Posts Tagged ‘Rudy Gay’

Cousins feeling impact of short summer


VIDEO: Tag along with the Kings as they depart for their preseason trip to China

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Now, China. After Canada and Spain and the U.S. tour, and the travelogue stops there only because Ebola concerns prompted the cancellation of the planned visit to Senegal.

Three continents and 2½ months later, and nearly a fourth before USA Basketball scrapped the Africa side trip en route to the World Cup, 24-year-old DeMarcus Cousins is feeling it. Not enough that he can’t find the energy to jab teammate Rudy Gay, an aged man of 28, and not enough to stop Cousins from arriving at Kings camp in positive spirits. But enough.

“I feel like I’m about 45 years old,” he said.

This was on Tuesday night, after the exhibition victory over the Raptors at Sleep Train Arena. The next day around noon, Cousins would board the chartered 747 as part of the Kings entourage bound for China for games against the Nets in Shanghai on Saturday and Beijing on Wednesday and a busy schedule in between to promote the NBA in a very important market. And then 11 ½ hours back across the Pacific … to close preseason with three games in three states.

Seven exhibition games in all in six cities — Vancouver, Sacramento, Shanghai, Beijing, Sacramento, San Antonio and Las Vegas — and three countries would be enough of an exhibition trek for anyone. Except that Cousins also had the full USA Basketball treatment, late-July until mid-September, mini-camp and public intra-squad scrimmage in Las Vegas to practices in Chicago before a minor knee injury kept him out of the exhibition there against Brazil, to New York for two more contests, and then Spain for a final warm-up and finally the nine games that resulted in a gold medal.

Gay also played for Team USA, after being added following the Las Vegas portion, about two weeks into the calendar. But it was Cousins, though saying he was looking forward to the experience once he got there, dreading the flight to China, as in: “I wish I could just teleport there or something. Man, it’s going to be rough.”

It gets worse. When the Kings begin the regular season, it’s with six of the first nine on the road and all nine against opponents that will likely or possibly be in the playoffs. And seven different cities. Of course a lot more pins on the map.

“I have adjusted,” Cousins said. “I’m still going through the normal practices, but I may not go every time. I may sit out a couple times. Or when we’re playing five-on-five I may not play the whole time. I’m choosing my spots when I can get a little rest. The main thing is taking care of my body after the practices.

“I’ll be fine. I’m still a young fella. I’ll be good. We should worry about Rudy. He’s up in age a little bit.”

Coach Michael Malone will obviously take the unique summer schedule for both into account. Cousins played 39 minutes total in two games against the Raptors, Gay 44.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 1


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after his first practice with the Lakers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant, Nash take part in practice | Jackson wants to be a starter | Gay holding off on contract extension talk | Smith pledges to shoot less 3-pointers in Detroit

No. 1: Lakers’ Bryant, Nash participate in practice — The L.A. Lakers had one of their worst seasons ever, something that could be attributed to the number 21. That’s the total number of games that Kobe Bryant (six) and Steve Nash (15) played in for L.A. last season. With the start of training camp on Tuesday, though, the Lakers got good news simply in the fact both players suited up and made it through practice without issue. The Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan has more on Bryant and Nash’s first practice under coach Byron Scott, including Bryant’s trademark competitiveness showing up early on:

To hear everybody talk, Kobe Bryant was 26 years old, not 36. He was merely coming off a bruised thigh and scratched elbow, not a torn Achilles’ tendon and fractured knee.

The Lakers didn’t do any scrimmaging Tuesday, but Bryant made an impact while practicing for 2 hours 15 minutes, his first official action since playing only six games last season.

He had to be asked to leave the court. For his own sake.

“Basically, I had to ask Kobe to, you know, ‘Why don’t you shut it down? We’ve got another one tomorrow,'” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said, encouraging Bryant to sit out end-of-practice conditioning.

Bryant said he felt like himself, adding, “and that’s a good thing.”

It might not be glamorous, but this defense-first thing will continue for a while.

