Posts Tagged ‘Serbia’

International scene in transition


VIDEO: Gold Medal Postgame: Coach Krzyzewski

MADRID – Serbia had looked really good in its previous three games, beating 5-0 Greece by 18, walloping 5-1 Brazil by 28, and putting up 90 points against a France defense that had just shut down Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But you don’t really know how good you are until you play against the best. And when Serbia faced the U.S. for the first time since the former was part of the larger Yugoslavia, it got crushed, 129-92, in Sunday’s gold medal game.

Serbia has a lot of young talent and a very good coach. It should be one of the best national teams in Europe for years to come. Though it won silver at 2009 Eurobasket and finished fourth at the 2010 World Championship, this run at the World Cup could be the start of something even bigger.

“This is a very, very big success for our country,” Miroslav Raduljica said. “We put a good, healthy foundation for something in the future.”

But the gap between one of the best national teams in Europe and the best national team in the world seems to be pretty wide, especially when you consider that LeBron James and Kevin Durant weren’t representing the U.S. this summer. The Americans have come a long way since the 2002 World Championship, having won four straight gold medals with a stable and sustainable system under USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

So does any other nation have any hope of knocking off the Americans any time soon?

“I think we can lose our next game,” Krzyzewski said after extending the USA’s winning streak to 63 games (45 FIBA and FIBA Americas games, 18 exhibition games) on Sunday. “That’s the way we prepare, because we know how good everyone is. So I don’t see a gap. I just see good basketball, and then we’ve been able to win.”

For the USA’s opponents, it helps to know what you’re up against. And Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said Sunday that his team was at a disadvantage having never faced the speed, athleticism and talent of the best players in the world. Now, it has that experience.

“Each time we play against a team like that,” Djordjevic said, “we are growing up as a team. And we need this more often, because we have to understand how we have to bring up our level of athleticism, our level of defense, our level of passing, to achieve the level these USA players have. So this was a great, great night for us. A great game. We can learn a lot from this game.”

The U.S. is always going to have the talent. But a lot of other national teams, especially those from Europe that play together almost every year, have the edge when it comes to chemistry. And each time they play the Americans, they gain reps against the best. So, the next time we see this matchup, Serbia will be more prepared.

Here are a few more ramifications of what went down over the last 16 days in Spain.

A summer off

Along with the gold medal comes automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So, for the fourth straight time (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015), the U.S. won’t need to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament in the year between the Olympics and World Cup.

If they had lost on Sunday, they would have needed to qualify for the Olympics through the Americas. And it would have been interesting to see what kind of team Colangelo and Krzyzewski put together next summer in a tournament that has far less appeal than this one. But they won’t have to worry about that.

Things are going to change after 2016, however. And an Olympic gold in Rio will not earn instant qualification for the 32-team, 2019 World Cup. Instead, in a format change that was announced last year, there will be 16 teams from the Americas competing for seven spots in the World Cup via a qualification similar to that of the soccer World Cup, with some games taking place during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons. That, of course, will bring up even more questions about who will play for the U.S. and other nations with key players in the NBA. (more…)

U.S. rolls Serbia, captures FIBA World Cup gold after strong run


VIDEO: Matt Winer reflects on Team USA’s unique path to FIBA World Cup gold

MADRID — After being asked about it for weeks, they can answer honestly and without the least bit of arrogance.

They are indeed unbeatable, the U.S. National Team, winners of 45 straight games in World Cup/World Championship and Olympic competition.

Yes, the best from the U.S. is way better than what anyone else can offer up on basketball’s global stage.

Those NBA players who sported red, white and blue on Sunday in the gold medal game of the FIBA World Cup backed it all up by decimating Serbia early and rolling to a 129-92 win and repeating as champs after winning the 2010 World Championship in Turkey.

Serbian pride was supposed to carry the day and make the final the biggest and best test for a team of U.S. stars who weren’t even considered the “B-Team.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said outspoken U.S. forward Kenneth Faried, who made the five-man All-Tournament team, trying to be mindful of U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s edict to respect the process and opponent. “I know what you are asking. So no, we are not ‘unbeatable.’ But we seemed to prove that theory in a different way tonight. We handled our business and got that gold medal.”

Serbian pride was no match for American hustle, muscle and raw athleticism that Kyrie Irving and the U.S. “C-Team” unleashed on the crowd at the Palacio de los Deportes. The U.S. lead was up to 31 at one point before halftime, a virtually insurmountable lead for a team of 12 NBA players against a Serbian crew that doesn’t boast a single player currently on an NBA roster.

“This is by far the biggest accomplishment in my life so far,” said Irving, who was a perfect 6-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line and flat-out spectacular against Serbian guard Milos Teodosic. “This feels amazing. It’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt. All the emotions haven’t come to me yet but I did this with a group of guys I can call my brothers for the rest of my life.”

