Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

Blogtable: The U.S. vs. the World

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: Rose’s comeback | The U.S. vs. the world | The NBA’s offseason



VIDEO: The Starters discuss whether or not U.S. players are too dominant on the international stage

> What’s your takeaway from the whooping the U.S. put on the rest of the world at the FIBA World Cup? Is the gap widening again? Time for America to call off the dogs, let even younger guys play? Other thoughts?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: To heck with global supremacy and to heck with calling off the dogs. I favor a young-player Team USA and FIBA tournament in general so as to not expose franchise stars to undue risk of injury or fatigue. Basketball is a worldwide sport, the NBA is a league of nations, and it doesn’t turn on which country in a given year puts together the winningest roster. The Olympics doesn’t even move my needle on this. I’m a big believer in putting the day job first, and the NBA’s investment all around — for owners, for fans, for players — ought to be the 800-pound priority.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The gap has always been wide and likely will be for many years to come just as the U.S. men’s national soccer team remains miles away from contending for the World Cup despite making obvious gains. As for allowing the younger guys to play, I’ve always taken this side. To me it makes little sense for the NBA’s elite players to risk injury in a tournament that, frankly, holds little meaning in this country. Look, the World Cup championship game went up against Sunday NFL games. I haven’t seen the ratings, but I’m guessing they weren’t pretty. Now, having talked recently to Chandler Parsons and hearing his real disappointment at not making the team, I’m not here to tell anyone they can’t participate if they want to. But outside of the Olympics — and even then I’m not beholden to the drum beat that our best players must compete so the U.S. is guaranteed of winning gold — we should open the field to a much wider pool of players who can proudly represent the U.S.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No calling off. Send the best team possible and see who wins. It’s the world championships or the Olympics, not AYSO. If the United States wins for the next 20 years, then the event has served its purpose to determine the best. If someone else wins, the victory will have much more meaning than if it came against the D-League All-Stars or a mix of college players.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It just seems that way. There are a lot of reasons why USA never got challenged. The next four or five best teams were all on the other side of the bracket. Spain would have provided a tougher matchup, but crumbled under the pressure of a close game in the quarterfinals. While Serbia was a good team, it had never played the U.S., so that was the first time most of its players had faced that kind of speed and athleticism. And finally, the gold medal game would have been more competitive had the U.S. not shot ridiculously well from 3-point range on that particular night. There’s still a gap in regard to both top-line talent and depth of talent, and Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have done a better job of making the most of that talent than previous regimes had. But the rest of the world certainly isn’t getting worse.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My biggest takeaway is that this rush to judge the team that USA Basketball sent to Spain was as twisted and relentless as anything I’ve seen in two decades in this business. The narrative about this team that was spun before they even left these shores for Spain was pretty comical. No stars = USAB, and more specifically the NBA, Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewskiall getting their commeuppance from the rest of the world was pretty much the way I read it. Foolishness. Complete foolishness. The U.S. team was clearly better and deeper than anyone else in the field, including Spain. (I said it here last week.). Even the haters have to face the reality that the U.S. program is once again the measuring stick. The same built-in advantage certain nations have when the FIFA World Cup rolls around is the same decided edge the (wrongly stereotyped ugly) Americans have now when the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics pop up on the summer schedule. The pool of human resources at USAB’s disposal is as deep as it gets and arguably as deep as it has ever been. And some of these so-called future NBA stars or guys who have dominated internationally and could and would do whatever in the NBA are getting hype they don’t deserve. And it showed when they faced the U.S. “C-Team” that quite frankly trounced the competition in Spain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The more I think about it, the less I understand these international competitions. I get it in soccer, when national teams are assembled every few years for the World Cup, because at least in between in soccer we get the Champion’s League, where we see the world’s best teams all compete against each other. And I think that might be a more interesting concept in basketball than a Basketball World Cup, where the Olympics are still considered the marquee tournament. With that said, just because the US breezed through this tournament without much trouble, using a banged-up roster, it’s probably too soon to say the US is beyond reproach. We never did, for instance, have to play against Spain or France, and we came through the tournament’s easier bracket. If there’s anything we should have learned from recent USA Basketball history, it’s as soon as you start thinking you’re untouchable, watch out.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The crazy thing about this World Cup was that this USA team was arguably second or third string and they still cruised. As someone from outside the U.S., representing a country that would receive a beat down if they faced off, I’m not concerned that they cruised through the tournament! I want to see the best players on the planet playing together. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant playing together at 2012 Olympics was incredible to see. I don’t want to see younger guys play to level up the playing field, I want to see the best team come together.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: I wrote about this at large for NBA Brasil. The gap is wide again because the rest of the world is in transition from the end of its first true NBA generation to the next wave. Just two years ago, a U.S. team with LeBron, KD, Melo and Kobe took all they could handle from Lithuania and Spain. Guys that have given trouble to the Americans in the past 10 years, like Ginobili, Jasikevicius, Kleiza, Papaloukas and Spanoulis are either retired from their national teams or took the summer off. Also, USA Basketball has done a remarkable job with its program, which sets it apart from everyone else. The rest of the world will come back: France, Serbia, Lithuania, Canada and Australia all have quality generations developing for the next Olympic cycle. But, as long as USAB keeps doing things right, the US will stay on top of it.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Although I had expected the US to win the tournament, I was genuinely surprised that a young team without so many of America’s best talents were able to sweep through their competition with such ease. The gap has widened between the USA and the rest of the world for sure, but that is no need for alarm; basketball is a cycle and as a new generation of young international talents mature mature and improve, the gap will be narrowed again. The rest of the world is simply going through a phase where the old ranks (Ginobili’s Argentina, Gasol’s Spain, etc.) haven’t yet made room for the new. I don’t agree that America should call off the big dogs; on the contrary, I want USA to send their best players to the World Cup (which is ALL basketball) instead of the Olympics (where basketball is just one of dozens of sports). The more the US invests in the World Cup, the more the rest of the world will care about it.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: First of all Team USA was lucky not to face Greece, because everybody remembers that “Big in Japan” Greek team back in 2006. Sorry, I had to underline somehow the fact that we were the last country to beat the NBAers. Now, as for the gap-talk, it’s tough to say. On one hand we saw Team USA cruising through the gold medal. On the other hand there is no argument that this was the most FIBA-geared team the Americans have ever assembled. They didn’t thrive playing NBA game style, but they beat the world playing international basketball.  Team USA was so effective because it took bits and pieces from the entire world. These days when international players have become part of the NBA core and more and more European coaches are sitting on NBA benches, we cannot talk about “the gap widening”. The gap is closing in terms of talent, size, coaching and athleticism, but it’s still wide open when referring to administration, planning and management. We really like watching NBA stars on the floor every other summer, so I believe that nothing have to change.

