Posts Tagged ‘Team USA’

Notes from RUS 78, NZL 56

ISTANBUL – As expected, Russia will be the team the U.S. faces in the quarterfinals of the 2010 FIBA World Championship. It wasn’t pretty, but they took care of business with a 78-56 win over New Zealand in Monday’s nightcap at the Sinan Erdem Dome.

Russia is now 5-1 with a very tough defense, and will be a much tougher test for the U.S. than Angola was.

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Notes from USA 92, TUN 57

ISTANBUL – The U.S. National Team wrapped up pool play with an easy 92-57 win over Tunisia that meant nothing as far as the Group B standings or round-of-16 seeding was concerned.

I’ll have an overview of pool play across all four groups and a lookahead to the round of 16 later on today. For now, here are a few notes on today’s first game at the Abdi Ipekci Arena.

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This was not this team’s best day. In fact, the first half, which the U.S. won by just six points, was embarrassing.

Of course, it wasn’t as bad as the scoreboard told it, because the pace of that first half was so unbearably slow. Each team had just 33 possessions in the first half. Part of that was due to the number of offensive rebounds each team had (15 total if you count team offensive boards), but it was still an ugly half no matter how you slice it.

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Speaking of offensive boards, that was the U.S. Team’s biggest problem this afternoon. Tunisia grabbed 20 of its own misses. Add five more defensive boards that the U.S. was unable to secure (counted as team offensive rebounds for Tunisia) and you have 25 second opportunities for the underdog.

Defensive rebounding hasn’t been a big issue for the U.S. through its first four games (Brazil had zero second-chance points in Monday’s thriller), but Tunisia was arguably the its first opponent that really went after offensive boards.

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Rudy Gay suffered a slightly strained groin (right side) in the first half, slipping one of the decals in the middle of the floor and did not play in the second half.

Gay talked of the injury like it was minor and said that he’ll be fine by Monday, when the U.S. will play Angola in the round of 16.

“It’s nothing too much,” Gay said. “I’ve been through stuff like this before and I know how to get better.”

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Eric Gordon was the leading scorer with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting (4-for-7 from 3-point range). He also was aggressive defending the ball, picking up three steals.

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I know it’s hard to be critical of Kevin Love with the per-minute production he’s had, but he’s too quick to shoot threes when he’s on the floor. Mike Krzyzewski has given him the green light to shoot from out there, but that doesn’t mean he should be taking every one the defense gives him, especially when it’s early in the shot clock.

Of course, he took just one three on Thursday and was 3-for-7 from 3-point range in pool play, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

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As a team, the U.S. shot 1-for-10 from 3-point range in the first half and 9-for-16 in the second half.

One of the things the U.S. team needs right now is some practice time. By the time they finally hit the practice floor on Saturday (after a day off Friday), it will have been more than a week since they practiced.

But Krzyzewski took advantage of some extra pre-game time (which comes with playing the first game of the day), and had some personal instruction for Love and Tyson Chandler on the floor about an hour before game time.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Notes From FIBA Day 5

ISTANBUL – Day 5 at the 2010 FIBA World Championship brought some key games, but USA-Iran was not one of them. As expected, the U.S. rolled to an easy win.

Did they accomplish anything other than clinching first place in Group B? I tried to answer that question in the postgame analysis.

Check out the quote near the bottom from Andre Iguodala about defensive communication. They’ll definitely need it against the teams that execute well offensively like Brazil did in the first half on Monday.

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Jerry Colangelo mentioned after tonight’s game that the team had a great meeting in the morning. I don’t know the details, but here’s what Iguodala had to say about it…

“Coach K does a great job of motivating his teams. He showed us the difference between the games we played against Croatia and Slovenia versus the game we played against Brazil.”

And there’s little doubt that the staff made the players aware of the likelihood that they’ll face Greece or Spain in the quarterfinals, because both Iguodala and Rudy Gay admitted to knowing about the scenario that has been playing out in Groups C and D.

“Whether you play them in the first round or the gold medal round, you’ve still got to play your best basketball,” Iguodala said. “It just calls us to key in for the early rounds and hopefully, get wins. And it prepares us for the medal rounds.”

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The big game at the Abdi Ipekci Arena today was the nightcap between Brazil and Slovenia. Brazil was clearly the tougher test for the U.S. and it also got Anderson Varejao back for this game, but it was Slovenia that captured second place in Group B with an impressive 80-77 win.