With the win the U.S. captured its fifth title and this team put the U.S. in elite company, joining Brazil (1959 and ’63) and Yugoslavia (’98 and 2002) as the only nations to repeat as champs.

For weeks this U.S. team, devoid of superstars like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, not to mention Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George, heard about how vulnerable it was. Spain, and not the U.S. was being touted as the favorite early on.

What is basically an under-25 squad of U.S. stars silenced their critics with one dominant performance after another. Not all of them were as pretty as Sunday’s gold medal game, when Irving set the tone early by connecting on his first five shots and piling up 15 points by halftime. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, saving his best showing for the final game in Spain. He led the U.S. charge with a game-high 26 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. (more…)

USA-Serbia gold medal live blog


VIDEO: GameTime: FIBA Finals Predictions

MADRID – After 16 days and 75 games, it’s time to bring the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup to a close with the gold medal game between the United States and Serbia (3 p.m. ET, ESPN 2).

The U.S. has suffocating defense and a 44-game winning streak on the line. Serbia has a potent offense and a three-game streak of pulling off upsets to go from 2-3 in group play to earning at least a silver medal.

The winner not only gets the gold, but also an automatic berth into the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Read NBA.com’s preview here.

Pre-game

Tip-off

End of first quarter: USA 35, Serbia 21

Halftime: USA 67, Serbia 41

End of third quarter: USA 105, Serbia 67

Final: USA 129, Serbia 92

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 14


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about Sunday’s gold medal match against Serbia

NEWS OF THE MORNING
U.S., Serbia match up for gold | France beats Lithuania for bronze | Rose makes an A | Melo says players will avoid Atlanta

No. 1: U.S., Serbia match up for gold — Later today in Madrid, Team USA will play in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. While Team USA was a near-unanimous choice to qualify for the gold-medal game, their opponent, Serbia, was not; most suspected the host country, Spain, would play their way into the final. But after Spain was eliminated by France, Serbia stormed their way into today’s championship game. And as our guys Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann write, some of the team USA players believe neither Serbia nor the U.S. were supposed to be here…

It’s the U.S. and Serbia squaring off instead, two teams, according to the words that have been dancing around U.S. forward Kenneth Faried‘s head for weeks, that weren’t supposed to leave here with gold.

“This team is different,” Faried said of Serbia after practice on Saturday. “They made it to the championship round when others thought they couldn’t. We made it to the championship round when others thought we’d fall. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the floor just to win the gold.”

Faried and the U.S. fighting off the favorite’s tag now seems a bit preposterous, what with the way the U.S. National Team has mowed down the competition. They’ve won their eight games leading up to this point by an average of 32.5 points, a number skewed a bit by the 59-point blowout of Finland in their opener.

“I never knew we were a heavy favorite,” Faried said. “That surprises me because before, when we first started, everybody said we were going to lose and we’re not that good. So as far as being a heavy favorite, we just have to take that for what it is and go out there like we’re the underdogs still.”

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

“They underrated us from the beginning, as I heard,” Miroslav Raduljica said after his team’s win over France on Friday. “We showed everybody that we can compete and play basketball, in a good way.”

***

No. 2: France takes bronze: In the FIBA third place game yesterday, France defeated Lithuania 95-93 to win bronze, their best-ever finish at the event. France was led by Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum, and the final seconds of the game were basically a foul-shooting contest…

The European champions seemed to have clinched the issue with about a minute left in the game, but Adas Juskevicius’ three-point play brought Lithuania within one, 86-85, with 16 seconds to play.

The teams were then involved in a tactical exchange of fouls and France stayed ahead with every exchange.

Jonas Maciulis was fouled with a second left. He made his first free-throw to get Lithuania within 95-93 and then strategically missed the second in order to give himself and his team-mates a chance at an offensive rebound and a quick shot. However, no Lithuanian player was able to control the ball, which went to Florent Pietrus who sprinted past halfcourt to run out the clock and seal the game.

In all, the final 16 seconds of the game saw 11 fouls committed, resulting in 22 free-throws attempted.

Down 71-64 at the end of the third quarter, France found their savior in Boris Diaw. The 32-year-old, who strove to find his rhythm in the first three periods, found his form as he accounted for eight of France’s 31 points in the final period. He finished with 15 points.

Nicolas Batum was at the fore-front of France’s offense throughout the game and finished with a game-high 27 points.