Max Marbeiter, NBA Germany: Well, at first sight, it seems like there is no chance that we will see an international team beat the USA in the near future. And I guess that’s true at second and third sight as well. To me, Team USA simply got underestimated this time. People just saw who did not come to Spain and thought, “Well without all the big stars they might be in trouble.” Unfortunately they forgot that the NBA does not only consist of the LeBrons and Durants of this world. The team Coach K took to Spain was still miles deep and incredibly talented. I mean, James Harden, Steph Curry and Anthony Davis are among the best players on their respective positions. So that was no Team USA Lite even with LeBron, KD, Paul George and Chris Paul missing. But, I guess you have to keep in mind that the draw kind of twisted the facts. Until the final, Slovenia was the toughest opponent Team USA had to face. At least on paper. All the other big nations played in the other half of the bracket. No one knows if the U.S. had beaten Argentina, Brazil or France as convincingly as they beat the Dominican Republic, Finland or Slovenia. I’m not saying they would have lost, but the games might have been closer. And maybe a final against Spain would have come down to the final minutes, although that’s something we’ll never find out. Nevertheless I don’t think the gap is widening. There’s always been a certain gap as soon as the U.S. sent some of their best players. The athletic advantage is huge. But to me it would be the wrong move to stop sending the best players to a world championship or the Olympics. The big tournaments should have the toughest competition possible. And who knows, maybe one day the United States do get beat by a team like Spain.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: I think the United States has re-opened the gap and that has been confirmed during this World Cup. I could see them heading into the Olympics with this group from 2014.