“Every day until I get to the point where I don’t think we need to. And I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Scott said. “I know in my years of playing and coaching that that’s something that wins championships.”

The running might not stop for a while either, though Nash joined Bryant in skipping the end-of-practice sprinting that left plenty of players huffing and puffing, with some even laying down or leaning against the basketball hoop support.

Nash, who will be 41 in February, practiced for about 90 minutes before heading to the sideline for some rest. Scott said he “was in great shape” after playing only 15 games last season mainly because of recurring nerve damage in his back.

The bigger deal these days is Bryant’s return to the court. Even Bryant acknowledged it.

“I think the Achilles’ injury just ignited a new challenge for me personally to see if I can do this, right?” Bryant said. “Because you don’t know. So it’s a challenge that presented itself to see if I can make this a successful comeback.”

Additionally, Lakers fans will be happy to see this bit of news from Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears:


VIDEO: Steve Nash talks after the Lakers’ practice on Tuesday

(more…)

Thunder happy to have fresh KD


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook talk about coming into the season well-rested

OKLAHOMA CITY – Kevin Durant turned 26 on Monday. Not exactly old age, but he’s also no longer the kid leader of the 25-and-under Oklahoma City Thunder fun bunch climbing the rungs of the NBA ladder.

He is on the climb to 30 now and things have become a bit more serious as titles have become more elusive. Human frailty has twice sabotaged potential championship runs in successive seasons and Durant’s upcoming eighth season in the league — and who knows, perhaps his penultimate season in OKC — presents another excellent opportunity to finish first. So with age comes a sharpened perspective, a narrowing of time and thus, a wisdom to make different decisions than one might have made previously.

Durant made one such decision in early August and not everybody appreciated it. After committing to play for Team USA and participating in its July training camp in Las Vegas, Durant exited it conflicted. He wanted to uphold his commitment, but his fatigued body was pushing him the other way and his head was telling him training camps would open two short weeks after the six-week World Cup odyssey with Team USA.

“He had actually texted me before he actually made it public that he was going to take a step back from it,” Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins, a Durant confidant, said Monday. “He asked me what I thought about it. I said it’s what’s best for you. KD did a lot. He carried the load when Russell [Westbrook] was out, he was averaging a lot of minutes, played a lot of time on the court. Going through the season he kept it going to win his MVP and he played at a high level. And we’ve been playing damn near to June every year since I’ve been here. So it’s well-deserved.”

Durant’s decision to leave Team USA three weeks before the start of the FIBA World Cup in Spain came as a surprise to everybody, including chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski. Durant had made a well-intentioned commitment to play even when many of the NBA’s other superstars had not. The 2010 world championship MVP and 2012 Olympic gold medalist put his employer and Thunder teammates ahead of country this one time. He’s been clear he plans to play for Team USA in Brazil 1n 2016.

Yet when Durant offered a well-reasoned explanation for leaving the team on short notice, some called him a quitter, suggested he was being selfish during a summer in which he reaped millions in endorsement deals and said he unfairly left the team in a lurch. The next day, Rudy Gay happily accepted an invitation to replace Durant and the U.S. cruised undefeated to another gold medal, without even having to face Durant’s Thunder teammate Serge Ibaka and might Spain, thought to be Team USA’s toughest foe.  The Americans won their semifinal and championship games by a combined 65 points.

If only they had KD.

“I think it was more so that I didn’t want to be in full-season mode in August or July,” Durant said during the Thunder’s media day on Monday when asked about his decision not to play. “I just wanted that time to just free my body and my mind of it all and just go out there and workout and work on my game and just enjoy the rest of the summer. Because I know how long the season is, and I just wanted to be fully prepared for that.”

Durant has led the Thunder to at least the Western Conference finals in three of the last four years. No player logged more minutes than he did last season and his workload over the last five seasons is beyond reproach.

“I’d rather have a guy tell the powers-to-be, ‘you know what, I can’t give you my 100 precent effort both mentally and physically,’ because if you don’t you’re not going to help your team,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I have a lot of respect for Kevin stepping up. That was not an easy decision, but he stepped up and said, ‘I wasn’t mentally and physically ready to compete with the 12 guys we had.’ He played a lot of basketball. He’s entitled to have a summer off, right?”