***

No. 3: Rose grades an A: Throughout the FIBA World Cup, many eyes have been trained on Derrick Rose. After missing most of the last two seasons with injuries, Rose has used the World Cup to get into competitive shape for the upcoming season. While he may have started slow, Rose has been increasingly aggressive throughout the tournament. Rose says he feels great heading into camp, and for him, the World Cup has been nothing but a success…

“I would give it an A in my mind,” Rose said. “Just coming off of what I had to go through and actually getting a spot on the USA team after missing two years of basketball? Like, c’mon man. It shows that I at least worked somewhere and hard work pays off. If anything, it gives me more confidence to head into the regular season.”

Rose said he will enter Bulls training camp in just over two weeks in the best physical condition he ever has entered a camp. And this is after back-to-back knee surgeries.

“I think I’m going to be far ahead of people, especially on my team,” Rose said. “Nobody in the world is getting this type of competition right now, where you’re playing against different people every night, a different style of play every night, chasing people around.”

Rose, who won a gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, said playing for Team USA has only enriched his already-high confidence level.

“I think I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish but winning this championship. And that’s (Sunday),” he said. “After that, that’s the icing on the cake.

“But looking back at it, my whole mindset was just getting on the team. You had younger players who had great years since I been out, great guards who had great years. Just trying to show them that I’m still one of the best out there. I think I was going into camp with a chip on my shoulder.

***

No. 4: Melo says players will avoid Atlanta: While the Atlanta Hawks work to undo the damage caused by Danny Ferry’s race-related remarks on a conference call, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony spoke out strongly yesterday to the New York Post about how NBA players now view the Hawks’ franchise…

“[There] ain’t nobody [who] would want to go there,” Anthony said at the Citi Carmelo Anthony Basketball ProCamp at Baruch College Saturday morning. “At the end of the day, Atlanta … I think it puts Atlanta back even further now, from that standpoint.”

The Hawks franchise has been under fire after the Hawks and the NBA announced Sunday morning that the team’s majority owner, Bruce Levenson, was selling his controlling interest in the franchise after an internal investigation uncovered a racist email he sent to other team executives in 2012. That investigation began after general manager Danny Ferry said on a conference call with the team’s ownership group in June that potential free agent target Luol Deng, “He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”

Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from the Hawks on Friday, but the damage to the franchise already has been done in the eyes of one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

“Atlanta is a great city, a great market, great people, great atmosphere,” Anthony said. “But as far as the comments were made, I think it was uncalled for. From an owner, from a GM, those are not things you play with.

“As a player, as an athlete, we’re looking for a job, we’re trying to find a place where we can move our family, we can make our family comfortable, where we can be comfortable in a comfortable environment, but those comments right there, we would never look at. I’m speaking on behalf of all athletes. We would never look at a situation like that, I don’t care what it is.”

With Levenson already agreeing to sell the team and the possibility Ferry already has served his last official day on the job, the franchise is taking steps toward moving on from the issue. But Anthony said, given the amount of time over which this has taken place, it’s going to take more than a couple of faces changing to fix the problems in Atlanta.

“It’s going to take a collective effort,” Anthony said. That’s not going to change overnight. I don’t think that just happened overnight. That’s been an accumulation over the past couple years. A lot of people think that it just happened, but it’s been going on for the past two or three years now … these are conversations that have been ongoing.

“We just have to stop it. We have to stop that. This is not the league for that. As players coming in, we want to play and make a good career out of everything, and from [former Clippers owner Donald] Sterling to this situation, just pushing everything back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gay has a fractured jaw and a broken tooth … Boris Diaw celebrated France’s bronze medal by posting a selfie … Charlotte coach Steve Clifford says Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has “transformed” his jump shot … The one member of Team USA who has had staying power? Mike Krzyzewski … Longtime NBA big Melvin Ely has signed with Japan’s Gunma Crane Thunders.

U.S., Serbia chasing World Cup Gold


VIDEO: Coach K on Serbia after Saturday practice

By Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann

MADRID — Twelve NBA players against a team without a single player currently on a NBA roster is, at least on paper, a mismatch of epic proportions.

This was supposed to be epic in a different manner, the defending champion U.S. National Team facing the host nation, with a raucous crowd behind it, with a gold medal on the line.

It never happened, of course. France ended that global hoops lover’s dream when they upset the Spaniards in the quarterfinals.

It’s the U.S. and Serbia squaring off instead, two teams, according to the words that have been dancing around U.S. forward Kenneth Faried‘s head for weeks, that weren’t supposed to leave here with gold.

“This team is different,” Faried said of Serbia after practice on Saturday. “They made it to the championship round when others thought they couldn’t. We made it to the championship round when others thought we’d fall. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the floor just to win the gold.”

Faried and the U.S. fighting off the favorite’s tag now seems a bit preposterous, what with the way the U.S. National Team has mowed down the competition. They’ve won their eight games leading up to this point by an average of 32.5 points, a number skewed a bit by the 59-point blowout of Finland in their opener.