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…)

Faried wanted to face Spain on its home turf in FIBA World Cup final


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about Team USA’s win over Lithuania

BARCELONA — Basketball fans around the world aren’t the only ones upset they won’t get a chance to see the U.S. National Team and their counterparts from Spain in Sunday’s gold medal game of the FIBA World Cup.

U.S. forward Kenneth Faried wanted a piece of that action as well, and didn’t hide it after the U.S. punched its ticket for Madrid with a somewhat surprising blowout 96-68 blowout win over Lithuania in the semifinals Thursday night at Palau Saint Jordi.

Faried said he wasn’t sure if and where he would watch Friday’s semifinal in Madrid between France and Serbia. And he certainly wasn’t surprised that Spain fell to France in the quarterfinals in Madrid Wednesday night.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” he said. “There was too much hype around them. It was arrogant, borderline disrespectful to us, saying they’re better than us, we’re not going to be able to match up with their bigs and all this other arrogant stuff. I just took it as, ‘okay, alright. Once we meet them in the finals we’ll see what happens. We can’t even see what happens.”

One of the breakout stars on this U.S. team, a player many people didn’t think would make the roster, let alone come here and shine the way he has, Faried let loose even more about his disappointment about missing out on the chance to battle Spain on their home soil.

“I am disappointed,” he said. “I wanted to beat them in their own country.”

Faried’s words are exactly the kind U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski has stayed away from throughout this competition. And with Serbia and France still having to fight it out for that spot opposite the U.S. in the gold medal game, he certainly doesn’t want to add any bulletin board material to the party.

Neither did Faried’s teammates.

“Kenneth is crazy,” James Harden said and then smiled when told of Faried’s comments. “He’s crazy.”

The veterans of the program know better than to cross that line, having adopted Coach K’s respect the process (and the opponent, at all times) mantra.

“It honestly doesn’t matter,” said Steph Curry, who won gold in Turkey four years ago. “You know so many people were predicting that matchup. But it obviously didn’t happen. It was on people’s mind, with the history we have with them in the Olympics and then this idea of playing their home floor. We’re just happy to take care of our business, which we set out to do, and make it to the finals. Whoever matches up against us Sunday we’ll be ready for them.”

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.”

France shocks Spain, giving Team USA clearer path to gold


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

MADRID – The dream of a Spain-USA final at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is dead.

France ended it Wednesday with a stunning, 65-52 defeat of the Spain in the quarterfinals, playing a near perfect game to keep the hosts from even playing for a medal.

The USA’s chances to win its fourth straight international gold increased dramatically with Spain’s ouster. The Americans still have to get through Lithuania in the semifinals on Thursday and the winner of Serbia-France in the gold medal game on Sunday.

After a 2-3 performance in Group A, Serbia has played fantastically in the knockout rounds, beating 5-0 Greece and 5-1 Brazil by a total of 46 points to reach the semis. And if France continues to play the defense that it played on Wednesday, it can beat anybody.

But Spain was obviously the biggest threat to the USA’s winning streak, now at 43 games after Tuesday quarterfinal win over Slovenia. In fact, Spain looked like the World Cup favorites, with a full roster and a raucous home crowd behind them. Group A was the toughest pool in the tournament, as evidenced by its 4-0 record against Group B in the round of 16, and the hosts rolled through it, beating Brazil, France and Serbia by an average of 19.7 points.

On the other half of the bracket, Australia made a clear effort to avoid the U.S. until the semifinals and better its chance for a medal with who and how they played in their final pool-play contest. France had the opportunity to do the same with Spain, but played its final Group A game to win.

“We know, being third, we could cross with Spain in the quarterfinals,” France coach Vincent Collet said after his team’s win over Iran last week. “That’s basketball.”

Australia played to lose and then lost to Turkey in the round of 16. France played to win and pulled off the biggest upset that we’ve seen in a long time in international basketball. They simply outplayed Spain on both ends of the floor.