That puts Slovenia on the more wide-open half of the bracket, the one without the U.S. and likely without Spain or Greece. And now Brazil will play Croatia for third place in Group B on Thursday. If Brazil wins that one, they’ll be on the same half of the bracket as the U.S. and play the loser of tomorrow’s Argentina-Serbia game in the round of 16. No matter which of those two teams it is, that would be a must-watch matchup.

That Argentina-Serbia game could be the biggest of the day, and you can watch it on NBA TV at noon ET. The winner will finish first in Group A and be on the easier side of the bracket. The loser will finish second and likely have to play Brazil on Tuesday.

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After their game was over tonight, the U.S. players caught the end of the Angola-Germany game in their locker room. Germany had a four-point lead with 30 seconds to go in regulation, but couldn’t hold on to it. They lost in overtime and were eliminated from qualifying for the round of 16.

Now, Angola will play Australia on Thursday, with the loser finishing fourth in Group A and facing the U.S. in the round of 16. The winner will finish third and face Slovenia.

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I’ve written and tweeted plenty about the possibility of Spain (as D3) and Greece (as C2) facing each other in the round of 16, but it’s no guarantee. In fact, I think I was wrong when I wrote yesterday that Spain can finish no better than third in Group D.

Check out this scenario: If New Zealand beats France and Spain beats Canada on Thursday, then France, New Zealand and Spain would all be tied for second place at 3-2. The first tie-breaker is head-to-head, but all three teams would have one win and one loss against the other two.

The next tie-breaker would be what FIBA calls “goal average,” which is calculated by points scored / points allowed in the two head-to-head games. Here’s where the three teams stand before Thursday’s action.

France = 72/66 = 1.091 goal average (and would go down with a loss to New Zealand)
New Zealand = 84/101 = 0.832 GA (and would go up with a win over France)
Spain = 167/156 = 1.071 GA

So if New Zealand can upset France and take France’s GA below 1.071, Spain could finish second in the group and avoid that game against Greece.

Greece could also avoid it … if they lose to Russia on Thursday. That game is for second place in Group C.

Of course, if Spain finishes second in Group D and Greece finishes third in Group C, they’d still play each other …  on the other half of the bracket.

That’s a lot to think about …  and a lot of games to watch on Thursday.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Big Shake-Ups on Day 4 in Turkey

ISTANBUL – Tuesday was a day off in Groups A and B at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. For the U.S., it was a true day off, as coach Mike Krzyzewski canceled practice after three straight days of games. So it was a day for sleeping late, relaxing by the pool and getting some laundry done.

In Ankara and Izmir, however, big things were going down as the two nightcaps in Groups C and D have truly shaken up the tournament.

In Group C, Turkey defeated Greece behind a huge game (26 points, 6-for-6 from 3-point range) from Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova. The win gives Turkey the inside track to finish first in the group, with Greece likely to finish second.

In Group D, Lithuania came back from 11 down at the end of the third quarter to shock Spain, with the Raptors’ Linas Kleiza getting the go-ahead bucket in the final minute and Marc Gasol missing two critical free throws on the next possession. Spain is now 1-2, and with both of the teams they lost to a 3-0, they can finish no better than third in Group D.

Check out the replay of Spain-Lithuania at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday on NBA TV.

Spain has Lebanon (Wednesday) and Canada (Thursday) left on their schedule, so they are very likely to finish third.

In the round of 16, the third-place team in Group D plays the second-place team in Group C, which is likely to be Greece. And who would the winner of that game play?

If the U.S. wins its first elimination game, it would be them.

So we are looking at the very distinct possibility of Greece, Spain and the United States — the three favorites to win this tournament before it began — all being in the same quarter of the bracket, with two of the three being eliminated before the semifinals.

Buckle your seat belts.

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Who would be on the other side of the bracket, with an easier road to a medal? Argentina (A1, unless they lose to Serbia on Thursday), Brazil (B2, unless they lose to Slovenia on Wednesday), Turkey (C1, unless they lose to both Puerto Rico and China) and the loser of Wednesday’s France-Lithuania game (D2).

But imagine that Serbia beats Argentina and Australia in the next two days, while Slovenia beats Brazil on Wednesday. Then Argentina and Brazil would be on the Greece/Spain/USA half of the bracket too.

Also on that half will be the winner of the France-Lithuania game.

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The U.S. takes on Iran on Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN. There is some political significance to this game, because the two countries have never faced each other in basketball court. But there won’t be much to it from a basketball standpoint. Iran will be completely overmatched in terms of both size and talent.

