Posts Tagged ‘Sekou Smith’

U.S. forced to work on Day 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Group C: Finland 81, Ukraine 76


VIDEO: Mike Fratello Interview

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

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

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

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

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

Group C: Dominican Republic 76, New Zealand 63

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

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

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

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

 

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA starts strong | Brazil beats France | Spurs interested in Ray Allen? | A new hope in Minnesota

No. 1: Team USA Starts Strong — After weeks of practices and exhibition games, Team USA finally started tournament play Saturday in Bilbao, Spain, in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. And they did it with style, blowing out Finland 114-55 in a game that included a 29-2 run for Team USA. NBA.com’s Sekou Smith was on the scene in Spain and writes that despite the long and winding road they traveled, the U.S. players are embracing their roles in Coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s system…

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.”

***

No. 2: Meanwhile, elsewhere in FIBA — Of course, while Team USA may be one of the favorites in Spain, they weren’t the only team tipping off yesterday. The loaded Group A began play in Granada yesterday, where NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was in attendance. According to Schuhmann, one of the big winners on the day was Brazil, who held on to beat France, 65-63…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

No. 3: Spurs interested in Ray Allen?LeBron James may have left Miami, but while Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen have stayed behind, the future plans of Ray Allen have remained a bit cloudy. Allen has said publicly he’s still unsure of what he’s going to do, but plenty of teams have expressed interest, including Cleveland and the Clippers. And now, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, we can add the defending champion San Antonio Spurs to the mix as well:

ESPN.com has learned that the Spurs are trying to barge their way into the race to sign Allen … which first, of course, requires one of the 39-year-old’s suitors to persuade him to play next season.

Allen announced last month that he’s still deciding if he wants to play what would be his 19th NBA season.

The uncertainty, mind you, has had zero impact on interest. The reigning champs from San Antonio join Doc Rivers‘ Los Angeles Clippers and, of course, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on the list of elite teams pursuing Allen. The Dallas Mavericks have also tried to make a play for Allen this summer, and there are surely other suitors yet to be identified since he remains available.

The Spurs have only one open roster spot at the moment but, as ESPN.com reported Friday, have also registered interest in Mexico star center Gustavo Ayon while remaining hopeful of re-signing reserve center Aron Baynes, whom Australia is relying on heavily at the FIBA World Cup in Spain with Andrew Bogut absent.

***

No. 4: A new hope in Minnesota: The Timberwolves may have traded away Kevin Love, one of the NBA’s best players, but in return they received a haul of talented young players, including Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. Add to that crew first-round pick Zach LaVine and incumbent point guard Ricky Rubio (who is still just 23 years old), and the Wolves have a core of exciting young talent that has fans excited, writes the AP’s John Krawczynski 

After completing the long-rumored trade that sent Love to the Cavaliers and brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota, the Timberwolves have sold more than 300 full season-ticket packages in the last week.

That beats the previous record in 2011 that was set when Ricky Rubio announced that he was coming over from Spain to play for the team.

“The organization, from president-level on down has just been re-energized,” Timberwolves senior vice president and chief revenue officer Ryan Tanke said. “Part of it is hope, and you have this great new hope.

“But then there’s also the reality, which is it was a long, tough summer. For it to come to the head that it came to and have it be the outcome that we had, I think it creates this perfect storm environment for us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Brook Lopez says he’s confident he’ll be healthier than ever this season … DeMarcus Cousins says he expected to make Team USA all along … Golden State has reached an agreement with Leandro Barbosa on a one-year deal … The Sixers are unsure whether Joel Embiid will play at all this seasonManny Pacquiao would like to sign Metta World Peace to play for his team in the Philippines … Congrats to Dwyane Wade, who married longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union Saturday …

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

 

 

FIBA World Cup: U.S. pounds Finland 114-55

BILBAO, SPAIN — The depth, talent and size of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team was on ull display in its opener at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The U.S jumped on Finland early and cruised to a an easy 114-55 win before a decidedly pro-Finland crowd that estimated at close to 10,000.

Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Rudy Gay and Derrick Rose led a balanced scoring effort for the defending World and Olympic champions. They’ll face a tougher task in Turkey, winners over New Zealand earlier in the day, on Sunday.

Finland wasn’t much of a warm-up. The U.S. lead was 60-18 at halftime, bolstered bv a jaw-dropping second quarter that saw them hold Finland without a made basket, and ballooned to 89-39 after three quarters. The U.S. forced 17 first half turnovers and used swarming defense to take Finland out of any flow they might have shown in the early moments of the game.