“For Spain, it was not that easy to play against us a second time,” Collet said afterward. “I think the big spread (24 points) of the first game was something important for us, because it was more motivation. We used it. We showed the players how bad we looked during the first game sometimes.”

The French players said they came in with a nothing-to-lose attitude and felt that all the pressure would be on Spain if the game was close down the stretch.

“It’s tough sometimes for a team to play at home,” Boris Diaw, who led France with 15 points, said. “I think we had the motivation to win and they had the motivation to not lose.”

But the pressure wouldn’t have been on the hosts’ shoulders down the stretch had France not played terrific defense. It started in transition, with France holding Spain to two measly fast break points.

In the half court, the Spanish guards mostly got nowhere on pick-and-rolls, as the French bigs hedged and then recovered quickly to their man. France’s rotations were sharp, keeping Spain from getting clean looks at the basket. As a result the hosts shot a brutal 2-for-22 from 3-point range.

Inside, the Spanish frontline of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka was neutralized by Diaw and France’s pair of young centers, Joffrey Lauvergne and Rudy Gobert, who both played the games of their lives.

Pau Gasol scored a game-high 17 points, but didn’t dominate like he had in earlier games. His brother and Ibaka both shot 1-for-7.

Lauvergne played the Gasols strong in the post, forcing them into tough shots away from the basket, and grabbed 10 rebounds in less than 17 minutes of action. Gobert outrebounded the Gasol brothers, 13-12, himself.

Gobert, the 22-year-old who played in just 45 games as a rookie for the Utah Jazz last season, has had a limited role on this team, backing up the smaller Lauvergne at center. But at 7-1 with a 9-foot-7 standing reach and a lot of bounce, he has a world of potential. He played a tourney-high 23 minutes on Wednesday and was, for the first time, on the floor down the stretch of a close game.

“He has a real desire to do good,” Collet said. “I think the dunk early in the game tonight gave him special energy and, for sure, he did an incredible job.”

Gobert had a strong Summer League. But this was a much bigger stage. He started to realize some of that potential on Wednesday, taking on the challenge of defending Pau Gasol and holding his own. He came up with one incredible block of an Ibaka tip-in and later swatted Gasol at the rim.

“He was incredible on defense,” France point guard Antoine Diot added. “When he plays like this, with his head, he’s fantastic.”

“For myself, I always knew I could help the team win,” Gobert said. “All my teammates played great offensively and I just had to guard Pau, because Pau is one of the best players in the world. If you stop him, they’re not the same team.”

Indeed, Spain played awful, and not just on offense. While France’s defense was near perfect, Spain’s guards got beat back-door countless times, leading to layups, open shots and offensive rebounds for France.

“We weren’t well prepared for this game,” Juan Carlos Navarro said.

Spain had looked determined to win this tournament on its home soil and to avenge gold-medal-game defeats to the U.S. in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Both Gasols showed up in Granada for pool play in terrific shape, while Navarro looked sharper than he did for FC Barcelona last season. Spain was a juggernaut through its first six games, jumping out ahead early and bullying its opponents into submission.

But when it was forced to play from behind and feel the pressure of a nation of fans on its shoulders, the team crumbled under all that weight. After trailing by seven at the half, Spain forced turnovers on France’s first four possessions of the third quarter and took a one-point lead into the fourth. But France answered with a 7-0 run and put the building on high alert.

“We kind of knew if we stay close,” Nicolas Batum said,  “at the end of the game, they’re going to doubt, because they can’t lose that game.”

They did lose that game. There will be no USA-Spain final, because the hosts failed to do their part.

“It was a painful loss, disappointing,” Pau Gasol said. “This team had such high expectations. We had played an incredible tournament up to this point. It just wasn’t our night.”

Familiar matchups in Madrid quarters


VIDEO: FIBA: Round of 16, Day 2 Wrap

MADRID – The only teams possibly keeping Spain out of the gold medal game at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup are teams that Spain beat last week in Granada.

