, finishing the Miami Heat in six games. Barea’s free-agent stock is soaring and he knows it. While he’s made it clear that his preference is to return to Dallas and chase another championship with Nowitzki and the boys, he recognizes his options.

He detailed his situation for Primera Hora’s Raul Alzaga, including where else he would consider playing. Somewhat surprisingly the Lakers, whose Andrew Bynum roughed Barea up in the final seconds of the Mavericks’ Game 4 thrashing and sweep of the then two-time defending champs, are on his list. The Knicks and Heat — joining Miami which would put Puerto Rico’s favorite NBA son much closer to home — were his other top choices. He also said there is interest from Sacramento, which already has Tyreke Evans, could re-sign free agent Marcus Thornton and picked up Jimmer Fredette in the Draft.

As intriguing as Barea’s free agent possibilities are, we were even more interested in his opinions on a couple of the superstars the Mavericks faced during their title run (translation courtesy of HT fave, Hang Time Podcast regular and Palm Beach Post Heat watcher Ethan J. Skolnick):

And when asked whether LeBron James was the best defender, he put Kobe Bryant ahead of the Heat forward, because Bryant has a little more of a winning mentality than James. He said that James might get that mentality someday, but Bryant has already proven it.

Whatever Barea decides to do in the future, we’re convinced this won’t go over well in the Heat locker room. Making nice about Kobe, on the other hand, might help Barea avoid future instances like this one:

Notes From FIBA Day 2

Hooked on Love. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL – Day 2 of the World Championship is in the books. The U.S. had a bit of a rough stretch between the first and second quarters against Slovenia, but they recovered well for another win by 20-plus.

That ugly stretch and the travel calls, specifically, were the focus of today’s post-game analysis.

As you’ll read there, Boki Nachbar thought that there weren’t enough of those travel calls made against the U.S. on Sunday. And from all the whistles I heard, I’d say that the Slovenian fans in the crowd agreed with him.

I was actually asking Boki about the refs calling the game loose, because it seemed to me that the U.S. was allowed to push the Slovenians around a bit defensively (even more contact than you regularly see in FIBA ball). But here was his full response…

“The one thing that bothers me is too many times the refs looked away when they traveled. This is FIBA basketball. In FIBA basketball, you’re not allowed to take two steps before you put the ball down. And too many times, the refs don’t call that when Team USA’s on the floor. That’s the only thing that I have to say. Otherwise, they were good.”

***

Kevin Love is beastly. He’s now got 21 boards in 26:38 of playing time over the last two days. That’s 31.5 rebounds per 40 minutes. Not bad.

“That’s what I do,” he says. “That’s how I make my money.”

He admits, though, that his role is a little different than it is back in Minnesota.

“Playing with all these guys, they definitely open up the floor. I know that if I’m going to stay in the game and play minutes, I have to get out there and get every rebound. That’s kind of what coach tells me. Right before I go in the game, he says ‘get me every rebound.'”

And coach Mike Krzyzewski will probably be telling him that a little earlier in the game on Monday.

***

Things continue to go as planned in Group B, with Croatia beating Iran and Brazil cruising past Tunisia. This group will start to get interesting on Monday.

And Nachbar admitted today that his team is focused on its next two games.

“That wasn’t the most important game in the tournament for us, so we’re not too worried or concerned,” he said after Sunday’s loss to the U.S. “Croatia and Brazil are the most important games. They’re our rivals for the second spot in the group, so those are the most important games for us.”

Slovenia plays Croatia in the first game on Monday.

***

For now, the other groups are where the fun is at.

Group D almost had another shocker, as Canada led Lithuania by 17 points midway through the third quarter before blowing the lead missing on three chances to win or tie in the final minute-plus. The win keeps Lithuania tied with France atop the group.

Puerto Rico put another scare into Greece in Group C, but it was Group A that had the two most thrilling games.

Germany upset Serbia 82-81 in double-OT with the Germans’ final points coming on a ridiculous shot by Jan Jagla and Milenko Tepic missing on a drive that could have won it for Serbia in the final seconds.

So I guess Serbia won’t completely withstand the suspensions of Nenad Krstic and Milos Teodosic after all.

And in the nightcap in Kayseri, Argentina used a 13-0 fourth-quarter run to come back and beat Australia, but not before they came a hair away from blowing it in the final seconds.

Argentina was inbounding the ball with a two-point lead and 3.5 seconds on the clock, but they threw the inbounds pass away without it touching anyone. Australia then inbounded the ball into the corner, and Adam Gibson’s three went in … and out.

So at 2-0, Argentina is the only team in the World Championship that sits alone atop its group’s standings.

***

The U.S. will conclude their three games in three days with Monday’s matchup vs. Brazil (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Brazil has beaten Iran and Tunisia by almost identical scores (81-65 and 80-65), the only team in the tournament, other than the U.S. to have won two games by 15 points or more.

