The USA is in the "group of death" at Worlds, but that applies to everyone else

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fiba-turkey.gifIn the World Cup, the toughest group of four drawn gets the moniker “Group of Death” because some quality team is not going to be advancing to the final 16.

If there were a Group of Death for the FIBA World Championships, it would be Group B. The USA’s group. Except that it really doesn’t apply to the USA. Plus, in a six-team group four teams advance to the knockout stage. So you still have to blow it pretty bad not to advance. Bottom line, death takes a holiday.

Still, let’s take a look at the group and who the USA will face this next week. (If you want more detail, check out the best international hoops writing on the web at The Painted Area.)

The USA is the class of the group. They should not drop a game, and should win each by double digits. Yes they are young and untested. Yes there were some ugly, sloppy moments in the warm-up games. Yes this is the USA’s B team. None of that will matter in the first rounds. The sheer athleticism of this Kevin Durant-led teams will overwhelm everyone.

What matters for this squad is that they grow during the five-games-in-six-days they are about to face. Particularly on defense. Because those perceived weaknesses could bite them in the single-elimination tournament to follow. But not here.

Brazil will advance and will be the toughest test for the USA in the group stage. They feature the speedy Leandro Barbosa at the point, with Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao in the paint. Splitter has fantastic fundamentals and will test the USA’s post defense. Barbosa is the one guy not likely to be bothered much by the USA’s pressure defense, he’ll just blow past it. Marcelo Machado will bomb some threes. They lack some depth — particularly after losing Nene — but they will certainly advance and could sneak into medal contention.

Croatia, the first game for the USA (Saturday at 9 am) is a team that lives and dies on the perimeter. Marko Tomas has some skills, but this is a team deep with guys who can handle the ball. Which makes this an interesting test for the USA and it’s pressure defense — if Croatia can withstand it and not turn the ball over a lot, they can keep this closer than you’d expect. The team has no NBA players (a few guys with NBA rights held) but they have some quality players. Their biggest game is against Slovenia in this round, but they can’t lose to Iran or Tunisia or they risk not getting out of the group stage.

Slovenia has the Suns Steve Nash heir apparent Goran Dragic as well as Primoz Brezec and Bostjan Nachbar. Who they don’t have could have made them very dangerous — Beno Udrih, Rasho Nesterovic and Sasha Vujacic (there is some real bitterness with Vujacic, remember how he went at Dragic last season). Another team loaded with good perimeter players who can shoot the rock — they are capable of some big upsets because of that, they live and die by the three. They should advance, but teams that live by the three rarely advance that far in tournaments because there will be an off day.

Iran is better than you think. Not great, but not bad. They have Hamed Hamadi, backup center of the Memphis Grizzlies plus some other good players from leagues in Europe and Asia. This squad won FIBA Asia last year beating China. This is a team that on a good day could upset Slovenia or Croatia if either team overlooks them, which could get them into the knockout stage. May not be likely, but Iran will not be a pushover for those teams.

Tunisia is the team with the longest shot of moving on. They medaled in AfroBasket but the guys at The Painted Area live and breathe international ball and they have barely seen this team. That should tell you something. Even the group of death needs a patsy.

Gasol’s 38 points lead Grizzlies past Pelicans 113-104

Marc Gasol
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Marc Gasol scored a career-high 38 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, and the Memphis Grizzlies beat the New Orleans Pelicans 113-104 on Tuesday night.

New Orleans lost despite the return of starting guard Tyreke Evans and top reserve Norris Cole. Evans was the Pelicans’ best offensive player with 20 points and 10 assists, but that wasn’t enough to overcome a Memphis squad that scored 52 points in the paint and missed only one of 26 free throws.

Gasol was 11 of 22 from the field and made all 16 of his foul shots. Zach Randolph added 14 points, while Courtney Lee and Matt Barnes scored 13 each.

Anthony Davis had 17 points, 14 rebounds and career high-tying nine blocked shots for the Pelicans. But he struggled with his shooting, going 4 of 15 from the field and 8 of 13 on free throws.

Ryan Anderson scored 16 for New Orleans, which has lost three straight, while Jrue Holiday had 12 points. Cole finished with 11 points but missed nine of 12 shots and was 2 of 7 from 3-point range.

Mario Chalmers and Mike Conley each scored 11 for Memphis, which outshot New Orleans 47.8 percent (43 of 90) to 43.2 percent (35 of 81). The Grizzlies trailed most of the first half and did not lead by more than six until the fourth quarter, when they were the more composed team.

Energized initially by the return of two key players, the Pelicans led by as many as 14 on Cole’s 3 to start the second. Memphis then began to chip away, hitting 14 of its first 18 shots in the quarter. The Grizzlies needed about 7 minutes to completely erase their deficit, taking a 54-53 lead on Vince Carter‘s tip-in.

After shooting 70 percent (14 of 20) in the first, the Pelicans went 8 of 22 in the second period.

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies’ lead grew to 60-55 on Gasol’s 16-foot fadeaway, giving him 22 points in the half. New Orleans then surged back into the lead with an 8-0 run that included Anderson’s dunk and 3-pointer, and the Pelicans led 65-64 at halftime.


Grizzlies: Memphis outrebounded New Orleans 49-37. … Gasol also reached a career high for free throws made, and his rebound total was a season high. … Memphis won for only the third time this season (against seven losses) when Jeff Green scores fewer than 10 points. He had just six.