All four teams that advanced from Group A beat the four teams that advanced from Group B in the round of 16 on Saturday and Sunday. So the two Madrid quarterfinals on Wednesday will each be rematches of games that were played exactly a week earlier.

In the first game (12 p.m. ET), Serbia (3-3) and Brazil (5-1) will play a rematch of what was the wildest game in Granada, in which Brazil led by 16 at the half and Serbia led by seven in the fourth quarter, and Brazil won by eight.

All tournament long, Brazil has looked like the third best team in tournament. In fact, they ranked third in both offensive and defensive efficiency (behind USA and Spain in both categories) through the round of 16. Their three NBA bigs aren’t big scorers, but they’re the fulcrum of an offense that has recorded an effective field goal percentage of 66.7 percent over its last three games.

Serbia has had a below-average defense in this tournament, but played its best game on Sunday, holding previously unbeaten Greece to just 30 points in the second half and getting a break-out performance from Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Brazil has made it clear that it’s out for a medal, and a victory on Wednesday would put it in position to win one. But if there was a sleeping giant in group play, it was Serbia, which features both young talent like Bogdanovic and a group of veterans who have enjoyed a lot of success on this level. So there may not be a more interesting quarterfinal than this one.

“This team,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said after his team’s win over Greece on Sunday, “can compete against anybody.”

France was able to compete with Spain for most of the first half last Wednesday. But a 12-2 Spanish run spanning the second and third quarters put the game out of reach.

France lacks Tony Parker, but won’t lack confidence when it faces Spain again in the quarterfinals (4 p.m. ET), having beat Spain in this event four years ago and in the Eurobasket semifinals last summer.

France has had a top-five defense in this tournament and may have a matchup it can exploit on the other end of the floor.

Spain starts 6-foot-4 Juan Carlos Navarro at the two, where he was guarding either 6-foot-8 Nicolas Batum or 6-foot-7 Mickael Gelabale. France didn’t do much to take advantage of that matchup in Granada, but Batum hinted this week that they may have been holding some things back in anticipation of a rematch in the knockout rounds.

“I don’t think we wanted to show what we can do,” Batum said Monday, “because we kind of knew we were going to meet them [again].”

But as much of an advantage that matchup might be for France, the European champs simply can’t match up with Spain’s frontline of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Joffrey Lauvergne has raised his stock in this tournament, but he’s still young, small (for a center), and inexperienced.

So France will have to play a near perfect game to have a shot of knocking out the tournament favorites.

“We need to [play defense] for 40 minutes and don’t turn the ball over,” Batum said, “because we’re going to be dead if we do that.”

Anything can happen in 40 minutes, and Spain still has two more games to play before it gets the matchup it wants, the U.S. for the gold in Madrid on Sunday.

Minor issues don’t slow down Spain


VIDEO: Spain wins easily over Senegal on Day 7 of World Cup action

MADRID – We are one step closer to what could be a riveting Spain-USA final at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. The Americans took care of business against Mexico in Barcelona on Saturday, and the hosts did the same against Senegal in Madrid.

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

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

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

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

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

And the Americans were No. 1 at forcing turnovers. A more minor issue that Spain had on Saturday was dealing with Senegal’s defensive length. Some passes that they got away with in group play were deflected or intercepted.

Spain committed just 11 turnovers for the game and limited to just three offensive rebounds in the second half. So yeah, we’re picking nits here. But there’s little else to do when these two teams are on a collision course, with little resistance from the opponents they’ve seen so far.

Should they meet in the gold medal game on Sept. 14, the U.S. will provide more defensive pressure than Spain has seen until that point. Spain, of course, will have the best defense and the most weapons that the U.S. has seen. The pressure will be high in more ways than one and every possession will be critical.

For now, we look forward to the quarterfinals, where each team will face a tougher test than they had on Saturday. The U.S. will need to defend against Slovenia’s No. 1 ranked offense, while Spain deals with the French defense that shut down Croatia for much of their 69-64 victory in the early game in Madrid.

Come Tuesday and Wednesday, we can nitpick some more.

