LONDON – That gold medal rematch of the 1972 Olympic final that folks have been buzzing about around here for two weeks is not going to happen.
There still could be a rematch Sunday. It just won’t include Russia. David Blatt‘s team held a 13-point lead over Spain but couldn’t hold off Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Marc Gasol and the rest of a seasoned Spanish team that rallied for a 67-59 win in the first semifinal of the day.
The U.S. Men’s Senior National Team squares off with Argentina in the second semifinal (4 p.m. ET, NBC). If the U.S. wins we’ll get that rematch, but of the 2008 gold medal game in Beijing, won by the U.S.
Pau Gasol led Spain with 16 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Russia, capping a crazy day in which he found out the Dwight Howard trade was finalized during warm ups from TNT’s Craig Sager.
“Craig Sager came to me before the game, chasing me, telling me it was official, and telling me he wanted to get some thoughts while I’m stretching before the Olympic semifinal,” a smiling Gasol said from the podium afterwards. “I told him, ‘look, I’m trying to be focused here.’ And he said, ‘I wouldn’t do this to you if it wasn’t official,’ so I had to give him a little something to he would go away and I could stretch.”
Gasol and his Spanish teammates can stretch out tonight and watch the U.S. Argentina to see who they’ll have to fight with for that gold medal Sunday.
We’ll be here, too, chronicling the action play-by-nearly-every-play. Get your predictions in now …
LONDON – Spain followed up their opening day win over China with another strong effort in a 82-70 win over Australia.
Pau Gasol led Spain with 20 points. Rudy Fernandez added 17 points. Marc Gasol finished with 12. And they did all of this without the services of their captain and one of their leading scorers. Juan Carlos Navarro sat out with a sore left foot.
Australia (0-2) got 12 points each from Joe Ingles and Brad Newley.
HANG TIME, Texas — Maybe they’ve never heard the old saying about letting sleeping dogs lie in Spain.
It sure seemed foolish that Marc Gasol, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Sergio Rodriguez and Victor Claver would want to wade into the debate about the merits of the original 1992 Dream Team vs. the 2012 edition.
And it looked a little sillier after the Americans whipped Spain 100-78 Tuesday night in Barcelona. Admittedly, Gasol did not play due to a shoulder injury and Rodriguez was strictly an observer in the final tuneup game before the start of the Olympic tournament. Nevertheless, here is the excerpt of an interview that was posted on Hoopshype:
Which American team is better: the Barcelona ’92 team or the current one?
Marc Gasol: Who has created this debate? They have, right? On a bad day for the ’92 team, the current team would lose by just 15 or 20 points against them.
Jose Calderon; It’s impossible to compare. That ’92 was breathtaking and we grew up watching them. (The current team) is also very good and if they win the gold medal, then you can start comparing. I don’t like to compare. It’s different players and different generations.
Rudy Fernandez: No disrespect to this current team, but I would choose the ’92 team. We all grew up with that team, I lived in Barcelona at that time, the players were amazing and they were the stars on their teams.
Juan Carlos Navarro: They are teams from different eras. Both are great teams, but I especially liked the ’92 Dream Team. I was young and my favorite player was on that team: Michael Jordan.
Sergio Rodriguez: I would say the Dream Team. That team in Barcelona was special for us Spaniards. Now we have two All-Star players, a lot of players on this team have played in the NBA… Something that was impossible to even dream about 20 years ago.
Victor Claver: The current team has to prove it. The ’92 team was the Dream Team, they won it all and they were dominant.
While we’ll concede that the members of Team Espana didn’t engage in any direct trash-talking or say anything egregiously inflammatory, one would think that it is not wise to give the favored Team USA any motivational edge. After all, that Kobe fella has a long, sharp-edged memory and he and his teammates will likely get to do their talking in the gold medal game on Aug. 12.
Is Denver a legitimate championship contender or merely a flashy second-tier team? After losing at home to the Clippers and then on the road in Memphis, the Nuggets need a win in L.A. to prove that their season will not yield still another pile of fool’s gold.
Meanwhile, the Clippers are in full sail. After a slow start, and with Chris Paul finally healthy, they seek to establish themselves as the righteous successors to Dallas.
HOW THE NUGGETS CAN WIN: While there’s no doubt that Danilo Gallinari is a budding star, he must be more consistent. If his treys are falling, defenders have to honor every ball fake, which will enable Gallinari to plow his way into the paint. Also, when Gallinari is shooting bull’s-eyes from beyond the arc, the Clippers’ defense will be sufficiently stretched to allow more open spaces and lanes for his teammates to attack the rim.