“I never knew we were a heavy favorite,” Faried said. “That surprises me because before, when we first started, everybody said we were going to lose and we’re not that good. So as far as being a heavy favorite, we just have to take that for what it is and go out there like we’re the underdogs still.”

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

“They underrated us from the beginning, as I heard,” Miroslav Raduljica said after his team’s win over France on Friday. “We showed everybody that we can compete and play basketball, in a good way.”

As part of Yugoslavia, Serbia has won five World Championships, including back-to-back titles in 1998 and 2002. So it’s appropriate that this is the opponent as the U.S. tries to win its fifth title and repeat as World Champion for the first time.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest factors for both teams in this gold medal tussle:

A defensive stopper on Teodosic

This U.S. team didn’t have a designated perimeter defensive stopper when the roster was finalized but will no doubt need one with Serbia’s guards playing lights out the past three games.

Derrick Rose has been fantastic on the ball defensively and Klay Thompson has been arguably the best defender on the U.S. team. But they are both coming off the bench. That means the immediate pressure will be on starters Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and James Harden to set the tone early on Serbian catalyst Milos Teodosic., who torched France in the semifinals.

“He’s the head of the snake, a great player,” Rudy Gay said of Teodosic. “We brought up a couple of things today, but we’re really going to have to prepare for him.”

Not one of the American starters on the perimeter would pass for a true defensive stopper, not even in this competition. Thompson, however, is ready and willing.

“Whoever the best perimeter player is, I love guarding them,” Thompson said. “I’ve guarded some of the best in the NBA, so that’s prepared me for now and you gotta know your opponent is going to score on you a couple of times. It’s just about containing them and making him work for it every time he touches the ball.”

“He’s been consistently excellent on the defensive end,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said about Thompson. “The fact that he’s tall, he’s been able to play, defensively, the two and the three. So he’s become our most versatile defender. And in the last two games, he’s given us such a huge offensive lift too. He’s had a terrific stay with us.”

If there’s a team that can stop the Serbia offense, this is it

With Teodosic starting games strong and Bogdan Bogdanovic finishing them strong, the Serbian offense has been unstoppable in its last three games. After ranking 11th in group play, it has improved to second in efficiency, behind only the U.S., through the semifinals.

In fact, the Serbian offense has been more efficient (123.5 points scored per 100 possessions) in the knockout rounds than the U.S. offense (118.6), even though Serbia has faced teams that were higher ranked defensively through group play. Greece, Brazil and France had ranked fifth, third and seventh defensively before the knockout rounds, while Mexico, Slovenia and Lithuania had ranked 19th, 16th and fourth.

“They have some great guards that are shooting well,” Curry said. “It just seems like they know where each other is, and they run their plays at a high level. Execution is very high and they keep attacking. So we have to stick to our game plan of taking away their first looks.”

In its three elimination games, Serbia has shot 26-for-57 from 3-point range. More important in regard to playing against the U.S. is that it has turned the ball over just 11.7 times per 100 possessions, down from 19.9 in group play. The U.S. has had the No. 1 defense in the tournament, but this will be a new test.

“With them, you’ve got to pick your poison,” Rose said. “If you play fast, they can get some long rebounds and head the other way. They have great shooters on their team. It’s going to be a challenge for us. We haven’t played a team like that in the tournament, and we’re willing to take that challenge.”

USA on the glass

In the knockout rounds, the U.S. has grabbed an incredible 41.5 percent of available offensive rebounds. For some perspective, the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the NBA last season (Detroit) grabbed 31.4 percent of available offensive boards.

Serbia has been above-average, but not a great defensive rebounding team. So, even if the U.S. doesn’t shoot well from the perimeter, Faried (13 offensive rebounds in the last three games), Anthony Davis (nine) and DeMarcus Cousins (seven) will give their team second chances at scoring.

Home-court advantage?

No, the U.S. isn’t facing Spain in its nation’s capital. But it is playing at the Palacio de los Deportes for the first time, against an opponent that has played here three times already.

“They’ve been playing in this arena for a week now,” Curry said, “so they’re very comfortable here. This arena means success to them, so we’ve got to come in and take it from them.”

Respect your opponent

Krzyzewski preaches it relentlessly, respecting the opposition. The U.S. followed that approach to the gold medal game (for the most part). They avoided talking extensively about Spain or anyone else that wasn’t on the path to the final game.

But they are gushing about Serbia for a reason. This is the biggest and best team they’ll have faced during this run.

“I think Serbia is really as good as anybody in the tournament, and probably the hottest team, and they are playing a high level,” Coach K said. “They have stars on their team, and Teodosic is … I loved him when I saw him in the World Championship in 2010. Bogdanovic is a rising star. Their big guys are good. They are well coached, and they are strong. They can hurt you from many different positions, but they are just playing great basketball right now. Actually it’s beautiful to see. I hope I don’t see that beauty tomorrow night. They’ve been playing lights-out basketball.”