Westbrook also pulled out of Team USA to properly rest a right knee that had been operated on three times in the span of eight months and sidelined him for half of last season. Both players had as restful a summer as they’ve had in years. Ibaka is back at full strength from the calf injury that forced him out of the first two games of the West finals against the Spurs. There is a lot of optimism entering camp that OKC is equipped to get back to the NBA Finals.

“I was glad to see him make a decision he felt like he needed to do,” said Nick Collison, Durant’s teammate since his rookie season in Seattle. “He felt that he needed to step away and I was glad he was able to make that decision because I know that was a tough decision. So, yeah, for our team, for us, I think it’s a positive that those guys [Durant and Westbrook] are coming in fresh.”

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place. (more…)

National pride works both ways for U.S.-Serbia in FIBA World Cup final


VIDEO: The GameTime crew looks at the USA-Serbia matchup and makes picks

By Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann

MADRID — Serbia will have a decided advantage in terms of the numbers of fans they’ll have in the crowd for Sunday’s gold medal game here at the FIBA World Cup. The Serbian crowd was loud and large during its semifinal win over France and the Serbian players interact with them constantly throughout games. 

“Serbian pride” is the one advantage big man Miroslav Raduljica claims his side will have against the U.S. National Team when they face off for gold.

Members of the U.S. National Team, which hasn’t played to a decidedly pro-U.S. crowd  in this competition from Bilbao to Barcelona and now Madrid, would beg to differ.

National pride works on both sides, even though this particular group of U.S. players haven’t worked together for the years and years their Serbian counterparts have.

“We’re playing for something bigger than ourselves right now,” Kenneth Faried said after practice Saturday. “We’re playing for our country. putting on that USA jersey means more than anything. It’s like you’re playing for the Army, Navy, the Marines … guys who fight for you every day”

Dramatics aside, just earning a spot on the U.S. National Team speaks volumes, considering the number of potential candidates.

“There’s no question,” Klay Thompson said. “It’s a privilege to play for the U.S.A. There are so many talented players that it’s truly an honor to get chosen to play on the world stage for the U.S.A. I’ve had one other competition experience with (the National Team), but nothing compares to this. We’ve been working for this all summer. So we have great pride in what we’re doing out there.”

Getting a feel for the gym

The U.S. team had an extra day between its semifinal win (Thursday) and Serbia’s (Friday). But the U.S. had to travel about 400 miles from Barcelona to Madrid. And Saturday was their first exposure to the Palacio de los Deportes in Spain’s capital.

“It wasn’t really an extra day of rest,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It was a travel day. That’s one thing about coming from Barcelona, we have to get a comfort level for this court quickly, where whoever we played would have had a week playing on this court and not travel.”

No excuses, though.

“That’s not going to decide the game,” Krzyzewski added. “The game will be decided on whether we can play defense well enough to stop their very potent offense and score against their very good defense.”

Rematch

Since the break up of Yugoslavia, the United States and Serbia have never played each other in a senior-level, international competition. But this is a rematch of the championship game of the 2007 U19 tournament, when Serbia, playing at home, avenged a preliminary-round loss and beat the U.S., 74-69, for gold. Two Serbian players from that team, Raduljica and Stefan Markovic, start for the senior team now. And Stephen Curry was on that U.S. junior team.

“That’s a bad feeling,” Curry remembered. “It was tough winning silver in that game, so hopefully we can be on the other side of it this time around.”

France wins bronze

Nicolas Batum led France with 27 points as they edged Lithuania 95-93 in the bronze medal game Saturday night. Boris Diaw gave France the lead for good with a nifty reverse with 1:27 to play.

Jonas Valanciunas paced Lithuania with 25 points and nine rebounds.

Playing through the pain

Rudy Gay will get the U.S. iron man award, no matter if they take home gold or silver. The Sacramento Kings forward suffered a bruised jaw, a chipped tooth and might need a root canal when he returns home.