Ty Lawson is back in action and adds quickness and speed to Denver’s already potent offense. Since CP3 is an habitual head-turner and not an effective man-to-man defender, he resorts to looking for steals. Accordingly, Lawson must protect the ball and take advantage of Paul’s somewhat risky maneuvers. Also, Lawson must force Paul to either drive or pull left. And since Paul’s shooting has dramatically improved season after season, Lawson does not dare to offer any defensive help.
Nene has to set sturdier screens than is his wont, hit his mid-range jumpers and overpower DeAndre Jordan in the low post. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We hesitate here at Hang Time to act too prematurely, to jump the gun, to make a statement that’s obsolete in five minutes. But we’ll venture on a limb and say tonight’s game in Portland between the Blazers and Lakers (10:30 ET, TNT) has statement-making written all over it.
Just look at the Blazers. What are they doing leading the Northwest Division, ahead of Denver (another neat story going on there) and especially Oklahoma City, the sexy pick to make it out of the West? Isn’t this supposed to be a year of adjustment in Rip City, if only because Greg Oden is down (and perhaps out for good) again and Brandon Royhung it up?
Well, nobody told LaMarcus Aldridge anything about that. Same goes for the rest of the Blazers, who are piecing together a rather fine start and making you suspect this crew might have some staying power in a 66-game season.
Portland has made a habit recently of overcoming crummy luck to carve out some respectability for itself, and this season appears to be no different. Obviously the Oden situation remains haunting, and nobody saw Roy suddenly developing senior citizen knees and Rudy Fernandez never worked out to the satisfaction of everyone, especially himself. Still, the Blazers have stockpiled some solid talent in spite of everything, and more important, the talent seems to work well together. Ray Felton, Gerald Wallace, Jamal Crawford and Wesley Matthews were very nice pickups the last few years, and somebody needs to tell Marcus Camby (almost 10 rebounds a game) he’s old. Wait, don’t bother, since he won’t act his age, anyway.
It’s that time again — unfortunately, for the Lakers.
Coach Mike Brown has no idea what awaits him Thursday at the Rose Garden, a misguided arena name if ever there was one for a Lakers opponent.
The issues are much more than thorny up here. They’ve lasted almost a generation for the Lakers.
Since acquiring Kobe Bryant in a draft-day trade in 1996, the Lakers are 6-23 in Portland in the regular season, falling to the Trail Blazers year after year, whether rain or hail or the occasional burst of sunshine as their bus pulls into the oversized garage.
Phil Jackson used to blame the weather. Then he blamed the team’s semiannual visits to the Nike store in nearby Beaverton. Then he went back to blaming the weather.
It will be noisy — the Blazers’ fans are among the best in the league — adding a Super Bowl-type din to their den whenever the Lakers arrive.
The Denver Nuggets were not always the favorites, but at the end of the day, they got their big man back.
Beating back strong competition from Houston and New Jersey, the Nuggets reached terms Tuesday with free agent center Nene on a five-year, $67 million deal. Earlier in the day, the Nuggets pulled off a trade with the Mavericks, acquiring forwards Corey Brewer and Rudy Fernandez from Dallas for a second-round pick. And general manager Masai Ujiri said Tuesday night that progress had been made toward re-signing restricted free agent guard Arron Afflalo.
“Today was a good day for the Nuggets,” Ujiri said.
The Nets had an offer on the table believed to be in excess of $14 million per season for the 29-year-old Nene, who averaged 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds last season for Denver. And the Rockets coveted Nene as well, hoping to pair him with Lakers forward Pau Gasol last week when it looked like Houston would be part of the three-team deal that sent Chris Paul to the Lakers. But the deal fell through, and the Rockets couldn’t make a deal for Nene alone work.
“We’ve been grinding all along,” Ujiri said. “Nene was our guy and we stayed the course and got through it. Nene wanted to stay home. He wanted to test free agency, but at the end of the day he wanted to stay home and play for the Nuggets. Nene will be a good player for us for a long time.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The top four spots at EuroBasket 2011 will be decided Sunday with defending champion Spain taking on France in Lithuania. They’ve both already clinched bids to the 2012 London Olympics, but there is still plenty to play for in a rivalry contest such as this one.
This is, after all, the battle for European basketball supremacy.
Russia and FYR Macedonia will battle it out in the bronze medal, having both already clinched spots in next summer’s Olympic qualifying tournament.
There were games played today, though. Consolation games (video above). Host-nation Lithuania edged Greece 73-69 in the fifth-place game. Both teams are headed for the qualifying tournament since the third through sixth-place teams in this competition earn automatic spots there.