Essentially, this game is for first place in Group B. If the U.S. wins, they’re on their way to a 5-0 mark. And if Brazil wins, they’re not likely to lose two more, and would have the tie-breaker against the U.S. should both teams finish 4-1.

Anderson Varejao, still nursing a sore ankle, has sat out the first two games. But the word from the Brazilian media is that he will play against the U.S., and maybe against Slovenia on Wednesday if his team needs him.

Monday will be an opportunity for American fans to get a good look at Tiago Splitter, who will be playing with the San Antonio Spurs next season.

***

If the U.S. beats Brazil, then we can start looking ahead to their possible round-of-16 matchups and what other teams will be on their side of the bracket, because neither Iran or Tunisia will have a chance against them.

***

Turkish lesson of the day: İyi günler! = Have a nice day!

***

More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Notes from FIBA Day 1

Takeover mode was not needed on this night. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL – Game 1 is in the books. After a bit of a slow start, the U.S. took care of business, handing Croatia a 28-point loss. Here’s the post-game analysis, focusing on the 50-15 run that started when Croatia took its only lead of the night.

Interior defense continues to be an issue. And it would help if Tyson Chandler could defend without fouling. He’s now picked up four fouls in each of the last three games. That’s 12 fouls in less than 29 minutes of playing time, or about 17 fouls per 40 minutes.

He told me Friday that foul trouble isn’t much of a concern because he’s not playing big minutes anyway, but he’s still giving guys free trips to the line and allowing the opponent to get in the bonus that much earlier.

***

The big run allowed Mike Krzyzewski to empty the bench early in the third quarter. And when you have to play three straight days, it helps when nobody has to play more than 22 minutes on Day 1.

***

Early in the second quarter, Kevin Durant followed a filthy dunk (plus one) with a shake-and-bake step-back jumper, and I thought he was going to go into takeover mode right there. But it wasn’t needed. Durant led the U.S. with 11 field goal attempts, but every guy took at least two shots, and only Chandler took less than four.

***

First-day action in the other three groups was clearly more interesting than here in Istanbul, where Slovenia handled Tunisia 80-56 and Brazil beat Iran 81-65.

The shocker of the day came in Group D, where France beat Spain in Izmir, 72-66. This looked like the weakest group in the competition, and the assumption was that Spain would go 5-0, putting them on the same side of the medal-round bracket as the U.S. should the Americans win Group B.

If Spain finishes second, now a possibility, they would be on the opposite side of the bracket, with the winners of Groups A and C, possibly facing Argentina in the quarterfinals.

The question is: Is there another team in Group D that can go 5-0? Lithuania is the most likely candidate, but they’re still not as good as Spain. So that will be an interesting matchup when those two teams meet on Tuesday. And if Spain wins, they would still win the group (assuming that France doesn’t go 4-1 too).

***

That was the only real upset of the day, but a couple of other teams came close to pulling one off.

China put a scare into Greece, led early in the fourth quarter, and had a chance to go ahead again with less than three minutes to go, but Greece stopped them on five straight possessions to hold on for the win.

Yi Jianlian led China with 26 points, but also a costly turnover down the stretch.

The other near-upset came in Group A, where Jordan led Australia by as many as 11 and was up five with just over a minute left. Australia scored six straight points down the stretch to take the lead and on Jordan’s final possession, Zaid Abbaas missed a bunny of a tip-in before time expired. Australia’s win keeps them in position to finish second or third in the group and likely avoid a matchup with the U.S. in the round of 16.

***

Two games on Saturday could really have an impact on the final standings. In Group C, Russia beat Puerto Rico, putting them in the driver’s seat to finish third behind Greece and Turkey. And in Group D, Lebanon beat Canada, really hurting the Canadians’ chances to advance to the medal rounds.

***

Next up for the U.S. is Slovenia on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2). It took a while for Slovenia to separate themselves from Tunisia today, but a big third quarter put the game away.

Game time is 4:30 p.m. locally, so it will be interesting to see how much energy the U.S. has in the first few minutes. In their two afternoon exhibition games, they got off to slow starts (at least offensively) against China and France.

On Friday, I caught up with former Rocket/Hornet/Net and class act Boki Nachbar. Here’s his take on his Slovenian team.

“We’ve gradually been getting better as a team the last five or six years. This year, we have some key players missing. We probably have three or four players from the starting five missing. We’re not at full strength compared to last year at the European Championship, when I thought we had a stronger team, at least on paper.”

That team finished fourth at Eurobasket last year and lost by just one point to Greece in the bronze medal game (Nachbar missed a half-court runner at the buzzer). The key component that they’re missing this year is 6-11 center Erazem Lorbek, who led the ’09 team with 16.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest.

More Boki: “But as always we’re going to have great fan support. A lot of fans will come from Slovenia, because it’s a short flight. So in a way, we feel like we’re playing at home.”

