Posts Tagged ‘Steph Curry’

Morning shootaround — Nov. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron loves seeing the Hawks| Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? | CP3 rescues the Clippers | Rockets talking mental toughness

No. 1: LeBron loves seeing the Hawks — Perhaps this is his way of taking out his frustrations on the San Antonio Spurs. Since he couldn’t do it against the real Spurs, LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers went in on the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night in record fashion. LeBron, as Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group makes clear, loves seeing the Hawks:

LeBron James’ body language spoke volumes Saturday night.

Consider what was said in the second quarter of the Cavaliers’ 127-94 thumping of the Atlanta Hawks.

Cleveland was on its way to a 71-point first half, had drained its first 11 three-pointers, and would end the half with assists on 22 of 25 field goals. James wasn’t sprinting so much as he was gliding around the court, tossing one-handed, no-look, razor-sharp passes into traffic for layups.

The way he was moving around the court, his leg churning like pistons and eyes up, looking for open teammates with a little grin on his face – was a look seldom (if ever seen) on James since he returned to the Cavaliers.

He looked like he was having fun.

“I have fun every time I step out on the basketball court – win, lose, or draw,” James said. “I have a love for the game, I have fun, I show it on my face sometimes more than others. Inside, the kid is always excited to put another uniform on and go out and play.”

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No. 2: Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? — Leave it up the Knicks, a team struggling in every facet in this early season, to worry about free agency before Thanksgiving. They are already poised to pick a fight with the reigning world champion San Antonio Spurs … for Marc Gasol, who by the way is busy leading his Memphis Grizzlies to the top of the Western Conference standings right now. Those little details won’t stop Knicks Nation from dreaming about what could be. Frank Isola of the Daily News has more:

Phil Jackson has made a career out of taking pot shots at the San Antonio Spurs so even if the Knicks president doesn’t respect Greg Popovich’s club he should fear them.

The Knicks’ main free-agent target, Marc Gasol, is also being targeted as a possible replacement to Tim Duncan assuming Ol’ Man Riverwalk retires this summer. The Knicks will be players for the Memphis center mainly because of the first three rules of real estate — location, location, location — and because Gasol is familiar with both Jackson and Derek Fisher since older brother Pau spent the best years of his career with the Lakers.

Otherwise, staying in Memphis will be appealing to Gasol, whose team is a legitimate championship contender. The Grizzlies can offer Gasol the most money, and he has grown to love the city, having lived there since high school when Pau broke in with the Grizzlies.

Coincidently, Pau considered the Spurs this past summer but took more money to join the Chicago Bulls, much to Jackson’s chagrin. When Pau signed, Jackson tweeted a photo of lightning striking the city of Chicago. He might end up tossing his iPhone in the East River if Marc signs with the Spurs, arguably the best run franchise in all of pro sports. They also have the nucleus to remain a contender for years to come.

Signing with the Knicks strictly for basketball reasons is a tougher sell, although his Spanish teammate, Jose Calderon, will be a key part of the recruiting pitch. History, however, is not on the Knicks’ side. The last major free agent to make a significant impact was Allan Houston all the way back in the summer of the 1996. Back then, Jeff Van Gundy was winning big as the head coach, and Jim Dolan was learning to play the guitar, not running the Garden. Crazy coincidence, no?

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No. 3:CP3 to the rescue for Clippers — It’s an act Chris Paul will probably have to perform more often than he wants to this season, rescuing the Los Angeles Clippers from despair the way he did against the Phoenix Suns. But that’s the burden he signed on for when he became the face of the franchise. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

After taking four days off to collect themselves after a difficult loss to San Antonio, Chris Paul made sure the Clippers played better basketball.

Paul took over the game in the third quarter and then saved the Clippers from imploding in the fourth, pushing Los Angeles to a 120-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night at Staples Center.

Paul scored a season-high 32 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including five for six on three-point shots. He had nine assists and five rebounds in helping the Clippers score a season high in points.

When the Clippers’ 26-point lead was cut to 11 points late in the fourth quarter, Paul went to work.

He scored seven consecutive points in the fourth to help the Clippers pull out a victory in which six players scored in double figures.

He made two free throws, a three-pointer and a jumper.

The Clippers outscored the Suns, 42-20, in the third quarter in opening their big lead.

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No. 4: Rockets talking mental toughness – The Houston Rockets have clearly turned a corner on the court from last season. They look every bit as fit to chase a championship as we thought they should have and would have a year ago. But the real test is about the mental toughness needed to win it all. And the Rockets are working on that, as should be expected after a narrow escape against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Jenny Dial-Creech of the Houston Chronicle explains:

After barely pulling out an 88-87 win over Philadelphia on Friday night, the Rockets practiced Saturday in preparation for their third set of back-to-back road games this season.