It is a chance to see Grizzlies center Hamed Haddadi play something other than NBA garbage time. Haddadi is averaging 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks through Iran’s first three games. He’s even shooting 33 percent (4-for-12) from 3-point range.

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The big game in Group B will be Brazil-Slovenia, which you can watch live on NBA TV at 2:30 ET. That one’s essentially for second place in the group and the chance to play on the more open side of the bracket.

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Turkish lesson of the day: Doğum günün kutlu olsun = Happy birthday!

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More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Notes From FIBA Day 3

ISTANBUL – With Monday’s 70-68 escape over Brazil, the U.S. is done with the (relatively) difficult portion of their pool play schedule.

It was a tale of two halves tonight. Here’s the analysis and here are the highlights from FIBA.

The U.S. defense really got turned on with its decision to trap the pick-and-roll at halftime, but it did improve incrementally as the game went on. Check out Brazil’s quarter-by-quarter scoring:

First: 28 points on 19 possessions (147 per 100)

Second: 18 points on 21 possessions (86 per 100)

Third: 13 points on 19 possessions (68 per 100)

Fourth: 9 points on 18 possessions (50 per 100)

Overall, it was a strong defensive game for the U.S. (allowing 88 points per 100 possessions), but it sure wasn’t looking that way at halftime.

Of course, the U.S. had a similar, but not so drastic, fall-off offensively. Total points (both teams) by quarter: 50, 39, 31, 18.

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With it being a tight game early on, Mike Krzyzewski‘s first-half rotation was shorter than usual. Then came the second half…

Billups 20:00, Durant 20:00, Iguodala 17:06, Rose 15:34, Odom 15:05, Chandler 4:55, Westbrook 4:47, Gay 2:30, Love 0:03.

That, ladies and gentleman, is a short rotation. Kevin Durant played all but 36 seconds of this game, and he managed to still have enough energy to talk to Kyle Montgomery and Dennis Scott on NBA TV afterward…

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Kevin Love was brought in for those final three seconds to secure the game-clinching rebound. He didn’t get the chance, as the ball caromed to the other side of the floor, but he ended up being the only defender near Leandro Barbosa for that final shot. And yes, I got a tweet claiming that Love fouled him.

I didn’t have a good angle.

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At one point in the second half, a small group of Americans broke out a “U-S-A” chant. Now, there were not many Brazilians in the arena, but that chant was quickly drowned out by boos and (mostly) whistles. The neutrals in the building were most definitely pulling for the underdog (and/or against the USA).

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I quoted Chauncey Billups plenty in today’s analysis, but here’s more postgame wisdom from the veteran leader…

“We can’t worry about how much we win by, or worry about winning in the same fashion that [other U.S. teams won]. That’s all out the window. All we need to do is get wins.”

And on a scare like this being a good thing…

“Particularly really good for the young guys to have a game like this where you know you’re not invincible, and you can be beat on any night.”

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In other Group B action today, Slovenia got a big win over Croatia, which sets up a matchup with Brazil on Wednesday to likely determine second place in the group.

And Iran survived a furious comeback by Tunisia to win the de-facto fifth-place game.

In Group A, things went according to plan: Serbia over Jordan, Australia over Germany, and Argentina over Angola, by an average of 33 points.

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Both Group A and Group B take the day off on Tuesday, with Groups C and D getting back on the floor after their day off.

Neither Iran (Wednesday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN) nor Tunisia (Thursday, 9:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2) will provide much of a test for the U.S. The challenge for this team will be finding a way to get better against inferior opponents and somehow using those games to prepare for the elimination rounds.

Whether they get better or not, the U.S. will win those two games, finish pool play with a 5-0 record and hold the B1 seed for the round of 16. That means they’ll play the fourth place team from Group A on Monday (time TBD).

Right now, that opponent could be one of four teams: Angola, Australia, Germany or Serbia.

Angola is 1-2 after today’s loss to Argentina but can finish at 2-3 and win a tie-breaker over Germany if they beat the Germans on Wednesday.

Australia is 2-1 after their easy win over Germany on Monday. With remaining games against Serbia (Wednesday) and Angola (Thursday), the Boomers should finish no worse than 3-2, but it’s possible that a 3-2 record could put them in a three-way tie for second, third and fourth with Germany and Serbia.

Germany is 1-2, but still has Angola (Wednesday) and Jordan (Thursday) left on its schedule. If they beat Angola, the Germans would likely finish 3-2. Serbia is currently 2-1 in Group A, but still has to play Australia (Wednesday) and Argentina (Thursday), so it could finish 3-2 or 2-3.