That skirmish at the end of the semifinal win over Lithuania was the aftermath of a cheap shot Gay took in the third quarter from one of the Lavrinovich twins, Gay wasn’t sure which one of them it was.

Gay will, however, be ready to play in Sunday’s gold medal game but he’ll do so while dealing with considerable pain.

Future star

Some of the U.S. players were afraid to try pronouncing the names of their Serbian opponents, but there’s a clear respect for how well Serbia has been playing. In particular, these guys know how hot Milos Teodosic (20.0 points per game, 74.2 percent effective field-goal percentage) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (15.3, 80 percent) have been in the medal rounds.

When asked about Bogdanovic, who was drafted by the Phoenix Suns this year, but will play in Turkey for at least two years, Krzyzewski was effusive.

“I think he has NBA potential now,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a very gifted player. He has great length for a guy who can shoot like that. I think he’s going to be an outstanding player in the NBA.”

Morning Shootaround — September 7


VIDEO: FIBA World Cup: Round of 16, Day 1 Wrap

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA routs Mexico | Spain keeps rolling | No Parker, no problem | Melo wants to be the ‘digital athlete’

No. 1: Curry lifts U.S. into quartersStephen Curry finally found the hot hand and blistered Mexico from deep, scoring 20 points and leading Team USA to an easy win and a spot in the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith was there:

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

***

No. 2: Spain stays on collision course with U.S. — Senegal kept it close in the first half, but Spain’s superior players took charge in the second half. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is in Madrid:

Spain’s 89-56 victory was a foregone conclusion from the tip and never got very interesting. But Senegal did keep the game within single digits for most of the first half and may have exposed a couple of issues for what has been the best team in the tournament.

The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have been mostly terrific over the eight days. But they had some trouble keeping Senegal’s bouncy bigs off the offensive glass in the first half. The only African team that made it through to the knockout rounds grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, with Spain securing only 13 of their opponents’ 26 missed shots and free throws.

“They’re a long team and they crash the boards,” Pau Gasol said afterward. “They chased their rebounds well and they gave themselves opportunities.”

Senegal converted all those second chances into only four points. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, lacked size in the backcourt and didn’t get much from the Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng on Saturday. He shot 1-for-9 and scored just six points. Dieng and his countrymen were a feel-good story in Group B, but were also the worst team that got through to the round of 16.

The U.S. is obviously a lot more skilled. And they have as athletic a frontline as anybody, starting Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis at the four and five. The U.S. was the fifth best offensive rebounding team in group play.

***

No. 3: Evan Fournier lifts France — The French, the reigning European champions, don’t have Tony Parker in the World Cup, so any lift they can get from Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier is welcome. He shook off a slow start to the tournament to carry France over Croatia and into the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was there:

Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s off-court dreams and on-court plans to retire as a KnickCarmelo Anthony, with the help of a business partner, launched Melo7 Tech Partners this summer. The company invests in startup firms specializing in digital media, Internet consumer ventures and technology-based operations. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports on Melo’s ambitions:

“I want to brand myself as the digital athlete,” Anthony said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in Manhattan. “Nobody really took that place. There’ve been athletes that came before me that were doing what I’m doing and there are going to be people after me that are doing what I’m doing.

“But I really want to be the pioneer for that digital athlete, and when it comes to tech I want to be the face of that space,” said Anthony, noting the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and David Beckham became known worldwide for their business ventures.

But none is known as the guy for the Digital Age. Anthony nominates himself.

“At the end of the day, we all know what’s my day job: basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s what my brand is built on, but I’m trying to take my brand to the next level, make it bigger, make it stronger.”

And there is no better place to start up a venture capital firm than New York, Anthony claimed. So add that — and Phil Jackson — as driving forces behind what kept him with the Knicks. He signed a five-year, $124 million deal ending his free agency adventure.

It was a process, Anthony stressed, that he never wants to go through again. He did five years, not two like LeBron James.