Brazil puts itself in good position with big win over Serbia


VIDEO: FIBA: Day Five Wrap

GRANADA, SPAIN – There will be no easy games on the A-B side of the 16-team bracket at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Outside of Spain and the United States, there are probably nine second-tier teams in this tournament, and six of those nine will be in Madrid starting Saturday.

Throw in Spain and there’s basically one opponent (fourth place in Group B) you might choose to face on that side of the bracket. And Spain will likely get that opponent. So there are bound to be three very good matchups in the round of 16. Good news for fans, bad news for a bunch of teams hoping for a medal.

Brazil (3-1) is one of those teams. And while it can’t avoid two other second-tier squads in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, it did the next best thing: likely avoiding Spain until the semis with what will probably be a second-place finish in Group A.

The Brazilians still have one game to play (vs. Egypt on Thursday), but look good for second after beating France on Saturday and picking up another huge win, 81-73, over Serbia (2-2) on Wednesday.

It was a game of wild swings. Brazil’s offense looked better than it had in a long time in the first half, scoring 48 points on just 33 possessions. A turnaround jumper by Leandro Barbosa gave Brazil a 16-point lead at the half.

As good as the Brazil offense was in the first 20 minutes, Serbia’s was better in the next 10. It turned that 16-point deficit into a four-point lead with an incredible 32-12 third quarter. Serbia then led by as many as seven early in the fourth.

But Brazil wasn’t done. Sparked by a couple of huge Marquinhos Vieira 3s, they went on a 12-0 run to go back up five. Serbia couldn’t get anything done offensively as Tiago Splitter drew two straight charges on Miroslav Raduljica, who also went 1-for-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch.

Former Hornet Vieira (known as Marcus Vinicius when he was in the NBA) hit one more big 3 and finished with a game-high 21 points, having shot 6-for-9 from beyond the arc.

Though they have Marcelo Huertas and Leandro Barbosa in the backcourt to go with three NBA bigs, Brazil can struggle offensively if they’re not hitting 3s. The 6-9 Vieira hit two on his team’s first three possessions of the game and the floodgates opened from there.

“We need him,” Huertas said afterward, “as much as we need Leandro’s speed or for our bigs to dominate in the post. For us, when the guy has a day like he had today, we know if we set a good screen or find him open in the corner, that ball is going in.

“The guy is tall. It’s very hard to contest a shooter like him.”

Brazil got here with a wildcard invitation, having gone 0-4 at last year’s FIBA Americas tournament. But they were an obvious pick, with the ability to put a much better team on the floor than they did in 2013 and having played well at the 2010 World Championship and 2012 Olympics.

Both of those years, they lost narrow decisions to Argentina in the first knockout round (round of 16 in ’10, quarterfinals in ’12). They’d love to avenge those losses this year, and they clearly have their eyes on a medal. Wednesday’s win was a big step toward that, because you can’t medal if you lose to Spain or USA before the semifinals.

“For us, it’s big,” Huertas said. “We want to go as far as we can in this competition. We really feel we have a team that can compete at the highest level.”

More notes from Brazil 81, Serbia 73…

  • After an ugly start to Monday’s game against Spain, Brazil coach Ruben Magnano changed his lineup, starting Anderson Varejao instead of Nene. The move worked, with Brazil jumping out to a 14-4 lead.
  • Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a gutty, step-back 3 during Serbia’s big third-quarter run, but was rather quiet otherwise, scoring eight points on 2-for-7 shooting.
  • Barbosa is 31, but still has some game left. He’s averaged 11.5 points and has shot 6-for-13 from 3-point range through four games. Against Spain on Monday, he was the only Brazilian player who could get anything done offensively. Barbosa and Shaun Livingston should be an interesting back-up backcourt with the Warriors.
  • Unless it can beat Spain on Thursday, Serbia is looking at a fourth-place finish in Group A and a round-of-16 matchup with the winner of Thursday’s Argentina-Greece game on Sunday. Raduljica downplayed the significance of his team’s two losses to France and Brazil. “It didn’t affect us, because we don’t calculate are we going to win or lose. Of course, we want to win every game. It’s just how we go out on the court, do our best, and try to win.”