The U.S. doesn’t quite know who their opponent will be on Monday, but they’ll have a much better idea after Wednesday’s Angola-Germany and Australia-Serbia games.

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To look ahead a little more (at the risk of being called an arrogant American) … In the quarterfinals, the winner of the B1-A4 game plays the winner of C2-D3. C2 will likely be the loser of Tuesday’s Greece-Turkey matchup and D3 could be France or Lithuania.

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Turkish lesson of the day: Teşekkür ederim = Thank you.

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More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Notes From FIBA Day 2

Hooked on Love. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL – Day 2 of the World Championship is in the books. The U.S. had a bit of a rough stretch between the first and second quarters against Slovenia, but they recovered well for another win by 20-plus.

That ugly stretch and the travel calls, specifically, were the focus of today’s post-game analysis.

As you’ll read there, Boki Nachbar thought that there weren’t enough of those travel calls made against the U.S. on Sunday. And from all the whistles I heard, I’d say that the Slovenian fans in the crowd agreed with him.

I was actually asking Boki about the refs calling the game loose, because it seemed to me that the U.S. was allowed to push the Slovenians around a bit defensively (even more contact than you regularly see in FIBA ball). But here was his full response…

“The one thing that bothers me is too many times the refs looked away when they traveled. This is FIBA basketball. In FIBA basketball, you’re not allowed to take two steps before you put the ball down. And too many times, the refs don’t call that when Team USA’s on the floor. That’s the only thing that I have to say. Otherwise, they were good.”

***

Kevin Love is beastly. He’s now got 21 boards in 26:38 of playing time over the last two days. That’s 31.5 rebounds per 40 minutes. Not bad.

“That’s what I do,” he says. “That’s how I make my money.”

He admits, though, that his role is a little different than it is back in Minnesota.

“Playing with all these guys, they definitely open up the floor. I know that if I’m going to stay in the game and play minutes, I have to get out there and get every rebound. That’s kind of what coach tells me. Right before I go in the game, he says ‘get me every rebound.’”

And coach Mike Krzyzewski will probably be telling him that a little earlier in the game on Monday.

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Things continue to go as planned in Group B, with Croatia beating Iran and Brazil cruising past Tunisia. This group will start to get interesting on Monday.

And Nachbar admitted today that his team is focused on its next two games.

“That wasn’t the most important game in the tournament for us, so we’re not too worried or concerned,” he said after Sunday’s loss to the U.S. “Croatia and Brazil are the most important games. They’re our rivals for the second spot in the group, so those are the most important games for us.”

Slovenia plays Croatia in the first game on Monday.

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For now, the other groups are where the fun is at.

Group D almost had another shocker, as Canada led Lithuania by 17 points midway through the third quarter before blowing the lead missing on three chances to win or tie in the final minute-plus. The win keeps Lithuania tied with France atop the group.

Puerto Rico put another scare into Greece in Group C, but it was Group A that had the two most thrilling games.

Germany upset Serbia 82-81 in double-OT with the Germans’ final points coming on a ridiculous shot by Jan Jagla and Milenko Tepic missing on a drive that could have won it for Serbia in the final seconds.

So I guess Serbia won’t completely withstand the suspensions of Nenad Krstic and Milos Teodosic after all.

And in the nightcap in Kayseri, Argentina used a 13-0 fourth-quarter run to come back and beat Australia, but not before they came a hair away from blowing it in the final seconds.

Argentina was inbounding the ball with a two-point lead and 3.5 seconds on the clock, but they threw the inbounds pass away without it touching anyone. Australia then inbounded the ball into the corner, and Adam Gibson’s three went in … and out.

So at 2-0, Argentina is the only team in the World Championship that sits alone atop its group’s standings.

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The U.S. will conclude their three games in three days with Monday’s matchup vs. Brazil (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Brazil has beaten Iran and Tunisia by almost identical scores (81-65 and 80-65), the only team in the tournament, other than the U.S. to have won two games by 15 points or more.

Essentially, this game is for first place in Group B. If the U.S. wins, they’re on their way to a 5-0 mark. And if Brazil wins, they’re not likely to lose two more, and would have the tie-breaker against the U.S. should both teams finish 4-1.

Anderson Varejao, still nursing a sore ankle, has sat out the first two games. But the word from the Brazilian media is that he will play against the U.S., and maybe against Slovenia on Wednesday if his team needs him.