The 29-2 second quarter run, though, was the show force the U.S. used to set the tone.

“That’s the way we have to play,” Gay said. “That is the backbone of what this team is going to be about. Everybody knows we can score. But it all starts on defense for us.”

The U.S. has now won 55 straight games in World Cup (previously World Championship) competition.

Turkey, Ukraine win openers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The U.S. plays New Zealand Tuesday.

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

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

Blogtable: Heat hate for LBJ’s new team?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard



VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses the impact Kevin Love will have with the Cavs

> Do you feel the same way about this latest LeBron super team as you did when he formed his last one? Why or why not? (H/T to Ethan Skolnick at B/R)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Yeah, it’s exactly the same. Except, y’know, completely different. From the moment of The Decision, what LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did was more irritating and weenie. Three in-their-prime franchise players were ganging up on the league, preferring the shortcut of buddy ball when they should have been butting heads as rivals. Wade already had a ring, so he seemed greedy. Bosh was gladly accepting a diminished role, so he seemed needy. And James dumped his “hometown” team and their shared quest like some family man wigging out for a Corvette and a blonde. Had James chased a super team this time to L.A. or New York, that might have felt more like 2010 redux. But it’s Cleveland — Cleveland — the puppy-in-a-cage-with-Sarah-McLachlan-music of pro sports cities. James is different, too, a winner who can mentor and boost Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to their first postseason appearances. So no, I don’t feel about this the way I did about the Heat four years ago. Sounds to me like only cranky Miami partisans would.

This is the first of many magazine covers for the Miami Heat's Big 3!

Is the Cavs’ new Big 3 really any different than the Heat’s old one?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes, I feel all tingly, like soda bubbles going up my nose. Let’s face it. LeBron James could join Pink Floyd and play on the Dark Side of the Moon and everything he does/doesn’t do will draw gross overreaction in the age of Twitter. Of course, a large part of what the 2010-11 Heat perceived as unfair demands on them was self-inflicted. “Not one, not two, not three…” Dwayne Wade had won a championship and been MVP of The Finals. Chris Bosh was already a five-time All-Star. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have never played a single playoff game. LeBron, it seems, has learned his lesson and is preaching patience. So should we. But we won’t.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This is different. There was so much anger toward LeBron over the way he left Cleveland, plus added outrage over these three superstars having planned their South Beach union — Magic Johnson never would have signed on with Larry Bird, by gosh! — that these guys became villains. People wanted to see them lose and watched hoping beyond hope that they would. This time, there’s no hate. LeBron went home to make amends for goodness sake. There’s no collusion. Name one reporter who ever put the names LeBron James and Kevin Love together prior to LeBron announcing his decision to go back to Cleveland. Their union is in the name of fortunate timing. But to the original point, the level of contempt toward LeBron fueled that thing and slowly he was able to reverse that by winning. The new Cavs could become like the old Lakers or Bulls — universally cheered (except by fans in direct rival cities). The “sports hate” element can add some real spice, but there’s just none of it this time around.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably better. This doesn’t feel like the same circus as when LeBron went to Miami. There will be a white-hot spotlight and there will be issues along the way, but James is more mature now. He is home. Settled. When those issues come up, it won’t have that “the world is ending” feel.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. Even though there was clearly a handshake deal on the Kevin Love trade before LeBron announced that he was “coming home,” this still feels like the “coming home” part was more important than constructing a super team right away. We’ll still evaluate these Cavs like any championship contender and point out their shortcomings when they’re not playing like the best team in the league, but the motivation behind their construction, at least from my perspective, feels different than that of the Heat in 2010. Bringing one championship to Cleveland would mean more for LeBron than bringing two or three more to Miami.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Same way. Like it or not LeBron, this is your life. Wherever you go the enormous expectations are sure to follow. I would argue that the 2010-11 Miami Heat were much better equipped to handle the rigors of the championship chase than a Cleveland Cavaliers team with two stars (Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving) who have never experienced the intense heat that is playoff pressure. I wasn’t convinced the Heat would measure up to the whole “not one, not two, not three” craziness.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogLeBron did a pretty good job, right from the start, of tamping down expectations. He obviously learned from the “Not one, not two…” speech in Miami, which never went away. So in that Sports Illustrated article he set the tone by noting it would take some time, that it wouldn’t happen right away. It reminds me of when college football coaches talk to the media the week before the game, and no matter who they’re playing, whether it’s an SEC powerhouse like UGA or the Sisters of the Poor, the coach always praises the opponent in an over-the-top manner, just to give them an out in case they lose. It was a nice try by ‘Bron, but I ain’t buying it. The Cavs and the Bulls are the class of the East. So yeah, expectations should be high for Cleveland.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Not quite, because they don’t have Dwyane Wade. Don’t get me wrong, this Cavs team looks potent and they can certainly win it all this season but I don’t think they’re going to be as good defensively as the Heat were in their strongest years. History tells us that you need to be a top-10 team defensively to make it to the Finals. For the Cavs to challenge the top 10, they need Varejao there when it matters most. If he goes down, who’s their backup center that offers rim protection? The easy argument here is to say that the Heat didn’t have a rim-protecting center either and that is true, but can Kevin Love sacrifice some of his offense in order to play steady defense like Chris Bosh did? It remains to be seen. Also, what LeBron James will we see? He tailed off defensively last season because he had to carry the scoring load without Wade at his best. LeBron won’t have to do as much offensively now he has Kyrie Irving and Love alongside him. If this means that LeBron goes back to his DPOTY type form then this team will be devastating.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: When LeBron took his talents to South Beach, Miami instantly became the favorite for the ring. When he decided to come home, he didn’t turn Cleveland into the favorite. The Cavs are for sure the best in the East with their own Big Three, but I don’t think they’re a lock for the ring as those 2010 Heat were. Even if LeBron-Love-Irving make a scary trio. Maybe it’s the Heat experience talking: 4 straight Finals, 2 rings. Lon-term, though, I think the Cavs’ Big Three can do better.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: It’s not quite the same. But, to be honest neither is LeBron. Wade and Bosh were more experienced than Love and Irving. They had proven that they can lead their teams to a winning basketball type of play. Love and Irving don’t have playoff experience, although they don’t lack talent or potential. They have the All-Star quality and if we take into consideration the fact that LeBron of 2014 is better than the LeBron of 2010, I am pretty sure that the Cavaliers will be the favorite team to win East.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: It’s more complicated. On the one hand you can say that LeBron has learned from his mistakes, from The Decision and so on. As fans, you revel in the homecoming story. But on the other hand it would be a better feel-good story, if he would have tried it with the young core, with Wiggins and Bennett. Just build up the team from the button as he wrote in his SI letter.