Pelicans: Coach Alvin Gentry started Alexis Ajinca at center over regular starter Omer Asik. Gentry said he wanted to see how spacing on the offensive end might change with Ajinca, who has better shooting range than Asik. But Ajinca got in early foul trouble and played fewer than 13 minutes.


Grizzlies: Host San Antonio on Thursday night.

Pelicans: At Houston on Wednesday night.

Wesley Matthews receives standing ovation in return to Portland (VIDEO)

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Last month, LaMarcus Aldridge returned to Portland for the first time as a member of the Spurs, and the reception was decidedly mixed. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, when the Mavericks made their first trip to the Moda Center since Wesley Matthews signed a four-year, $70 million deal in Dallas in July. Matthews was beloved in Portland, and there’s a chance he and Aldridge would both still in town if Matthews hadn’t torn his Achilles in March, effectively ending their chances of contending.

76ers top Lakers for 1st win of season, snap 28-game skid

Robert Covington
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Kobe Bryant won over the fans – he just couldn’t beat the previously winless Philadelphia 76ers.

With the spotlight on Bryant during the final game of his career in his hometown, the Sixers stole the show and defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 103-91 on Tuesday night for their first victory of the season.

The Sixers had lost their first 18 games, and 28 overall dating to last season – the longest losing streak in the history of major professional sports in the United States. But they remained tied for the worst start in NBA history with the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets, who also opened 0-18.

It was the first win for the Sixers since March 25 at Denver.

Hours earlier, Bryant felt the love in Philadelphia as soon as he entered the arena.

He took selfies with fans who might never see him play again, and his presence injected a playoff atmosphere into a city that has lost much of its interest in NBA basketball.

With a packed crowd standing and roaring in appreciation, Bryant was introduced to an ovation worthy of a hometown hero, not the “Hometown Zero” he was once labeled in Philadelphia’s tabloids.

Bryant, who will end his 20-year career this season, opened the first leg of his farewell tour in his hometown and was feted with the kind of reverence and gratitude normally reserved for a Sixers great.

He buried a step-back 3-pointer off the opening tip.

He hit another 3 on the next possession.

Bryant made it 3 for 3 and had the Philly crowd chanting “M-V-P!” as he turned back the clock to his championship form. He scored 20 points on 7-of-26 shooting and made four 3s.

By the fourth quarter, the Philly fans had turned their attention toward the home team, chanting “Beat LA!” when beleaguered rookie Jahlil Okafor made a layup for a 94-80 lead.

Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick out of Duke, has been attached to a string of off-court incidents that included reckless driving and a fight in Boston. He has apologized for his recent decisions. Sixers coach Brett Brown said Okafor will likely soon be accompanied by team security on public outings.

Bryant said he would simply tell the 19-year-old rookie to stay focused on basketball.

The Sixers stayed focused and finally finished the job after taking an 80-75 lead into the fourth.

The 76ers had led after three quarters three other times this season: Nov. 21 at Miami (led 74-67, lost 96-91), Nov. 25 at Boston (led 62-57, lost 84-80) and Nov. 29 at Memphis (led 67-64, lost 92-84), according to STATS.

Robert Covington scored 23 points and Jerami Grant had 14 for the Sixers.

The win belonged to Philadelphia. The night belonged to Bryant.

His homecoming game came with a rare emotional tug for the player fans loved to boo through the years. He waved to the crowd and bowed his head in appreciation as a “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!’ chant filled Wells Fargo Center during pregame introductions.

He was greeted at midcourt by his Lower Merion high school coach Gregg Downer and 76ers great Julius Erving. Bryant hugged both in front of a crowd filled with purple-and-gold No. 24 jerseys.

He smiled after every shot and bantered with fans, some who made “Thank you, Kobe” signs.

In a reference to the sorry state of the entire Philly sports scene, one fan held a sign that read, “Why Can’t Chip Kelly Retire Instead.”

Bryant even smirked in the third when a brief scuffle broke out among Lakers center Roy Hibbert, who appeared to push a referee, and Philadelphia’s Isaiah Canaan and JaKarr Sampson. All three were hit with technical fouls.

Bryant thumped his chest, waved to the fans, blew a kiss and was serenaded with “Kobe!” chants as he walked off Philadelphia’s court for the final time.


Lakers: Los Angeles is 2-15 and has the worst record in the Western Conference. … The Lakers opened an eight-game road trip.

Sixers: Moses Malone, the late 76ers star selected one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, was honored at halftime. Malone, who died in September at 60, was the NBA Finals MVP in 1983 when he led the Sixers to the title. His No. 2 was on the back of Philadelphia’s warmup jerseys with “Chairman of the Boards” on the front. The Sixers will retire his number next season. … F Nerlens Noel returned to the lineup after a two-game absence with sore knees. He scored 14 points.


Lakers: At the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

Sixers: At the New York Knicks on Wednesday night.

John Wall drops J.R. Smith with crossover, makes layup (VIDEO)

John Wall
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John Wall is one of the hardest players to guard in the NBA. J.R. Smith found that out the hard way on Tuesday night when Wall sent him flying with a behind-the-back dribble before making an easy layup.

The Wizards beat the Cavs, who are now 13-5 on the season.