Yes, Anthony might make more in two years. He gave up about $5 million (“relative to the contract I got, it’s not a lot of money,” Anthony admitted) in staying with the Knicks. And he wants to stay put.

“I plan on ending my career here, so it wasn’t for me to go out there and try to strike a two-year deal and then have to go through this situation in two years. I’m not doing that ever again. I would never do that again. I would advise no one to ever do that,” Anthony said. “I experienced it and it’s behind me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says everyone needs to take a step back on Derrick RoseHeat meet with center Ryan HollinsKings part ways with Jeremy TylerJared Dudley said knee pain hampered him last season with ClippersGustavo Ayon prefers to play in NBA over Europe next season.

Curry finds his shot as U.S. routs Mexico 86-63


VIDEO: Recap: U.S. vs. Mexico

BARCELONA, SPAIN — Steph Curry was waiting for his shot to start falling in the FIBA World Cup.

Not anymore.

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

Mexican center Gustavo Ayon pounded the U.S. inside for 25 points and eight rebounds, numbers that look better on paper than they did in the flesh. For all of his success against Davis and Faried, the game was never really in doubt.

A lot of that has to do with Curry, one of the most experienced players on this roster, having played on the team that won gold four years ago in Turkey.

If he and Harden and Thompson can stay hot from outside, the balance U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski has been looking for will come to fruition between now and this weekend’s medal games in Madrid, provided the U.S. makes it there.

What was considered a given when Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George were expected to lead this team, changed a bit when Curry, Harden and Davis suddenly assumed the leadership (and scoring mantle) due to defections and injuries.

Curry said his own internal expectations didn’t change as some of the bigger names started to drop off, for whatever reasons.

“It was more of an opportunity,” he said of the way the roster shuffling played out. “I expected to have a big impact on the team from the get go, having the 2010 experience and being healthy now four years later. Talking to coach and going into training camp, and just getting back in that (Team) USA vibe, I definitely felt like there was a huge opportunity to be leader and be vocal and use the experience that I had, along with some of the other guys who had been here before.

“So that didn’t change at all. Obviously, as the roster shapes, you understand what’s needed of you and it becomes more real as you go through the process. Nothing really about my expectations changed … the big thing is just living in the moment and enjoying it. And that’s what I’m doing.”

The significance of doing it here in Barcelona, on this stage, where the Dream Team got it all started decades ago, has not been lost on Curry or his teammates.

Sure, there are similarities to Turkey four years ago. But there is something about this city, this building and the National Team history that courses through the place, and that’s for all involved. Coach K discussed it as well, having himself been an assistant on that 1992 team that won Olympic gold here.

The current task, though, is trying to repeat as champions in this event. For that, Curry and his crew have to indeed stay in the moment, something that 2010 team was able to do at the highest level (defeating host nation Turkey in a tense gold medal game).

Spain could be the opponent in the final this weekend in Madrid, not that Coach K, out of respect for the rest of the remaining field, would dare speak about any team other than the one up next on the U.S. schedule.

Instead, he’s focused on his team and how they are coming together after six games in eight days. When asked to assess what he’s happy and unhappy about with this crew, there was nothing negative.

“I’m not unhappy with our team,” he said. “Six games in really eight days is difficult. They give me their attention. I wish they knew each other better. You can’t force that maturation process. It’s just got to happen. But they listen. They are unselfish. And I think the main thing I’m happy about is no matter what we do offensively, the defense hasn’t suffered. We’ve played really positive defense.”

If there are any parallels from the 2010 run to gold, that’s where Curry says he sees them.

“It’s very similar,” Curry said. “We’re a new group together. We’ve played better each and every game. The focus is on winning. But it’s like coach said, we get more comfortable with each other knowing where we’re going to get our shots and driving angles and just playing off of each other. And that’s the focus and just getting more comfortable and living in the moment.”

Just like they did in Turkey.

“In 2010, we did that. Every game was fun and energetic and we just enjoyed the ride,” he said. “Now that we’re here in Barcelona and got that first medal game under our belt, we got the wheels going and we’re excited to get back to work on Tuesday.”