Monday will be an opportunity for American fans to get a good look at Tiago Splitter, who will be playing with the San Antonio Spurs next season.

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If the U.S. beats Brazil, then we can start looking ahead to their possible round-of-16 matchups and what other teams will be on their side of the bracket, because neither Iran or Tunisia will have a chance against them.

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Turkish lesson of the day: İyi günler! = Have a nice day!

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More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Notes from FIBA Day 1

Takeover mode was not needed on this night. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL – Game 1 is in the books. After a bit of a slow start, the U.S. took care of business, handing Croatia a 28-point loss. Here’s the post-game analysis, focusing on the 50-15 run that started when Croatia took its only lead of the night.

Interior defense continues to be an issue. And it would help if Tyson Chandler could defend without fouling. He’s now picked up four fouls in each of the last three games. That’s 12 fouls in less than 29 minutes of playing time, or about 17 fouls per 40 minutes.

He told me Friday that foul trouble isn’t much of a concern because he’s not playing big minutes anyway, but he’s still giving guys free trips to the line and allowing the opponent to get in the bonus that much earlier.

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The big run allowed Mike Krzyzewski to empty the bench early in the third quarter. And when you have to play three straight days, it helps when nobody has to play more than 22 minutes on Day 1.

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Early in the second quarter, Kevin Durant followed a filthy dunk (plus one) with a shake-and-bake step-back jumper, and I thought he was going to go into takeover mode right there. But it wasn’t needed. Durant led the U.S. with 11 field goal attempts, but every guy took at least two shots, and only Chandler took less than four.

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First-day action in the other three groups was clearly more interesting than here in Istanbul, where Slovenia handled Tunisia 80-56 and Brazil beat Iran 81-65.

The shocker of the day came in Group D, where France beat Spain in Izmir, 72-66. This looked like the weakest group in the competition, and the assumption was that Spain would go 5-0, putting them on the same side of the medal-round bracket as the U.S. should the Americans win Group B.

If Spain finishes second, now a possibility, they would be on the opposite side of the bracket, with the winners of Groups A and C, possibly facing Argentina in the quarterfinals.

The question is: Is there another team in Group D that can go 5-0? Lithuania is the most likely candidate, but they’re still not as good as Spain. So that will be an interesting matchup when those two teams meet on Tuesday. And if Spain wins, they would still win the group (assuming that France doesn’t go 4-1 too).

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That was the only real upset of the day, but a couple of other teams came close to pulling one off.

China put a scare into Greece, led early in the fourth quarter, and had a chance to go ahead again with less than three minutes to go, but Greece stopped them on five straight possessions to hold on for the win.

Yi Jianlian led China with 26 points, but also a costly turnover down the stretch.

The other near-upset came in Group A, where Jordan led Australia by as many as 11 and was up five with just over a minute left. Australia scored six straight points down the stretch to take the lead and on Jordan’s final possession, Zaid Abbaas missed a bunny of a tip-in before time expired. Australia’s win keeps them in position to finish second or third in the group and likely avoid a matchup with the U.S. in the round of 16.

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Two games on Saturday could really have an impact on the final standings. In Group C, Russia beat Puerto Rico, putting them in the driver’s seat to finish third behind Greece and Turkey. And in Group D, Lebanon beat Canada, really hurting the Canadians’ chances to advance to the medal rounds.

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Next up for the U.S. is Slovenia on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2). It took a while for Slovenia to separate themselves from Tunisia today, but a big third quarter put the game away.

Game time is 4:30 p.m. locally, so it will be interesting to see how much energy the U.S. has in the first few minutes. In their two afternoon exhibition games, they got off to slow starts (at least offensively) against China and France.

On Friday, I caught up with former Rocket/Hornet/Net and class act Boki Nachbar. Here’s his take on his Slovenian team.

“We’ve gradually been getting better as a team the last five or six years. This year, we have some key players missing. We probably have three or four players from the starting five missing. We’re not at full strength compared to last year at the European Championship, when I thought we had a stronger team, at least on paper.”

That team finished fourth at Eurobasket last year and lost by just one point to Greece in the bronze medal game (Nachbar missed a half-court runner at the buzzer). The key component that they’re missing this year is 6-11 center Erazem Lorbek, who led the ’09 team with 16.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest.

More Boki: “But as always we’re going to have great fan support. A lot of fans will come from Slovenia, because it’s a short flight. So in a way, we feel like we’re playing at home.”