Serbia has nothing to lose

Serbia already surpassed expectations. For the U.S., nothing short of gold and a continuation of its 44-game winning streak will be accepted. This team does not want to have to qualify for the 2016 Olympics through the FIBA Americas tournament next summer (which it wouldn’t have to do if it wins Sunday). So all the pressure is on the Americans.

“It’s going to be a beautiful game for us,” Serbia center Raduljica said, “because we already got a medal. We are here to compete. Of course, nothing to lose, but we’re not going to lay down our weapons and we’re going to fight with our Serbian pride.”

Advanced chemistry

Serbia is working with chemistry that is years old while the U.S. is working on chemistry that is barely six weeks old.

Talent versus chemistry is always an interesting battle. Developing chemistry among this group has been the biggest challenge for the U.S. It’s not something that can be fast tracked. These are NBA stars playing out of position, in some cases, and certainly playing roles they are not used to.

Coach K admitted earlier this week that the one thing he wishes is that this team “knew each other a little better.”

Situational sloppiness during this competition has been more about this group’s unfamiliarity with each other than it has anything else. Those slow starts are proof that it takes time to develop the kind of intuitive flow some of these teams they have faced have been working on for years.

The U.S. is still searching for that one game when they put it all together, when all of their stars are clicking from the opening tip to final buzzer. Their ninth and final game of the World Cup is exactly when they need their chemistry to finally come together.

“No question, because this is the gold medal game,” Thompson said. “This is what we’ve worked for. We’re going to play as hard as we can for as long as we can and bring it back for our country.”

Teodosic, Serbia take red-hot offense into final vs. U.S.


VIDEO: Serbia holds off France to advance to gold medal game

MADRID – As the United States prepares for the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sunday, Milos Teodosic will be at the top of the scouting report, and not because No.4 is listed first on the Serbia roster.

Teodosic led Serbia to a 90-85 victory over France with 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting on Friday. He has quickly become “Medal Round Milos,” leading a team that went 2-3 in group play to an improbable trip to the final, where he will face the U.S. for the first time in his life.

Most NBA fans who have watched the 6-foot-5, 27-year-old Teodosic over the years have wished to see him bring his scoring and playmaking to the NBA. We’ll finally get a taste of what that may be like on Sunday.

Like his team, Teodosic had a slow start to the World Cup. After suffering an ankle injury, he had to sit out of practice until a week before the tournament began. He didn’t start Serbia’s first four games and scored a total of 19 points on 7-for-15 shooting in narrow losses to France and Brazil in Granada.

Then, he was put in the starting lineup, and as Serbia beat those same two teams in Madrid to reach the final, Teodosic scored a total of 47 points on 14-for-21 shooting, hitting eight of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc.

“Milos is an unbelievable player,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said. “Right now, he’s an MVP of this competition, absolutely.”

Teodosic came out firing from the start of Friday’s win, hitting a quick-trigger, catch-and-shoot jumper on the first possession of the game. He scored or assisted on 13 of Serbia’s first 18 points of the first quarter, and then on seven of their first nine of the second, helping them build a double-digit lead.

If the defense sagged, Teodosic stroked a jumper with a lightning-quick release. If it played him tight, he went to the rim. And if France double-teamed him on pick-and-rolls, he found the open man, whether he was under the basket or in the corner.

“You can’t let him free,” France forward Nicolas Batum said afterward. “He’s been doing damage in Europe for years and years now.”

Batum took on the Teodosic defensive assignment late, and France had some success defending him with length, which the U.S. will have more of. With Batum trailing, Rudy Gobert and his wingspan doubled on pick-and-rolls to get the ball out of Teodosic’s hands without giving him open passing lanes.

But at opened up things for Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the final period on a catch-and-shoot 3, a pair of drives and free throws. France made a furious comeback, cutting a 15-point deficit at the end of the third quarter down to two, hitting nine 3-pointers in the fourth.

They scored 39 points in the period, but the team that had shut down Spain just two days earlier couldn’t get enough stops against the Serbia offense. As France was making its run, Serbia still scored 10 times in a stretch of 11 possessions. Teodosic added to Bogdanovic’s fourth-quarter flurry with another pull-up 3 and two assists to Nenad Krstic.

The team that has defeated Greece, Brazil and France in the last six days is not the team that went 2-3 in Group A. Those three teams were all top-seven defenses through group play, and Serbia has shot 54 percent (46 percent from 3-point range, 61 percent effective field goal percentage) against them in Madrid.