The marquee matchup of the competition, of course, comes Sunday when global heavyweights Spain and France square off. Both of their rosters are stocked with NBA talent. Spain will be led by Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Serge Ibaka, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio. France counters with a loaded roster that includes Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and Mickael Gelabale.
These two teams have an extensive history of battling each other, having played against each other 18 times in EuroBaskets. Spain has won all but three of those matchups, including a 96-69 win in the second round to win Group E of this competition, a contest that Parker and Noah sat out so they could rest up for the quarterfinals.
“On Sunday, Spain will be clear favorites. They have dominated the EuroBaskets for several years,” Batum said. “It’s the best team in the world behind Team USA. They are strong but not unbeatable. Anything can happen.”
Vlado Ilievski‘s 3-pointer (off an assist from Bo McCalebb) with 11 seconds left pushed Macedonia ahead and they held on to pull off one of the most shocking upsets in EuroBasket history, knocking off host nation Lithuania before a raucous crowd in a hostile environment. Ilievski (12 points) and McCalebb (23 points) had plenty of company in the heroes corner in the Macedonia locker room after the game. Vojdan Stojanovski who didn’t miss a single shot, he was 5-for-5 from beyond the 3-point line, finishing with 15 points.
“This is a huge win for us. We are very happy,” Stojanovksi said. “I think we played very well and we deserved this win. I have to thank our playmakers because they put me in a position to have open shots. I was confident of making them. Spain will be a tough team but we have proved that we can beat good teams in this tournament.”
Serbia needed this win to secure their ticket to the quarterfinals and to keep their Olympic hopes alive. They also needed an Ersan Ilyasova miss in the final seconds to escape Turkey in a thriller that went down the final tense moments for both teams. It helped that Milos Tedosic finally returned to form, finishing with a game-high 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
This loss is a wicked blow for Turkey, the runner-up (to the U.S. team) at last summer’s World Championships on their home soil. ”We are very sad,” said Turkey coach Orhun Ene. ”We were second at the last World Championship and we had big expectations for this tournament. We didn’t show our potential throughout the tournament. We promised the Turkish people that we would try to qualify for the Olympics for the first time, but we lost too many games. This was our last chance and we lost the game in only one possession.”
They won’t have to search hard to find reasons why didn’t succeed. Making just 55 percent (16-for-29) of your free throws in a game decided by the thinnest of margins is certainly a recipe for disaster. Remember, they made a paltry 45 percent (10-for-22) of their free throws Friday in a six-point loss to Germany. Serbia shot an impressive 81 percent (13-for-16) from the free throw line and also grabbed three more rebounds (38-35) than Turkey.
“This was very tough. Everybody was under pressure as the winner would go to the quarterfinals,” said Serbia’s coach, Dusan Ivkovic. “We controlled the game in the first half but our concentration went down in the second half. We led the game for almost 40 minutes only to allow Turkey to have the last shot. We deserved this victory because we were better on the night.”
The top spot in Group E belongs to the defending champions, courtesy of their win over a France team that played without both Tony Parker and Joakim Noah (both given a day of rest). Without two of their biggest stars, France struggled to keep the game close after halftime. Spain used a 27-4 run in the third quarter to blow the game open and then cruised to the finish. The loss ended France’s seven-game win streak.
The difference in approach to this game was interesting, with France easing up and Spain going all out. ”It was a weird game but we wanted to respect our opponent as well as other teams who are playing in this tournament to define the final positions and especially for ourselves, we believe there is nothing better than a good game to improve and get better,” said Spain coach Sergio Scariolo. ”This was our motivation. Everybody gave something. We get to the point with the do-or-die competition starts. We know we start from zero but it’s better to get there in the right way.”
A NBA scouting friend suggested to me earlier today that it was basically an even swap.
“Miller is older at 35 but these guys do pretty much the same things,” he said. “They know how to run teams, are effective on both ends and they both have plenty of playoff experience, so you know they understand the dynamics of the job they have to do in a winning situation.”
But I’m not so sure.
Miller is a seemingly ageless wonder, much like his point guard elder statesmen brethren Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. But Felton is just 27. And he has always struck me as guy capable of so much more than he’s shown. He was on the road to showing off exactly what I’m talking about in New York last season, when he played All-Star caliber basketball, only to be traded to the Nuggets.
You put him at the controls of a Blazers team that boasts LaMarcus Aldridge down low and Brandon Roy and Wes Matthews on the wing with his old buddy Gerald Wallace (they played together in Charlotte) tossed in for good measure, and I’m seeing big things for Felton in his new role.
Rather than arguing back and forth with my scout friend I thought we’d let you help end this debate: