Russia earns date with USA in quarterfinals after cruising past New Zealand

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russia.jpgAs expected, it is USA vs. Russia on Thursday in the FIBA World Championships quarterfinals.

Russia filled out its half of the bracket beating New Zealand 78-56, showing off some of the defense and the inside game that will give the USA their best challenge since Brazil (and maybe their best challenge so far period).

The defense the Russians ran was effective — it held New Zealand to 29 percent shooting in the first half — but it was also different than what the Russians did a lot in pool play. They have a very good matchup zone, but they ran exclusive man-to-man against New Zealand. You can bet the Americans will see the zone.

The man-to-man worked, but the game stayed close, it was just 32-36 at the half. The real difference in this one ended up being foul trouble for New Zealand’s best scorer Kirk Penney. He had three first half fouls but the Tall Blacks (New Zealand’s nickname) had to stick with him because they needed the points.

But when Penney picked up his fourth foul three minutes into the second half, he had to sit. Russia then went on a 15-3 run, and it was over. Penney finished with 21 in this one.

Russia also did a good job exploiting their height advantage. The Russians start 6’11” Sasha Kaun (the former Kansas Jayhawk) and then bring in 7’1″ Timofey Mozgov (he will be a rookie for the New York Knicks next season). New Zealand’s starting center is 6’6″. That’s why Mozgov had 16 points and 7 rebounds, and 6’9″ forward Andrey Vorontsevich added 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting.

The USA have some height up front with Lamar Odom, Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler, but this is the best front line the USA has taken on so far. That was supposed to be a way to attack the USA, you can bet the Russians will.

Thursday is when it gets real serious for the USA, a team with the talent to win the gold but one raw and one capable of having the one bad game that costs them as well. Thursday is when the USA starts to face teams that can really make them pay for those days.

76ers tie NBA-record losing streak, dropping heartbreaker to Celtics

Isaiah Thomas, T.J. McConnell
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After a rare period of on-court competence, the 76ers led the Celtics by five with two minutes left tonight.

Then, Philadelphia snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The 76ers yielded a 9-0 run to close an 84-80 setback.

They’re now 0-16. Combined with their 0-10 finish to last season, that’s a 26-game losing streak – tied for longest in NBA history. Last year’s 76ers already shared the record.

Philadelphia is also in danger of the worst start to a season. The 2009-10 New Jersey Nets began 0-18, and last year’s 76ers won only one game sooner.

The 76ers will try to avoid the all-time longest streak at the Rockets on Friday. If that goes unsuccessfully, they’ll try to avoid matching the worst season start at the Grizzlies on Sunday. And if both fail, they could set the worst-start record against the Lakers on Tuesday.

76ers-Lakers – it’s shaping up to be a big one.

Timberwolves read mean tweets about themselves (video)

Flip Saunders, Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones
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The Timberwolves didn’t select the meanest tweets about these players, but credit Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones, Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine for being good sports.

LeBron James: I’m healthier than a year ago


LeBron James received an injection in his back before the season.

It’s working.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

LeBron James now says he feels better than he did even a year ago.

“I feel better in the mornings; I feel better throughout the games; I feel better throughout the day,” James said before a Cavs shootaround Wednesday in preparation for their game against the Toronto Raptors. “It was a rough start to the season for me last year and for our team. Obviously the way we’ve been playing, a lot is predicated on my health and being able to lead these guys out on the floor and not from the sidelines.”

LeBron certainly looks healthier than he did at this point last year. He’s moving much better and giving more effort.

But comparing November to November means very little for the Cavaliers, who hope to play deep into June.

The key question: Did LeBron properly time his injection? There’s a limit on the number he can have in a year, and it takes time to recover after one. Cleveland doesn’t want LeBron to peak to early.

It’s good for the Cavs that LeBron feels better now, but his health in the playoffs remains the priority.

Report: Suns signing Bryce Cotton

Bryce Cotton
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Eric Bledsoe missed the Suns’ loss to the Spurs on Monday with a knee injury.

So, Phoenix is bringing in a reinforcement – Bryce Cotton.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Jazz waived Cotton before the season despite Dante Exum‘s injury leaving them with just two other healthy point guards. That says something about Cotton – but also Utah’s depth.

Cotton – who went undrafted out of Providence last year – is quick, varies his speed well and can leap. There’s reason to believe in his potential at age 23. But his 6-foot-1 frame limits him defensively, and he’s not much of a distributor.

Phoenix will rely on Brandon Knight and Ronnie Price at point guard if Bledsoe is unavailable. The Suns can also use fewer two-point guard lineups – giving more minutes at shooting guard to Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin and Sunny Weems.

Cotton provides insurance while Bledsoe is banged-up with what seems to be a minor injury. But he might have to show something to keep drawing an NBA paycheck once Bledsoe gets healthy.