Though Serbia doesn’t have a single player on an NBA roster, it will be the toughest test the U.S. has faced all tournament. And stopping Milos Teodosic will be priority No. 1.

“They are a great team,” Teodosic said, “but, for sure, we’re not going into the game to lose.”

France and Serbia both playing their best at the right time


VIDEO: France and Serbia advance to the semifinals

MADRID – We knew that Spain’s road to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup final was tougher than that of the United States. France proved that with its 65-52 upset of the hosts on Wednesday.

That wasn’t the only surprising result in the quarterfinals in Madrid. After looking like the third best team in the tournament through its first six games, Brazil got hammered by Serbia 84-56. So instead of Spain-Brazil in the semis, we’ve got France-Serbia on Friday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

France and Serbia finished third and fourth in Group A. But they’re both playing their best at the right time, and at least one of them will be winning a medal. Their first meeting went down to the wire, with France winning 74-73 thanks to a no-call on one end and a foul call on the other.

Serbia was upset about that finish. And they were upset about the way they lost in the semifinals of the last edition of this tournament. Up 82-81 on host Turkey with 4.3 seconds left, Serbia just needed a stop to advance to the final and guarantee itself a medal. They forced a loose ball, but Turkey point guard Kerem Tunceri picked it up and drove for a layup to win the game.

The issue? Replays showed that Tunceri’s foot was on the sideline when he first touched the ball. And that was just one of many calls that Serbia, who lost to Lithuania in the bronze medal game, was upset about. So they’re out for some revenge on Friday, in more ways than one.

The winner will face the U.S. for the gold medal on Sunday, and will be the toughest opponent the Americans have faced in the World Cup. The loser will face Lithuania for bronze. Here are five things to watch…

Offense vs. defense

Serbia had the World Cup’s fourth most efficient offense through the quarterfinals, having scorched Brazil’s defense (which had ranked third through the round of 16) in the second half on Wednesday. France comes in with the fourth best defense in the tournament, having shut down Spain’s No. 2 offense in the quarterfinals.

Both performances were impressive. The other end of the floor will matter too, but if France can slow down the Serbian offense, they’ll be in good shape.

Another (big) game for Milos?

Milos Teodosic is one of the most entertaining basketball players in the world. The 6-foot-5, 27-year-old combo guard was coming off the bench for Serbia in its first four games, but has started the last three. And he saved his best performance for the quarterfinals, dropping 23 points on Brazil, with 16 of those coming in what was a tight first half.

Teodosic will take some crazy shots, but they often go in. And if he’s hitting from the outside, Serbia’s pick-and-rolls become very difficult to defend and other things open up in their offense.

France’s young bigs

It’s difficult to say that France is “missing” Joakim Noah, because the Bulls’ center has only played in one tournament (2011 Eurobasket) for them. They are missing two centers from last year’s Eurobasket championship team: Alexis Ajinca and Johan Petro, as well as the Pacers’ Ian Mahinmi, who injured his shoulder before the World Cup began.

That left 22 year olds Joffrey Lauvergne and Rudy Gobert to man the center spot. The 6-foot-10 Lauvergne is a natural power forward who was a non-factor on last year’s team. Gobert wasn’t on the roster.

But the two young guys have held their own and played their best games against the Gasol brothers on Wednesday. For Gobert in particular, it was a breakout performance, as he outrebounded Pau and Marc 13-12.

Having played two years for Partizan Belgrade, Lauvergne has some extra motivation against this particular opponent. In the first meeting, he (19 points, six rebounds) went toe-to-toe with former Milwaukee Buck Miroslav Raduljica (21 and seven). And it was Lauvergne’s free throw after a foul call on Raduljica that won the game for France with 4.8 seconds left. It’s a fascinating matchup of quickness vs. size.

Batum vs. Bogdanovic

Teodosic’s move to the starting lineup sent Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic to the bench. But the 22-year-old, who will be playing in Turkey this season, responded well. He scored 21 points in Serbia’s Round of 16 win over previously unbeaten Greece and has shot 12-for-20 (6-for-12 from 3-point range) in his two games in Madrid.

Bogdanovic is clearly shorter than his listed height of 6-foot-6 and French forward Nicolas Batum has a few inches on him. But Batum considers Bogdanovic a serious challenge.

“He’s one of the guys I hate to play against,” Batum said earlier this week. “I hate guarding him, because he can really score.”

Bjelica vs. Diaw

These two teams have two of the most skilled power forwards in the tournament, providing another fun matchup.

Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica, whose draft rights are held by the Minnesota Timberwolves, is a tantalizing player. He’s 6-foot-10 with terrific all-around skills. He didn’t score a lot in the quarterfinals, but beat Brazil’s bigs off the dribble to create for others, dishing out five assists, while scoring eight points and grabbing eight boards.