Blogtable: Keeping Klay … now what?

Klay Thompson averaged 18.4 points a game for the Warriors last season. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Klay Thompson averaged 18.4 ppg for the Warriors last season. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard


> Golden State wouldn’t part with Klay Thompson to get Kevin Love. Where does that leave the Warriors? Are they better off or worse off than they were at summer’s start?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If you aren’t improving, you’re getting worse. That seems a fair assessment of the Western Conference in particular, where the Warriors — last year’s preseason darlings for many — won’t crack the top 3 for most prognosticators this fall. The Klay Thompson man-crush of Golden State’s front office escapes me, beyond the basketball basics of needing somebody in a Steph Curry backcourt who can guard people. There’s no assurance Steve Kerr as coach will be an upgrade over Mark Jackson (though Kerr’s staff surely will stir up less drama). Improvement from within? Andrew Bogut stays healthy? Swell. But that’s not enough to vault past the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, or maybe even the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Trail Blazers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt leaves the Warriors toweling down after a spin class, because they haven’t moved an inch. They’re right where last saw them in the spring, stuck in the middle of the deep Western Conference behind the upper crust Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and maybe Grizzlies, naively trying to convince themselves they’re contenders.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Keep preaching about Klay Thompson’s defense and how crucial it is as long as Steph Curry is the team’s point guard, but I would have dealt Thompson (and David Lee, a player I’ve long admired) for Love without losing sleep. Love turns only 26 prior to the season and he’s simply more versatile than Thompson and Lee put together. He does things no other player does. End of story.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAnswer C: the same. Shaun Livingston will be a nice pickup if he is healthy enough to play 65-70 games and a full postseason, and the projected return of Festus Ezeli after knee surgery will be a much-needed boost at center if he can offer solid backup minutes. The Thompson/Love decision will obviously be hanging over the Warriors, with how Thompson plays and with how David Lee plays. But it still will not be a surprise if Golden State is solidly in the pack of the second tier in the West with the Trail Blazers, Rockets, Grizzlies and Mavericks. And if there is a worry about an offseason decision, it should be about the coaching change, not the players. Mark Jackson connected with the roster and delivered results. Steve Kerr will be a rookie on the sidelines.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The only thing that has changed the Warriors’ outlook is the moves of other teams (Dallas and Houston in particular) around them in the West hierarchy. Golden State still has the ability to rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. They ranked third defensively last season and still have Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson. The key will be for Steve Kerr to make better use of the bench and make them more potent offensively. With all their talent, the potential is there. Given the uncertainty of a new coach, it’s impossible to rank the Warriors ahead of the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers. But they shouldn’t be dismissed as a possible conference finalist either.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Warriors occupy the same place in the Western Conference standings with or without Love: they are still a few pieces away from the true contender status that I thought they were ready for last season. Toss in a new coach and new system, and they could even take a step back in the 2014-15 season. Klay Thompson is not the man responsible for what happens to the Warriors next season, at least not the only man. His Splash Brothers partner Steph Curry will be the catalyst for the Warriors. Thompson, as good as he has been and will continue to be, should not have to pay that bill.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Can I vote for the the same? I don’t get not giving up Thompson for Love. Thompson is a really good player, one of the best off guards in the NBA, but Kevin Love is one of the 10 best players in the NBA, and I think if you have a chance to make that move, you make it. I’m just not really sure where the Warriors can look to improve this season. Defensively they were quietly pretty good last season, and we know offensively that they’re dynamic. Love would have given them a rebounding presence and helped stretch the floor even more. Last season they won 51 games in a difficult Western Conference. Steve Kerr will have his hands full in his first year trying to build upon that.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I think they’re the same. The West isn’t changed a lot this summer and there are at least three teams, Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, better than the Warriors. Golden State can count on Steve Kerr’s great basketball mind, even if he’s a coach with no experience, and I’m sure going to the World Cup with Team USA is going to help a lot Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. I think the Warriors are intriguing, but not a Western Conference powerhouse