No kidding. I arrived at the arena for the start of the Slovenia-Tunisia game, and while the building was only half full, 95 percent of that half was dressed in green. And those Slovenians were loud. This will be an away game for the U.S.

Boki, part III: “We want to make our best results so far, as far as the World Championship. We’ve never made the top eight before as a national team, so for us to make the top eight would be a good accomplishment. After that, we’ll see what happens.”

Also missing is from this squad is Beno Udrih (though he didn’t play last year), who quit the team last month because he wasn’t happy with his role. But with Jaka Lakovic and the Suns’ Goran Dragic, Slovenia is still strong at the point guard position.

Lakovic shot 28-for-61 (46 percent) from 3-point range at Eurobasket last year, so the U.S. point guards can’t leave him open. Dragic, we know, likes to make plays off the dribble.

Andre Iguodala will likely get the assignment of guarding Nachbar, Slovenia’s best scorer on the wing who shot 4-for-7 from 3-point range against Tunisia. And keep an eye for Miha Zupan off the bench. He’s the Slovenian Brian Scalabrine.

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Question for any Slovenians out there: Why does the team wear green if the Slovenian flag is white, blue and red? E-mail me.

Turkish lesson of the day: Bu bey/bu hanım, her şeyi ödeyecek = This gentleman/lady will pay for everything.

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More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

World Championship Eve

ISTANBUL – Day 2 in Turkey. And with Game 1 of the World Championship just 24 hours away, the U.S. National Team had a light, no-contact practice at the Abdi Ipekci Arena. They went over their offense and defense and then got in some shooting.

Rudy Gay: “Today, we really got into detail. We were trying to go over our sets and make sure when we go into the real games that we know what we are doing.”

Croatia should provide a decent test for the U.S. on Saturday (Noon ET, ESPN Classic). They finished sixth at last year’s Eurobasket even though they were missing two of their most talented players, Marko Tomas and Bojan Bogdanovic, a 21 year old draft prospect on the wing.

NBA fans should remember point guards Roko Ukic (85 games with the Raptors and Bucks) and Zoran Planinic (three seasons with the Nets), who can both get into the lane and make plays. Tomas will likely be their top scorer for the tournament, but big man Ante Tomic will be the guy that the U.S. will have to worry most about.

Tomic, who was drafted in the second round by the Jazz in 2008, is 7-foot-2 and has solid offensive skills, but he’s not too strong. A Tomic-Lamar Odom matchup could be fascinating to watch.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski on Croatia: “We have a lot of respect for them. Their guard play is outstanding. Ukic is one of the best international guards and (Marko) Popovic is just a veteran. There size is a concern, they have five guys who were 6-11 or above so we don’t have as big of team. They have a rich tradition and we have a lot of respect for who they are.”

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Need a preview of the World Championship? Here’s a written version and here’s a video version…

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Saturday’s game of the day looks to be the Russia-Puerto Rico matchup in Ankara at 11:30 a.m. ET, which could decide third and fourth place in Group C.

NBA TV will have Greece-China at 9 a.m. ET and France-Spain at 2 p.m. ET. If you’re in the U.S., you can watch every game on ESPN3. Elsewhere, you can watch them at fibatv.com.

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The U.S. team had a three-car police escort to practice today. It wasn’t quite the experience the 2008 team had in Shanghai (when police blocked every entrance to the highway for several miles on the way to the airport), but a three-car escort for practice is still impressive.

Of course, the police escort took the long way to the arena.

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The Anti-Atkins Diet.

After practice, I went with the NBA Entertainment crew for an authentic Turkish family-style lunch, which was terrific.

If you’re on the Atkins diet, Istanbul is not the place for you. The meal started out with big plates of bread (round rolls with seeds) and a variety of sauces and concoctions for you to eat the bread with (see the photo to the right). Great stuff.

And then came the main course, plates of four different types of meat (beef, spicy beef, chicken and pork), served with peppers, rice and fries.

Most of us in the group are passing on dinner tonight, because lunch was so filling.

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Remember the beard-growing contest a few years ago between DeShawn Stevenson and Drew Gooden? I think Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala are doing something similar, except with the hair on top of their heads. Both are letting it grow out this summer, but I think Rudy is winning.

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In case you missed it yesterday, FIBA handed out suspensions for the Greece-Serbia brawl. Nenad Krstic (Serbia) got three games, while Milos Teodosic (Serbia), Antonis Fotsis (Greece) and Sofoklis Schortsanitis (Greece) got two games each.