Other games of note…

Group A: Spain 88, France 64

Spain (4-0) passed test No. 2, which was slightly tougher than Monday’s game against Brazil. France (2-2) withstood a quick start from the hosts to come back and tie the game late in the first quarter. But a buzzer-beating three from Juan Carlos Navarro gave Spain the lead for good.

Despite a flurry of third-quarter turnovers and fouls by their opponent, Spain didn’t really open the game up until early in the fourth. Their second-half energy wasn’t as good as it was against Brazil or in the first half.

Pau Gasol (15 points, four rebounds, two blocks) didn’t dominate as much as he did against Brazil, but brother Marc (17 points, six rebounds, three steals) and Serge Ibaka (10 points, eight rebounds, two blocks) picked up the slack.

  • Spain has four NBA bigs on its roster, but only uses three in its regular rotation, with Victor Claver at the end of the bench. So Marc Gasol played the first 14:35 of the game. In fact, the whole Spanish starting lineup played the entire first quarter.
  • Nicolas Batum couldn’t really take advantage of a mismatch with the smaller Navarro. Batum scored 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
  • 2013 draft pick Joffrey Lauvergne got a good test, starting against the Gasol brothers. He mostly held his own, but Pau’s size, in particular, gave him trouble. He shot 3-for-9, struggling to finish in the paint.
  • Lauvergne said Wednesday that the Nuggets offered him a contract this summer, but it wasn’t enough for him to come over. He signed a more lucrative two-year deal with Khimki, with a buyout option next year. Denver still retains his rights.
  • Lauvergne is really too small to play the five, but that’s where France needs him with their veteran centers missing the World Cup. (Rudy Gobert backs him up.) If he’s going to play the four in the NBA, he’ll need to be able to shoot. He took a couple of threes on Wednesday and his form looked OK, but both were off the mark.
  • Evan Fournier wasn’t in the France rotation, but finally showed a little offense, scoring nine points on 4-for-7 shooting in garbage time.

Group B: Puerto Rico 77, Philippines 73

Another close game, another heartbreaker and elimination for the Philippines (0-4), who led by as many as 14 in the second quarter and by three, with the ball, with 2:30 left in the fourth. They committed a couple of bad turnovers in the final two minutes and J.J. Barea came up huge for Puerto Rico (1-3), who stayed alive with the win.

Barea pulled up for three to tie the game with 2:10 left. He then converted a tough drive with just under a minute to go to give the boricuas the lead. He finished with 30 points on 8-for-15 shooting, getting to the line 12 times and still asking for a foul call whenever he didn’t.

Andray Blatche had 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Philippines, which will have one more shot at a win against Senegal on Thursday.

More Day 5 notes

  • Mexico’s loss to Australia makes it even more likely that they will finish fourth in Group D and be USA’s opponent in the round of 16 on Saturday.
  • Slovenia (4-0) trailed by three early in the fourth quarter and didn’t play Goran Dragic at all in the final period, but managed to remain unbeaten with a 93-87 win over Angola.
  • Gorgui Dieng finally had an off night, shooting just 4-for-12 as Senegal got hammered by Argentina.
  • Donatas Motiejunas recovered well from not playing the entire second half against Australia on Tuesday. He had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists in Lithuania’s win over Korea.
  • Greece remained unbeaten in Group B with a 76-65 win over Croatia. Incoming Rockets rookie Kostas Papanikolaou had his best game of the tournament, scoring 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

Big games on tap for Thursday

There’s still a lot to be determined on the final day of pool play.

  • Senegal can clinch a surprise trip to the knockout rounds, but needs to hold off the pesky Philippines team (8 a.m. ET).
  • The winner of Finland-New Zealand (9 a.m. ET) will have a chance to squeak in out of Group C with a decisive point differential.
  • Lithuania (3-1) and Slovenia (4-0) have both clinched spots in the knockout rounds, but their game (3:30 p.m. ET) will be for first place in Group D and a chance to avoid the U.S. until the semifinals.
  • Argentina (3-1) and Greece (4-0) are in the same exact situation on the other half of the bracket. The winner of their game (4 p.m. ET) will take first place in Group B and avoid Spain until the semis.
  • Spain gets its last test of group play against Serbia (4 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Rose sheds rust on his own schedule


VIDEO: U.S. rolls to 3-0 with decisive win over New Zealand

BILBAO, SPAIN — Stop measuring Derrick Rose‘s return with any conventional tools or methods that come to mind. They don’t apply. Not to a player whose every move and facial expression is being read for signs that he either is or is not back to the form that made him the MVP of the NBA early in his career.