The Manimal bursts onto world stage

Kenneth Faried shot better than 79 percent in the first round of the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Kenneth Faried shot better than 79 percent in the first round of the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

BILBAO, Spain — Kenneth Faried sticks out in a crowd.

On a couch in the U.S. National Team’s hotel lobby on an off day, Faried dominates the scene, his dreadlocks scattered over his broad shoulders, the ideal accessory for a man whose profile is rising with every outing in the FIBA World Cup.

It’s been the same way on the court for the Denver Nuggets star, who has been the most dominant force on any team heading into the single-elimination round of the tournament. The most unlikely breakout star on a team few expected him to make, Faried has been a revelation for those unfamiliar with his relentless game.

Faried silenced his critics through the five-game pool play portion of this competition with consistent fury and a motor that lives up to every letter of his gold medal, social-media infused (#unleashthemanimal) mission on his first trip with the National Team.

This notion that an old-school power forward (not a “stretch-4″) could dominate in this fashion is reminiscent of another physical force of nature who invaded Spain years ago with the USA logo plastered across his chest. While any NBA comparison between Faried and Dream Teamer, Hall of Famer and TNT’s very own Charles Barkley end there, the proof that Faried’s trademark game made it through customs without issue has been on display since the day the National Team convened for training camp.

“Overall, from the start of training camp, he’s been the biggest and best surprise and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his starting power forward, who at one point last week was shooting a jaw-dropping 80 percent. “He’s made that happen. We never call a play for him.”

A social media superstar is born

Faried makes his own plays. He steals an inbounds pass, spins and dunks all in a single burst, leaving coaches, teammates and especially opponents in awe of a man whose energy never seems to wane.

“These first five games didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I know what Kenneth can do,” U.S. guard James Harden said. “Energy and hustle works no matter where you are, overseas, NBA, college. No matter who it is and no matter what sport. He’s done a tremendous job here in showing everybody what he can do. He’s setting screens, rebounding, offensive rebounder and scoring. He’s doing everything that we’ve asked him to do and more. He’s definitely a huge part of our team.”

Not bad for a guy who was considered a longshot, by some, to be here.

With reigning KIA NBA MVP Kevin Durant dropping out at the last-minute, just days after an injury forced Paul George out of the mix (and Kevin Love withdrawing before him), the U.S. was in need of not only a starter at power forward, but also a catalyst. Faried stepped into both roles with his usual zeal.

Silencing critics and gaining fans? That’s fine with Faried.

“I don’t know. If I am, then thank you to all my followers,” Faried said. “If I’m not, then it don’t worry me none. I just came out here to play basketball and do the sport I love to do each and every day.”

Harden, Derrick Rose and Steph Curry all have experience in the program and have won gold medals. Any one of them could still be needed to play a bigger leadership role before this tournament is over.

On to Barcelona

In the meantime, the U.S. has found a dynamic pair  of pacesetters in Faried and Anthony Davis. They are still working their way up the big man food chain in the NBA. But here in Spain, they are the unquestioned leaders of the pack.

Davis showed signs and potential when he earned a gold medal in the London Olympics in 2012. Seeing him do the things he’s doing now shouldn’t be a surprise. But no one in Bilbao saw Faried coming, including New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams, an assistant on the National Team staff who also happens to work with the big men.

“I think he’s surprised everybody, just because you can’t scout energy,” Williams said. “It’s the one thing you can’t quantify, how hard a guy plays and what his heart is made of. He’s played the same way since the first day of training camp. And he’s used to playing that way. Everybody has had to adjust to him. He hasn’t made any adjustments because that’s how he is all the time.”

The world now awaits in Barcelona, where the U.S. takes on Mexico Saturday (10 a.m. ET, ESPN2) in the round of 16 single-elimination portion of the competition.

Faried said he’s playing the only way he knows how, all-out at all times. He’s proud of the “Manimal” nickname. He earned it with years of tireless work, the stuff the world is seeing now on this grand stage., the same stuff that’s made him a force in Denver.