Both teams should be able to withstand the suspensions fairly easily. Serbia’s first three games are against Angola, Germany and Jordan, the three weakest teams in Group A. Greece’s first two games are against China and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is tough, but their best players are in the backcourt, so the absences of their two big men shouldn’t hurt too much.

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Turkish lesson of the day: Anlamıyorum = I don’t understand.

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More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Wheels Down in Istanbul

ISTANBUL – The U.S. National Team has arrived in Istanbul for the 2010 FIBA World Championship. While most of the other medal contenders will play their preliminary games in other locations around Turkey, the U.S. will make Istanbul their home until the close of the World Championship. So after seven days in New York, six days in Madrid, and three in Athens, they can finally settle in.

After Wednesday’s big win over Greece, the team is going through a light workout Thursday night. On Friday afternoon, they will practice at the Abdi Ipekci Arena, where their preliminary games will be played. Then they’ll play their first real game on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic) against Croatia.

Istanbul is seven hours ahead of Eastern time, so that’s a 7 p.m. start locally. It’s the middle game of the three-game slate in Istanbul.

***

I sat down for a few minutes with USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo on Thursday afternoon to get his assessment of how things went on the tour of Madrid and Athens.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Colangelo said. “First of all, now that the roster is set, that’s one major thing out of the way, more so for the players who were wondering what their status was. It’s just important to get to that final roster cut, and we did. And it worked out in a very positive way in every respect.

“No. 2, we’re creating the identity that we were seeking.”

You know the identity by now. Great defense that leads to transition and great guard play.

In their five exhibition games (including the closed scrimmage vs. China), the U.S. has allowed their opponents to shoot just 37.6 percent from the field, and to score just 77.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s real good.

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Of course, Colangelo knows that these guys ain’t seen nothing yet. And it has definitely been communicated to the players that elimination games against Spain or Greece would probably be nothing like the games they played this past week.

“We’re pleased with where we are,” he said, “but as far as we’re concerned, we’re 0-0.”

But Colangelo is glad that he put together a tougher exhibition schedule than this team had in 2006.

“It couldn’t have been any better,” he said. “Quite honestly, we wish everyone [for the opponents] would have been healthy.”

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Trivia: Just two U.S. players averaged double-figures in scoring in their five exhibition games (including the closed scrimmage vs. China). They were Kevin Durant (16.6 points per game) and …

Eric Gordon.

Gordon averaged 10.0 points in the five exhibition games. He didn’t score against Spain, but had 15 points against China, eight against France, nine against Lithuania and 18 against Greece.

Colangelo was effusive with his praise for the Clippers’ guard, but won’t call Gordon’s play a surprise.

“I’m not going to say he’s a surprise,” Colangelo said. “What I’m going to say is we’re really pleased with the way he’s playing. And he’s to a point now where he takes a shot, we expect it to go down. It’s not a question in our minds. There are very few players playing on any level where you feel if they’ve got the ball, they’re going to score. He’s one of them.

“He’s a pure shooter, just needs a little bit of room. He’s quick. The other thing is his body type is perfect for international play. Big and strong.”

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We thought going in that rebounding would be the No. 1 concern for the U.S. But they rebounded 81.4 percent of their opponents’ misses in the five exhibition games, pretty much putting that concern to rest.

Instead, I think three other concerns have emerged…

1. Interior defense, particularly against the pick-and-roll. Kostas Tsartsaris was able to score pretty easily (he had 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting) against Lamar Odom on Wednesday. And by picking up four fouls in less than 11 minutes of action, Tyson Chandler wasn’t much help.

2. 3-point shooting. They connected on just 37 of their 113 threes (32.7 percent) in the five games. Almost half of the threes were made by Eric Gordon (10-for-23) and Chauncey Billups (8-for-18). The rest of the team shot 19-for-72 (26.4 percent).

3. Turnovers. They had 17 of them against Greece and averaged 15.8 in their five exhibition games. But by my count, seven of the 17 came in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, when Stephen Curry spent most of the period at the point. And it’s doubtful that Curry will play any meaningful minutes at the point going forward.

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Tough news for Argentina: After doctors examined his injured left ankle, the Sixers advised Andres Nocioni that he should withdraw from the World Championship. With Nocioni healthy, Argentina would have had one of the two or three best lineups in the tournament. Now, they’re depth is even worse than it was.

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Random note: Rajon Rondo averaged more than twice as many assists per 40 minutes (12.6) as anyone else on the roster. Derrick Rose was next with 4.9 assists per 40.