Just keep it simple. Trust that he knows his own body and is sure that he is right where he is supposed to be, where he expects to be after playing a grand total of 10 games the past two NBA seasons.

Because anything else, any extra scrutiny or incessant worrying, won’t change things. The fact is Rose has rust to shake off. And he’s doing it on his own schedule. Not mine. Not yours. Not anyone else’s.

That might explain why he’s here in Spain with U.S. National Team on its quest to repeat as champs at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Some people wondered why he’d put himself through this grind, five games in six days in Group C play.

It makes more sense after watching him play through these first three games, the latest being Tuesday’s 98-71 demolition of New Zealand. Rose started the second half, replacing Kyrie Irving in a game that was already over by then.

The trademark burst and explosive moves have come in flashes, in starts and stops. The muscle memory is returning, slowly but surely. But there were no numbers to back up what many of us here saw. Three points on 1-for-6 shooting and just two assists in nearly 17 minutes of action sounds like pedestrian work for a player of Rose’s caliber.

But not to U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, who chuckled at the idea of someone questioning why he’d start Rose after halftime.

“I started him because he’s one of the best players in the league,” he said. “And also to see how he would … he needs to get minutes with the guys who are playing more minutes. Because he’s a guy that should play more minutes. And it’s something that I thought about before the game and it worked out that way. I thought Kyrie played really well. And I thought Derrick played really well. But I didn’t use them that much together tonight, because I wanted to see it separately. But he did well. I thought he moved well. And I thought he captured some of that chemistry he had in Vegas with James [Harden].”

That would be the chemistry observers saw there that had folks buzzing about Rose’s return, which would begin here with Rose as the starting point guard on this team. But Coach K and his staff backed off on that and have gone with Irving and Stephen Curry as the starting backcourt, with Rose coming off the bench.

The prospect of three games in three days doesn’t worry Rose, who smiled when asked how he was feeling after the first game.

“I couldn’t make a damn shot,” Rose said, “but I feel good.”

Coach K said the same, that he thinks Rose will hold up just fine after playing his best game, to date, against New Zealand.

“He’s moving very fast, he had that one shot go in and out, and then Kenneth [Faried] put it back in,” Coach K said. “I like the way he moved and fought through defensively. He doesn’t show any signs of favoring anything. I think he played well today.”

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, an assistant on the U.S. National Team staff, agrees.

“He’s working every day,” Thibodeau said. “And the only way you’re going to shake that rust off is by playing and I think that’s very important for him.”

The Bulls have two players in this competition playing at opposite ends of their own personal spectrums. Pau Gasol has been dominant for Spain, looking like easily one of the best big men and players in the entire field.

He, Rose and Joakim Noah will form the nucleus of a team everyone, Thibodeau included, expects to be among the NBA elite for the 2014-15 season and beyond. So much of that depends on not only how quickly they come together as a unit, but also whether or not Rose’s body passes summer school here at the World Cup.

“Great players always figure out how to play with each other,” Thibodeau said. “When you get a great player as talented as Pau and you put Derrick with him and they are going to be terrific together. And then you add in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson and we’ve got a lot of talented players. The challenge is how quickly we can come together.

If Rose is back to normal, there’s nothing stopping the Bulls from battling it out with Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

“He’s not going to change who he is,” Thibodeau said. “His strengths are his strengths. The big thing is for him, is physically he’s good and mentally he’s good. But he’s got to work on his timing. He hasn’t played in two years, basically, so it doesn’t happen overnight. I think he understands that. He’s showing great patience. He’s taken good care of his body. He’s putting everything he has into each and every day. It’ll come. It’ll come.”