Boris Diaw has the size and quickness to match up well with Bjelica. His passing skills are well known, and he was more aggressive against Spain on Wednesday, taking 12 shots and hitting three of his seven 3-pointers.

U.S. trounces Lithuania 96-68


VIDEO: U.S. uses big third quarter to rout Lithuania

BARCELONA – Any team with designs on knocking off the U.S. National Team before it gets to Madrid and collects gold here at the FIBA World Cup better be ready for the wave.

That wave would be a star-studded second unit capable of generating as much energy and plenty of production on any given night.

Klay Thompson lit the flame in Thursday’s 96-68 semifinal win over Lithuania, carrying the U.S. early, before a quick 10-0 run after halftime turned a tight game into yet another rout at Palau Saint Jordi.

With James Harden and Stephen Curry struggling with their shots, fouls and defense, Thompson served as the emotional spark the U.S. needed to avoid the upset bug that bit Spain a night earlier in a quarterfinal in Madrid. He had 14 points by halftime, when the U.S. held a 43-35 lead, and was locked in on defense from the moment he hit the floor.

He helped turn what was supposed to be the toughest test of the competition, to date, into a laugher minutes after halftime. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski was the first person up off the U.S. bench at the dead ball that ended that 10-0 run, fist-pumping his team’s energy and effort during yet another break out stretch.

The U.S. has had one in each and every game they’ve played throughout this competition, overwhelming the opposition at one point or another with their athleticism, speed, length and defensive intensity.

“We’re relentless,” Kenneth Faried said. “We’re relentless.”

That’s exactly what they were during that third quarter run, which ran all the way up to 18-2 and eventually knocked out a Lithuanian team that has historically played the U.S. tougher than most, dating back to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

But once the U.S. got rolling, there was no chance this one stayed close. Thompson finished with 16 points. Harden matched his 16, all of them coming during that burst after halftime. Curry added 13 and Kyrie Irving led the U.S. with 18, giving Faried and Anthony Davis a night off, at least in the scoring department.

“It had nothing to do with energy,” Irving said of the U.S. second half blitz. “Whatever is needed, we make the necessary adjustments and then just try and go for the win.”

Sunday’s gold medal game (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Madrid is an opportunity for this team to make history by allowing the U.S. to become  just the third country to repeat as World champions. Brazil (1959 and 1963) and Yugoslavia (1998 and 2002) are the others

That marquee matchup between the host nation team and the team filled with NBA stars was hijacked Wednesday night when France upset Spain 68-52 in the quarterfinals in Madrid. Sunday’s final won’t have that sizzling subplot, but that’s not something the U.S. contingent seems to care much about.

They avoided talking about Spain for weeks, no matter how many different ways people tried to get them to address the topic. Now they’ll get to two days to prepare for either France or Serbia, who square off in the other semifinal Friday night in Madrid.

Favored U.S. keeps focus on Lithuania


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

BARCELONA — That fine line between confident and cocky, the one the favorites always walk, is being navigated carefully by the U.S. National Team here at the FIBA World Cup. Upsets have a way of forcing reality onto teams, even one filled with NBA stars who believe, no matter the odds, that they won’t come all this way without leaving with gold.

Mike Krzyzewski‘s unyielding respect for the process and the rest of the field makes much more sense now that France has toppled Spain on the other side of the bracket, leaving a golden opportunity in front of the U.S. as the Americans square off with Lithuania today (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the right to advance to the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid.

“We know what a great team Lithuania is and how well they’ve played the whole tournament,” U.S. guard Steph Curry said during a Thursday morning news conference alongside Coach K. “We obviously knew what happened (to Spain) but it didn’t affect in anything in our preparation. Nobody  really expected it, they beat pretty well in pool play. But that’s the beauty of the tournament. Everybiody gets another chance to get to the medal round and then it’s a one-and-done process. And that makes it even more important for us to come out and focus and take care of our business. Everybody knew about it (France upsetting Spain). But our job is to beeat Lithuania and worry about who we’re going to play in Madrid. That’s the mentality, it was yesterday and it stays the same today.”

During pool play, any mention of Spain drew a polite but curt no comment from Coach K, who  dutifully reminded anyone willing to listen that a place in Madrid had to be earned. Ask about a potential opponent two games away and Coach K wouldn’t let the questioner finish. He’d reiterate that his and his team’s sole focus was on the team they’d face next.

Peppering the players with similar questions resulted in similar responses.

“We’re not focused on Spain or anyone else but … “

It doesn’t seem so strange now, not after seeing Spain crumble under the weight of expectations Wednesday night in Madrid.