On Sunday, the Rockets will play at Oklahoma City and on Monday they will travel to Memphis.

“We already know these are two playoff teams,” guard Jason Terry said. “Both of these teams, barring they stay healthy, will be in the playoffs this year. Oklahoma is a tough team. We know their system very well.

“Memphis is a division opponent. It is sort of a rivalry. You have to say that because they are in the division so you never want to lose division games. It will be a tough challenge because they have two great big men that are the toughest two tandem in the league and you have a great, young point guard in Conley who pushes the tempo and is always on the attack.”

Terry said that headed into the road trip, he felt the Rockets were mentally stronger than ever thanks to the close call against the Sixers.

“We grew as a team,” he said. “On this journey that we go on through the regular season, there are going to be times where your mental toughness is tested and (Friday) was one of those times. We got back late from Mexico City. We didn’t practice. We came right back here and the game came so fast against a team that lost by 50 the night before. They were ready, they were hungry, they challenged us and we weathered the storm. I learned a lot about us, about our mental toughness. It’s good to see, and it’s good to see early on in the season. It won’t be the last test, but we passed the first one.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Magic finally get Victor Oladipo back in their starling lineup … The Chicago Bulls love what Pau Gasol brings to the Windy City  … Bradley Beal targeting a return to practice this week with the Wizards … Warriors coach Steve Kerr is keeping his (starting lineup) options open … The Milwaukee Bucks’ dedication to defense is paying off

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 177) Real or Fake?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You are what your record says you are.

That’s the way I was taught.

But in the NBA it’s just not that simple.

In San Antonio this time every year, the Spurs are whatever Gregg Popovich wants them to be. In Los Angeles, the Lakers are exactly who we thought they were while the Clippers certainly are not.

Cleveland is a work in progress.

But what about this upstart crew in Sacramento?

And Toronto?

Or Chicago, Miami, New York, Portland, Brooklyn and elsewhere?

Houston and Golden State certainly look like they are legitimate.

But doesn’t anyone really know for sure after just seven or eight games for most teams. Toss in all of the injuries in places like Oklahoma City and Indiana, and there is even more early season mystery about this NBA season.

In an effort to solve all of these mysteries we’ve embarked upon a round of real or fake(?) on Episode 177 of The Hang Time Podcast … (where we also say goodbye to a member of the HTP family) …

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

Morning shootaround — Nov. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suddenly confident Lakers get first win, eye more | Thunder “supporting cast” leads the way over Kings | Waiters clears the air on anthem-gate | Hibbert: Paul George is getting LeBron big

No. 1: Suddenly confident Lakers get first win, eye more — Leave it up to Kobe Bryant to be thinking about mountains after his Los Angeles Lakers climb a mole hill. The Lakers suffered five straight losses before securing their first win of the season over Charlotte Sunday. Now Bryant is looking to get greedy this week, suggesting that a couple more wins this week are a distinct possibility. Helene Elliott of The Los Angeles Times explains:

Where are the Lakers going? That’s tough to say. We know, at least, that they won’t go 0-82.

It’s also certain that they’re headed into a tough part of their schedule. Had they not won on Sunday, they might have had a long wait for that first win because they will face Memphis and New Orleans back to back on the road Tuesday and Wednesday before returning home to face San Antonio and Golden State. After that, they’re on the road at Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

So if it wasn’t now-or-never, it was close.

Sunday became now because they defended with some energy and had a balanced offense that wasn’t just Kobe Bryant and a bunch of other guys. Their success was constructed with 16 points from Carlos Boozer, 12 from Jordan Hill and 21 points and seven assists from Jeremy Lin, whose midcourt scream seemed to sum up fans’ long pent-up frustrations after he hit a three-point shot that gave the Lakers a 94-79 lead with 4 minutes 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

“They got into it,” Wesley Johnson said of the fans. “When we started making shots, that’s when the crowd got into it and everybody’s energy levels picked up a little more.”