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: It actually depends on how new coach Steve Kerr will implement his system with the tools that the Warriors have in their disposal. But one of the underrated things that goes unnoticed in the NBA most of the time is — continuity. The Spurs have shown throughout the years that their chemistry will always make them contenders and with Golden State’s talented line-up intact their is no way for them to go but up.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: I believe that they are better off in the West. In my opinion a trade Thompson/Lee for Martin/Love or something near it would have been no big upgrade. Thompson has still plenty of upside in his game and with new coach Steve Kerr on his side, he will develop fast. With Kerr on the sideline the team will play more team-basketball and less isolation. That will help Barnes a lot and Iguodala will improve, too.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: The Warriors are going to be exactly as they were when the summer began. Their guards will improve a little (Curry and Thompson) and their big men will probably regress a bit (Bogut and Lee). In the tough West, only a big splash can make a real difference in the standings. Eventually, the Warriors’ fate will be decided by their supporting cast and their intangibles. Will Harrison Barnes bounce back from last year’s dip and finally have his much-awaited breakout year? How is Steve Kerr going to be as a coach? Even in the best-case scenario, I don’t see Golden State finishing any higher than fifth in the West.

Blogtable: The World Cup carryover

Anthony Davis has become the defensive backbone of Team USA. (Jesse D Garrabrant/NBAE)

Anthony Davis has become the defensive backbone of Team USA. (Jesse D Garrabrant/NBAE)

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard


> Which NBA player in the FIBA Basketball World Cup stands to gain the most, in terms of improving his play and carrying it over to the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAnthony Davis opened eyes, dropped jaws and sent a shiver through New Orleans’ 2014-15 opponents even before the medal round began. If the league had an official preseason all-NBA team, the New Orleans big man would be on it. I get the same vibe watching him now that I got up-close 17 years or so ago as Kevin Garnett grew into his body and his skills. Of his Team USA mates, Kyrie Irving should benefit greatly from this experience, both on the court and mentally handling new expectations and responsibilities. But people will remember this 2014 FIBA World Cup for Davis’ emergence as a monster in full.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Getting the playing time and on-court experience in game situations that really mean something could be just what the doctor and the rehab therapist and the Bulls coaching staff and front office ordered for Derrick Rose. Physical and mental hurdles should be in his rearview mirror by the time he hits training camp.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This might be unanimous: DeMarcus Cousins. However, with him, it’s not so much carrying over improved play, it’s carrying over an eye-opening experience of how professionals work, play, interact and lead.