“I don’t think he’s playing any different now than he plays in the NBA,” Williams said. “Sometimes this [international] game slows down a bit. But he doesn’t. And that helps us. But that’s his game. He plays hard every possession.”

It’s easy to tag Faried a hustle guy, an energy guy and not necessarily recognize the skill level involved in operating that way full-time. Williams knows better, though, having to deal with Faried on a regular basis in the Western Conference.

“Back in the day playing hard was expected,” Williams said. “Now it’s a skill. So guys who play at that level they stand out. With all of the attention on shooting 3s and stretch this and stretch that, the analytics, I don’t know how you analyze energy, toughness and heart. That’s what Kenneth brings every night.”

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. Team embraces roles, style


VIDEO: Relive Team USA’s dominating win over Finland in slow motion

BILBAO, SPAIN — Forget the defections and the no-shows. The stars gathered here on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team already have. They did that in the lead up to the FIBA World Cup, sorting through different roles and a tweaked style of play that has been tailored to this group.

With no Kevin Durant or Kevin Love or Paul George, superstars who were expected to serve as the leaders and anchors for this competition, the U.S. put on an absolute defensive showcase in their opener, smashing Finland 114-55.

It was a show of force that this particular crew was eager to display, if only to remind themselves what they are capable of when they lock down defensively and spread the wealth offensively the way coach Mike Krzyzewski demands.

“We prepared the last couple of weeks for this moment and every single moment that we play in,” James Harden said. “Practices are the same way. We go hard and when it’s time to go out there we take care of business. We don’t go out there to pace ourselves. We go out there with intensity from the beginning of the game.”

It certainly helps to have talent like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and even former NBA MVP Derrick Rose backing up the starters.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Harden continued. “That’s why I said we don’t pace ourselves. We go out there with the intensity from the beginning of the game and guys come off the bench with the same thing. It’s the beauty of this team. We’ve got 10-12 guys willing to go out there and contribute in any type of way.”

It also helps to open with a Finnish side that was clearly over its heads.

A thorough beating is what was expected and that and more was delivered. It’s the ultimate sign of respect for not only the opponent but the game, something that has become the hallmark of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team under Coach K and during their 55-game win streak in World Cup (formerly World Championship) competition.

Play up to the magnitude of the moment and the results will be what they will be. No short cuts, no letting up and as we saw against Finland and have seen often in recent years, no mercy.

If you’re going to be the overwhelming favorite every time you take the floor and face hostile crowds on foreign soil, you might as well embrace that part of the process, too.

When the U.S. was busy crushing Finland with a smothering second quarter defensive display (a basket-free 29-2 surge that forced the crowd into the reality that any upset hopes were officially doomed) the joy on the floor and from the bench was obvious.

“Our coaches were encouraging us to keep up that effort by telling us every timeout, every dead ball, they only had two points or whatever,” Stephen Curry said. “That’s just motivation to keep doing what we’re doing. Defensively, that’s going to be the key for us throughout this tournament. We’re going to make some shots and we’re going to miss some shots every night. It’s just a matter of how our defensive effort is every night to get where we want to go.”

And while some teams with reasonably young and in some cases unproven stars, at least in the context of international competition, might succumb to the sort of electric crowd that greeted the U.S. Saturday, Curry loved it.

He was an integral part of the team that won gold in Turkey in 2010 and played before a hostile home crowd there in the final game.

“It was awesome,” he said of the crowd that stayed mostly silent as they piled on Finland. “They were energetic regardless of the score. It seemed like every basket Finland made was a game winner. That’s the beauty of the World Cup and it being here in Spain. A lot of teams fans can travel and see their teams play and support them. It brings a great atmosphere and one that we love to play in.”

Things get a bit trickier now with back-to-back games, the U.S. faces Turkey Sunday. But if any team in this competition is prepared for that grind, it’s the U.S.

“We’ve got to bring the same energy and effort against a good Turkey team we have a lot of history with,” Curry said. “So we’re looking forward to it.”


VIDEO: James Harden talks about the U.S. rout of Finland in the FIBA World Cup