And so did the Lakers’ confidence level. Asked if they would carry some momentum into those games at Memphis and New Orleans, Bryant spoke in a tone that was matter-of-fact. “I wouldn’t be shocked if we went out there and won both of them,” he said.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks about the Lakers’ first win of 2014-15

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers struggling to live up to the hype | Rockets will be short-handed in battle of unbeatens | The “dark side” of the triangle

No. 1: Clippers struggling to live up to the hype — Don’t believe the hype, especially when it’s self-generated. The Los Angeles Clippers are finding that out the hard way this season, struggling early on to play up to expectations (both internally and externally) that had many folks picking them as the favorite to win the Western Conference and perhaps the NBA title. We’re barely two weeks into this NBA season, but it’s clear they are not playing at a level that was expected of them. Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times breaks it down in advance of the Clippers’ afternoon tussle with the Portland Trail Blazers:

Everyone, it seems, is playing pop psychologist, diagnosing the problems of a team widely expected to contend for the Western Conference title that has gotten off to an underwhelming start.

With the Lakers winless through the season’s first five games, the Clippers could color Los Angeles red and blue beyond their “BE RELENTLESS” ads adorning buildings and billboards. It hasn’t happened.

“This is a chance for the Clippers to take over the city and they don’t want it,” Hall of Fame shooting guard and TNT analyst Reggie Miller said Friday in a phone interview. “You should have people in the barber shop buzzing about the Clippers. As opposed to talking about their effort, they should be saying, ‘Did you see that play?'”

A more common refrain after the season’s first week: Oy vey.

The Clippers are 3-2 but were blown out by Golden State and lost at home to a Sacramento team that won only 28 games last season. They have been outrebounded in every game and couldn’t hold double-digit leads in four games.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers called his players “soft” after their 17-point loss to the Warriors and didn’t seem impressed by a team meeting afterward.

“When I read about team meetings in the league, I’m thinking, ‘I hope we play them next,'” Rivers said Friday. “We all know we didn’t play hard. I don’t think I need a team meeting for that.”

One observer who watched the Warriors’ demolition of the Clippers has remained Zen about the team’s prospects.

“I think everybody in Clipperland has to do the Aaron Rodgers thing right now,” ESPN analyst and former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said, referring to the Green Bay Packers quarterback who told fans to loosen up amid a slow start. “Relax. Let it play out. If at 20 games, you get to a quarter of the year and there’s issues, that’s when I think you start evaluating more so than after five games.”

Van Gundy said what’s more important than the Clippers’ spotty play is what they do next. They play the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.

It’s a chance to start resembling the team the Clippers want to be. Of course, even a blowout victory wouldn’t end their concerns.

“It’s not like we go out against Portland, have a good game and we’re like, ‘Well, thank God that’s over,'” Griffin said. “We’ve just got to stay with it and keep working on the things we have to work on.”


VIDEO: Hornets guard Lance Stephenson sinks the game winner against the Hawks

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First Team: ‘Bron still after one award

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Despite being hailed as a stellar defender, LeBron has yet to nab a coveted Defensive Player of the Year award.

Despite being hailed as a stellar defender, LeBron James has yet to nab a coveted Defensive Player of the Year nod.

Many will remember the 2013-14 season for what LeBron James didn’t accomplish.

No third straight MVP. No third straight championship. No Defensive Player of the Year award. No … well, that’s about it. When you’ve turned the NBA upside down over the past 11 years, your list of failures is short.

Last season, ‘Bron scored 27 points per game on 57 percent from the field. What gives for the outlandish accuracy? He has mastered the drive. He can certainly shoot it, but his dominance is due to his pronounced ability to control the area closest to the rim. It’s the same strategy his transcendent high-flying predecessors — Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan — adopted.

The other side of the ball holds his lingering individual motivation. James has made no secret about his desire to capture the top defensive award. After famously shedding serious weight this offseason, he promises to be quicker and more agile and disruptive than ever.

A Defensive Player of the Year award may come to Cleveland, although the franchise would gladly accept a championship first.

Here are his top games last season:

November 15, 2013 — Torching The Old Nemesis

The Line: 39 points on 14-for-18 shooting

The Quote:If I get 37 shots in a game, I’m going to put up 60. Easy.” — James


VIDEO: LeBron James runs wild on the Mavericks for 39 points

Earlier in the week, Rudy Gay set an NBA record with 37 field goal attempts. On this night, LeBron shot about half that number for 10 more points.

Drifting jumpers, quick dribble-drives, long 2s … in short, James had the full repertoire working. The Mavs elected to follow the Spurs’ 2013 Finals strategy of not double teaming, but contesting every perimeter shot he took. In other words, Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder and Monta Ellis were on their own.

A one-legged Dirkian fadeaway by James with a little over two minutes left gave the Heat the cushion needed to put Dallas away. (more…)

USAB program solid from top to bottom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…)

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.”