In the moments after their quarterfinal win over Slovenia, after TNT’s Charles Barkley picked Spain to win it all and just before Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard and Slovenian catalyst Goran Dragic did the same, Coach K made it clear that his team is not invincible.

“We’re beatable,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

That wasn’t posturing. Coach K knows as well as anyone – Pau Gasol and his Spanish National Team teammates included — just how humbling it can be to live that reality.

The failures of the U.S. team in 2006 is fresh in the minds of those involved with USA Basketball at all levels.

“We’re not an arrogant group that thinks we don’t have to come out and play our hardest and our best every night. That’s just not who we are as a team,” James Harden said. “We respect all of the other teams here. We’re not the only group of NBA guys here, we know that. This is a tournament, a competition, and that means it’s wide open and anybody has a chance to win.”

Having a young team, relatively speaking, that doesn’t include the usual complement of superstars that was expected (Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, etc.) won’t save the U.S. from expectations now that Spain is out. The Americans go back to the top of the heap as the unquestioned favorite to capture gold.

And that means this team must compartmentalize in short order the new dynamics. Serbia and France both sprung upsets on the other side of the bracket. Who’s to say that either one of them couldn’t do it again?

So those slow starts and energy-deficient stretches this U.S. team has struggled through cannot be a part of the process any longer.

“I think we’ve played well,” Coach K said, defending his team. “I don’t know what everybody has been watching, but you know, our guys have played their butts off. They have great camaraderie. You all, some of you, think that flipping the switch, or whatever, is when we start hitting shots. If any team just had to wait for that, then they are flipping that switch all the time, because you don’t hit shots all the time. What you can do is play hard, play defense and rebound. And you can do those things all the time, and our team has done that all the time. So, then when you start hitting shots, everything looks good when you hit shots.”

Krzyzewski said he’s pleased with his team’s growth and maturity throughout the course of training camp and competition. The U.S. has maintained a sense of calm on the floor when things don’t come quickly. “So far they’ve been great about it, and I think part of it is how we handle things,” he said. “Like the mood we try to create. You want to be serious, but not to an extent where you become tight. They need to be loose.”

That was easier to do before France turned this competition upside down with that 68-52 beating of Spain. The seriousness of it all, the fact that if you don’t play your best in this one-and-done scenario could be the difference between playing to capture back-to-back titles or playing for third place.

There’s no extra motivation needed then.

“To play to get to the gold medal game, that’s the main motivation,” Klay Thompson said. “And [Thursday] is September 11, an infamous day in American history, so we just want to honor our country in that aspect.”

Serbia blows out Brazil, sends a message to U.S. and Spain

MADRID – Warning to Spain and the United States: Anything can happen in 40 minutes of single-elimination basketball. Witness Serbia’s 84-56 thrashing of Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

After Miroslav Raduljica was waived by the Los Angeles Clippers the day before the World Cup began, Serbia didn’t have a single player on an NBA roster. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but they proceeded to go 2-3 in Group A, beating only Egypt and Iran.

Now, after an 18-point victory over 5-0 Greece and a 28-point win over 5-1 Brazil, Serbia finds itself in the semifinals and in position to win a medal. On Friday, it will play the winner of Wednesday’s second quarterfinal between Spain and France.

Behind some big defensive stops by Nene, Brazil took a three-point lead with two minutes to go in the second quarter. But Serbia ended the half on an 8-0 run and proceeded to score 16 points on its first five possessions of the third, thanks to a seven-point possession that was a result of two technical fouls on Brazil. The rout was on from there.

Though their names might not be familiar to the average American basketball fan, there are a lot of very good players on this Serbian team, a mix of young talents and veterans who have enjoyed a lot of success on the international level.

Milos Teodosic, the veteran point guard who would make for a explosive NBA reserve, led Serbia with 23 points, shooting 3-for-5 from 3-point range. Nemanja Bjelica, a 6-foot-10 forward with tantalizing skills whose rights are held by the Minnesota Timberwolves, took advantage of mismatches and finished with eight points, eight rebounds and five assists. And Phoenix Suns draftee Bogdan Bogdanovic continued to show improved play off the bench, extending the Serbia lead to 29 with a ridiculous, step-back 30-footer with a hand in his face.

“He’s not at all a bench player,” teammate Vladimir Stimac said of the 22-year-old Bogdanovic, who will play in Turkey next season. “This guy is probably going to be a legend of Serbian basketball.”

Bogdanovic acknowledged afterward that his team isn’t 28 points better than Brazil.

“This was not a real result,” he said, “but I think we deserve it.”

Serbia is playing its best at the right time. Brazil, meanwhile, had made it clear that it wanted to medal at this tournament, and it was the third best team through the round of 16, with only a loss to Spain in Group A. But its group of four NBA players will be going home empty-handed, and both the U.S. and Spain should take note.