Kenneth Faried (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Kenneth Faried (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves/Spain. Rubio has made improving his shooting a focus of the offseason, with good reason, and the World Cup will be the first progress report. The tournament isn’t a full schedule of NBA-level competition, but the games will matter and therefore a better test than the exhibition slate with the Wolves. A good showing from the perimeter in his native Spain will be a confidence boost and build momentum heading back to Minnesota.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Derrick Rose, of course. Playing 20 minutes a game for the USA is a great way for Rose to knock off the rust, regain his feel for the game, and get his body used to playing full speed basketball again. Somebody said the following in the last week and I’d love to credit them, but I forget who it was: The best way to prepare for basketball is to play basketball. The next three weeks could be huge for Rose, the Bulls, and how successful their 2014-15 season will be. Beyond Rose, the World Cup could help some incoming rookiesBojan Bogdanovic, Dante Exum and Kostas Papanikolaou to name a few — hit the ground running when training camp opens.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Great question. I don’t think there is any doubt that Anthony Davis is the player poised for the quantum leap from where he was at the start of the 2014-15 season to where he is now. Davis has a chance to make the transition from All-Star to game-changing superstar with the right kind of results in Spain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Kenneth Faried. He finished his rookie year with a flourish, making first-team All-Rookie. But since then, as the Nuggets have rebuilt, Faried’s star has lost a little of its shine, and last year his name started to bubble up in trade talks. But as a member of USA Basketball, Faried seems to have gotten a little of his swagger back. He went from being a bubble invite to the USA camp to earning a starting spot on the squad. When I asked him on Friday night if he felt like he belonged, he quickly shot back, “Ain’t no ‘feel like.’ I know I belong.”

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: It might be obvious to mention Derrick Rose, given what he’s coming back from, or maybe Klay Thompson, who will be having contract negotiations in the not too distant future but I’ve decided to go out of left field a little bit here. I’m also going specific to my region in selecting Aron Baynes. He has been one of the best-performing Boomers in their nine warm-up matches across Europe heading into the FIBA World Cup. He’s been a double-double machine and is a guaranteed starter for the Aussies. The reason I believe he has a lot to gain is because this is his opportunity to show the world what he can do. He’s a role player on the best team in the NBA and he hasn’t established himself as a rotation NBA player yet. His contract situation is an interesting one because he is a restricted free agent and the Spurs have early Bird rights on him and have tendered a qualifying offer worth $1.1 million. Will he take that and come back for an uncertain extra year or could another team swoop and offer a more lucrative deal? Maybe a good showing at the FIBA World Cup could entice someone.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Andray Blatche of the Philippines. I might get some flak for choosing him but you have to hear me out. Team USA will be covered as a whole, although Derrick Rose will garner more attention because of his long layoff. The various NBA players littered among the other countries are already well established. Meanwhile in the Philippines, if Blatche plays well and somehow leads Gilas Pilipians to the second round, he will develop a cult-like following. Still unsigned, if he exemplifies his leadership and shows his adjustment to playing with a new team in a different system he will be an attractive free agent player after the World Cup.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Kostas Papanikolaou, who else? He is a rookie for the Houston fans and an unfamiliar face for international basketball. Over the past years he has grown a lot and few 24 years-old players have added in their resume two Euroleague titles. During the back-to-back European titles of Olympiakos he played a significant role as starting small forward, with his streaky shooting, his explosiveness to the rim and his defensive mindset. Last year he grew up as a more versatile offensive player in Barcelona and now in his last few days before the NBA chapter of his career comes along, he demonstrated solid leadership during Greece’s friendly games. He was the top scorer playing at the “3” alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and managed to check the “constistency” box next to his scouting report.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Although all eyes will be on Anthony Davis — who is sure to be the best player for the USA — and Derrick Rose, who’ll be making a long-awaited return, I think that the real surprise gem of the FIBA World Cup will be … Kenneth Faried! Through all of Team USA’s practice warm-up games so far, Faried has been the x-factor, and the international style of play seems to suit his game perfectly. Without Durant on the USA side, Faried also seems to have secured a starting spot in the American frontcourt. Despite his talent, Faried has hardly had any experience at higher level competitions so far in his young career. Playing alongside some of the best players and for top coaches like Coach K and Thibodeau will sure give Faried the confidence and experience he needs to become a leader for the Nuggets when he returns.

The fall guy in Cleveland?