No kidding. I arrived at the arena for the start of the Slovenia-Tunisia game, and while the building was only half full, 95 percent of that half was dressed in green. And those Slovenians were loud. This will be an away game for the U.S.

Boki, part III: “We want to make our best results so far, as far as the World Championship. We’ve never made the top eight before as a national team, so for us to make the top eight would be a good accomplishment. After that, we’ll see what happens.”

Also missing is from this squad is Beno Udrih (though he didn’t play last year), who quit the team last month because he wasn’t happy with his role. But with Jaka Lakovic and the Suns’ Goran Dragic, Slovenia is still strong at the point guard position.

Lakovic shot 28-for-61 (46 percent) from 3-point range at Eurobasket last year, so the U.S. point guards can’t leave him open. Dragic, we know, likes to make plays off the dribble.

Andre Iguodala will likely get the assignment of guarding Nachbar, Slovenia’s best scorer on the wing who shot 4-for-7 from 3-point range against Tunisia. And keep an eye for Miha Zupan off the bench. He’s the Slovenian Brian Scalabrine.

***

Question for any Slovenians out there: Why does the team wear green if the Slovenian flag is white, blue and red? E-mail me.

Turkish lesson of the day: Bu bey/bu hanım, her şeyi ödeyecek = This gentleman/lady will pay for everything.

***

More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

World Championship Eve

ISTANBUL – Day 2 in Turkey. And with Game 1 of the World Championship just 24 hours away, the U.S. National Team had a light, no-contact practice at the Abdi Ipekci Arena. They went over their offense and defense and then got in some shooting.

Rudy Gay: “Today, we really got into detail. We were trying to go over our sets and make sure when we go into the real games that we know what we are doing.”

Croatia should provide a decent test for the U.S. on Saturday (Noon ET, ESPN Classic). They finished sixth at last year’s Eurobasket even though they were missing two of their most talented players, Marko Tomas and Bojan Bogdanovic, a 21 year old draft prospect on the wing.

NBA fans should remember point guards Roko Ukic (85 games with the Raptors and Bucks) and Zoran Planinic (three seasons with the Nets), who can both get into the lane and make plays. Tomas will likely be their top scorer for the tournament, but big man Ante Tomic will be the guy that the U.S. will have to worry most about.

Tomic, who was drafted in the second round by the Jazz in 2008, is 7-foot-2 and has solid offensive skills, but he’s not too strong. A Tomic-Lamar Odom matchup could be fascinating to watch.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski on Croatia: “We have a lot of respect for them. Their guard play is outstanding. Ukic is one of the best international guards and (Marko) Popovic is just a veteran. There size is a concern, they have five guys who were 6-11 or above so we don’t have as big of team. They have a rich tradition and we have a lot of respect for who they are.”

***

Need a preview of the World Championship? Here’s a written version and here’s a video version…

***

Saturday’s game of the day looks to be the Russia-Puerto Rico matchup in Ankara at 11:30 a.m. ET, which could decide third and fourth place in Group C.

NBA TV will have Greece-China at 9 a.m. ET and France-Spain at 2 p.m. ET. If you’re in the U.S., you can watch every game on ESPN3. Elsewhere, you can watch them at fibatv.com.

***

The U.S. team had a three-car police escort to practice today. It wasn’t quite the experience the 2008 team had in Shanghai (when police blocked every entrance to the highway for several miles on the way to the airport), but a three-car escort for practice is still impressive.

Of course, the police escort took the long way to the arena.

***

The Anti-Atkins Diet.

After practice, I went with the NBA Entertainment crew for an authentic Turkish family-style lunch, which was terrific.

If you’re on the Atkins diet, Istanbul is not the place for you. The meal started out with big plates of bread (round rolls with seeds) and a variety of sauces and concoctions for you to eat the bread with (see the photo to the right). Great stuff.

And then came the main course, plates of four different types of meat (beef, spicy beef, chicken and pork), served with peppers, rice and fries.

Most of us in the group are passing on dinner tonight, because lunch was so filling.

***

Remember the beard-growing contest a few years ago between DeShawn Stevenson and Drew Gooden? I think Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala are doing something similar, except with the hair on top of their heads. Both are letting it grow out this summer, but I think Rudy is winning.

***

In case you missed it yesterday, FIBA handed out suspensions for the Greece-Serbia brawl. Nenad Krstic (Serbia) got three games, while Milos Teodosic (Serbia), Antonis Fotsis (Greece) and Sofoklis Schortsanitis (Greece) got two games each.

Both teams should be able to withstand the suspensions fairly easily. Serbia’s first three games are against Angola, Germany and Jordan, the three weakest teams in Group A. Greece’s first two games are against China and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is tough, but their best players are in the backcourt, so the absences of their two big men shouldn’t hurt too much.

***

Turkish lesson of the day: Anlamıyorum = I don’t understand.

***

More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.