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With thanks to @albriasan, here’s a rundown of how the 24 teams in the World Championship did in exhibition play. It confirms my guess that the U.S. was the only team not to lose a game.

Of course, no team played fewer exhibition games than the Americans. If they went undefeated playing as many games as Jordan did, that would be really impressive.

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Turkish lesson of the day: Lütfen daha yavaş konuşun = Please speak more slowly.

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More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Roster Finalized, Rondo Goes Home

USA Basketball announced its final roster for the World Championship on Tuesday, with Rajon Rondo removing his name from consideration.

The 13 players on the roster had all shown over the last five weeks that they can contribute, and the final cut was going to be a difficult one, but in the end, it appears that USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski and chairman Jerry Colangelo didn’t have to make that decision.

“Rajon came to us and said he was going to withdraw from the team, that he had some family matters to attend to and some things to take care of before the NBA season,” Colangelo said in the team’s press release. “He did an outstanding job during our training, we appreciate the effort and commitment he made to our program and he completely has our support.”

Rondo had started the team’s scrimmage against China last Saturday, as well as its first two exhibition games. But he was replaced in the starting lineup by Russell Westbrook for the second half of Saturday’s game against Lithuania, and by Derrick Rose for Sunday’s game against Spain. In fact, he didn’t play at all in that thrilling 86-85 victory in Madrid.

It had always appeared that guards Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon and Russell Westbrook were the players on the roster bubble, but all three played well enough to earn their spots on the roster.

A pest for opposing ball-handlers, Rondo was ideal for Krzyzewski’s pressure defense, but he was the worst shooter among the six guards left on the roster. And he has been careless with the basketball at times.

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Krzyzewski also replaced starter Tyson Chandler with Lamar Odom for the game against Spain. The original starting lineup of Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Chandler was very strong defensively. But with to non-shooters (Rondo and Chandler) on the floor together, that unit struggled to score. In its first three warm-up games, the U.S. averaged just 14.3 points in the first quarter.

  • In a closed scrimmage against China, they scored on just three of their first nine possessions.
  • Against France, they scored on just five of their first 17 possessions.
  • Against Lithuania, they scored just four times in 21 first-quarter possessions.

But against Spain, with Rose and Odom in the lineup, the early offensive struggles were minimal. They scored just once on their first five possessions, but followed that with a stretch of six scores on seven possessions and finished the quarter with a 23-16 lead.

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The U.S. will play its final exhibition game before the World Championship on Wednesday (12 p.m. ET, ESPN), taking on Greece in Athens. Greece, the team that knocked off the U.S. four years ago in Japan, has looked very strong in exhibitions and is clearly one of the favorites to win gold.

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The final roster for the World Championship, which begins Saturday, looks like this:

Guards: Chauncey Billups, Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook

Forwards: Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala

Centers: Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom

Though there’s no more worries about being sent home, Curry, Gordon and Westbrook are still likely competing for the back-up guard spots in the rotation.

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How about we get to some mail?

From Kipp (Parts Unknown):

Dropping a note to say we need to check out the assists… 11 assists [against Lithuania]? Won’t work in int’l hoops. Won’t win many games ANYWHERE with 11 in 40.
Keep up your great work
peace

The lack of assists is definitely something I noticed. Through their four games, the U.S. has just 66 assists on their 129 field goals, which is a pretty low ratio (51.2 percent). In fact, 29 of the 30 NBA teams had a higher ratio last season.

You can blame Rudy Gay (since the Grizzlies were the only team with a lower ratio), or wonder if the scorekeeper in Spain was more frugal than Zach Randolph when it comes to handing out dimes. After all, assists are the most subjective stats in the boxscore. And against the U.S., Lithuania had just 10 assists on 25 field goals and Spain had just 15 on 28.

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From Jose in Madrid:

Why do you think Coach K hasn’t selected more centers? Why not select young players like Paul Millsap? I think the American Team is a very good one, but very undersized in my opinion. I don’t know if it’s because the coach likes running game, or may be big good players weren’t avaliable and he chose getting very good players, although they were a little small.

It’s all about availability. Krzyzewski and Colangelo did select more centers. David Lee, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez and Amar’e Stoudemire were all in the original pool of players when the team first got together in Las Vegas, but three of them were gone by the first day of camp, and Brook Lopez (recovering from mono) wasn’t able to make it past the first phase of training.

If they had lost just two guys and were down to only one center, then you can say they made a mistake. But you can’t really plan for four departures at one position.

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Keep the mail coming, or hit me on the twitter with any questions or comments.

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More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.