VIDEO: Kevin Love is Cleveland bound — how will his arrival help the Cavs?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Seventeen games into his tenure with the Miami Heat, LeBron James was taking abuse from every direction. In those early stages of the 2010-11 season, the Heat were 9-8 and the Big 3 era was off to a shaky start, given the outrageous expectations that accompanied the joining of forces between LeBron, fellow free agent Chris Bosh and incumbent face of the franchise Dwyane Wade.

The Heat rebounded from those early stumbles and made it to The Finals before being taken apart by Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.

In the aftermath of that ugly finish to their first season, LeBron was quickly cast as the scapegoat (with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stuck in the mud with him). He flatlined at crunch time in The 2011 Finals. Unlike Wade, he had no championship ring or Finals MVP to fall back on. And Bosh was seen as the third wheel, so there was no way he could be the fall guy in that scenario. So LeBron was left to shoulder that burden, one that ultimately led to back-to-back titles and Finals MVPs.

The roles have been shuffled in LeBron’s latest super-team situation in Cleveland, where he’s the championship veteran with rings and Finals MVPs, playing alongside young All-Stars in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Unlike Bosh and James back in 2010, though, the next playoff points Love and Irving score will be their first.

Far be it from me to rain on the attention parade going on in Cleveland, the epicenter of the sports universe with the Cavaliers’ new look and the seemingly never-ending Johnny Manziel news cycle. But what happens if (it’s blasphemy, Cavaliers fans, I know) LeBron and friends don’t win the title in their first season together?

Who is the fall guy this time?

Forget the common sense that should come with a new team with new leadership (coach David Blatt playing the Cleveland edition of Spoelstra’s role). The 2010-11 Heat and the 2014-15 Cavaliers face this similar circumstance: anything short of a title will be viewed as a disappointment by most.

And that means someone has to shoulder the burden of that disappointment the way LeBron (and Spoelstra) did when he went dark for weeks after The 2011 Finals trying to reflect on what had been a whirlwind 11 months.

LeBron should be immune this time around. We know what to expect from him. He has extensive experience playing with other elite superstars. He won’t have to make as many adjustments to his game to be effective. Even with the San Antonio Spurs shredding the Heat in The Finals this year, LeBron (cramps aside) was basically unstoppable. It was his supporting cast, both Wade and Bosh in particular, who didn’t play up to their own lofty standards.

And the Spurs were so good, it might not have made a difference if Wade and Bosh played well or not.

Love and Irving are clearly in the crosshairs this time around, given their lack of playoff experience and the fact that the only time they have shared a locker room with players as good or better than them is during All-Star Weekend and their time with USA Basketball. No one knows how either of them will hold up in the crucible that is the postseason. All of those regular-season highlights are useless if either of them melts down in the playoffs or runs into a matchup they simply cannot win.

Love will have to assume the Stretch 4 role that Bosh played in Miami, where his numbers dipped considerably compared to what he put up as a stand-alone All-Star in Toronto. Irving will have to relinquish some of the facilitating duties and scoring load that he’s had to carry early in his career to make sure his game meshes perfectly with two new elite teammates with higher profiles than his own.

Both Love and Irving will have the luxury of playing with the best player on the planet. But not even LeBron will be able to save them from expectations that are not fulfilled. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, general manager David Griffin and LeBron have all done their part. The pieces for success at the highest level have been assembled.

The rest is up to Love, Irving and the supporting cast. And if things go awry come playoff time, the scapegoat list will be easy to make!

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 172) Featuring John Dimopoulos

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s not as foolish as you think ….

Spain as the favorite at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

It’s not a joke.

It might be a little strong, but again, it’s not a joke.

The home team has every reason to believe that playing on home soil will give them a chance, not necessarily an advantage, to spring the upset against the reigning World and Olympic champion U.S. Team.

The U.S. Men’s Senior National Team has been wounded by defections and injuries in the lead up to the competition, which begins next week in Bilbao. Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George are all out of the competition for various reasons.

The U.S. still has the deepest and best roster (including Derrick Rose, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis and the NBA’s “best all-around player” in James Harden), but they won’t have the most experienced crew. And they won’t have the home court advantage. That belongs to the Gasols and Spain, the team international hoops guru John Dimopoulos of www.EuroJohnBall.com suggests on Episode 172 of the Hang Time Podcast, should go into the competition with all of the confidence in the world.

We dive in with the latest headlines around the NBA, TNT’s Charles Barkley doing his #ALSMarshmallow/IceBucketChallenge, a peak ahead at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and more on Episode 172 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring John Dimopoulos of EuroJohnBall.com:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (with marshmallows as an appetizer)