Turkey squeaks past Serbia in the FIBA semifinals, will face Team USA in the final tomorrow

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semih_erden_turkey_boston_celtics.jpgThe Serbian national team held the lead virtually throughout their semifinal match with Turkey, but a mini-unraveling over the game’s final minutes and busted defensive coverage on Turkey’s final possession changed everything. Rather than the Serbians finishing their turbulent FIBA run with a finale against the Americans, they’ll be playing for Bronze, while the host nation tries to steal away the Gold.

Serbia played well, but Turkey hung in. The Turkish team kept the deficit reasonable, gave themselves a chance to win by using their depth, and seized the opportunity to take the lead by attacking the basket in the game’s closing seconds.

Serbia worked the ball to Novica Velickovic under the rim to gain a one-point lead with just 4.3 seconds remaining, leaving Turkey very little time to produce a quality attempt. Hedo Turkoglu received the inbound pass at halfcourt, and depending on who you ask, he either made a smart drop-pass to Kerem Tunceri on the wing or fumbled his way into a happy accident. Regardless of your interpretation, Tunceri turned Serbia’s over-aggressive defense against them, and drove straight to the rim on a team expecting to defend a jumper.

Serbia had one more chance to win the game, but their drawn-up oop attempt was sent back by Turkey’s (and now the Boston Celtics’) Semih Erden at the buzzer. Serbia’s game-long efforts were for naught, and the lead they fought so hard to protect and maintain over the game’s first three and a half quarters was worth nothing in the game’s final balance.

Tunceri (12), Turkoglu (16), Ender Arslan (12) and Omer Onan (14) all finished in double-figures for Turkey.

Milos Teodosic, who hit the go-ahead three for Serbia in the quarterfinal against Spain, finished with 13 points and 11 assists. Marko Keselj chipped in 18 points and seven rebounds, and Nenad Krstic had 15 and seven.

Turkey will now face Team USA in front of their home crowd tomorrow at 2:30 EST. The Americans are the definite favorites, and finished their semifinal game in completely different fashion; while Turkey clawed to keep up with Serbia before taking the game late in the fourth, Team USA kept Lithuania at arm’s length throughout most of their contest, and won by 15. Kevin Durant was simply dominant, and a Team USA defense spearheaded by Andre Iguodala completely shut down Linas Kleiza and the Lithuanian offense.

That defense will look to do the same against a pretty talented Turkish squad, and the smart money is on Team USA to take gold, even if Turkey won out in one of the tournament’s more entertaining games.

J.B. Bickerstaff calls Rockets ‘broken team,’ ‘fragmented bunch’

Houston Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff rubs his head in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Houston. The Wizards won 123-122. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
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Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been unafraid to sharply assess his team.

But after last night’s loss to the Trail Blazers – Houston’s third straight defeat and sixth in eight games – Bickerstaff kicked up the rhetoric even further.

Bickerstaff, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

“We’re broken,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s that simple. We’re a broken team, and we all need to use this break to figure out how we’re going to impact change. If we don’t want to impact change, then we need to be made aware of that, too, and we’ll go in a different direction.

“We can’t continue to go out and play this way. It’s easy to see it’s a fragmented bunch. You can’t win that way.”

This is why Dwight Howard is on the trade block. The Rockets are so incohesive, there’s no simple solution in sight. This increasingly looks like a lost season for Houston, which should emphasize future planning – like dealing Howard, who can become an unrestricted free agent at age 30 this summer.

Yet, the Rockets are just a half game from playoff position. They obviously dreamed much bigger when the season began, but at this point, merely making the postseason should qualify as a success.

It’s Bickerstaff’s job to get them there, no matter how unlikely. He has certainly shown little fear in trying, whether it’s giving these quotes or pulling all five starters simultaneously shortly into a game. He’s trying to put his mark on this team.

The players just aren’t responding, not more than periodically, at least. From James Harden down, nobody plays with the requisite focus and energy.

Nothing in Bickerstaff’s assessment is surprising. It’s just surprising he said it so bluntly publicly.

Then again, that’s nothing compared to what veteran Houston guard Jason Terry said. Eric Ringering of 750 The Game:

https://twitter.com/ringering45/status/697664478993756164

Devin Booker to replace Nerlens Noel in Rising Stars at All-Star Weeekend

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker reacts after hitting a 3-point shot against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
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Sixers big man Nerlens Noel — who has looked much improved this season once Ish Smith was feeding him the rock on offense — sat out the Sixers game Wednesday night due to tendonitis in his right knee. After he missed his rookie season with knee issues, you can understand why the Sixers want him to be cautious.

Noel is going to sit out All-Star Weekend as well — he had been scheduled to play in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, but he is going to sit that out and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns will take his place, the league has announced (Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic broke that story).

Booker has been one of the few bright spots for the Suns this season, averaging 10.6 points a game and shooting 40.3 percent from three.

He will play for the USA in the World vs. USA format of the Rising Stars Challenge (the former rookie/sophomore game, featuring first and second year players).

With Emmanuel Mudiay replacing Patrick Beverley, NBA reveals Skills Challenge bracket

Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverley (2) knocks the ball away from Denver Nuggets' Emmanuel Mudiay (0) in the first half of a NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Out: Defending champion Patrick Beverley.

In: Emmanuel Mudiay Emmanuel Mudiay.

The NBA confirmed the Rockets guard would miss the Skills Challenge and that Mudiay would replace him. The league also release the bracket:

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My picks:

Quarterfinals

Semifinals

  • Isaiah Thomas over C.J. McCollum
  • Anthony Davis over Draymond Green

Final

  • Isaiah Thomas over Anthony Davis

NBA suspends Hassan Whiteside for elbowing Boban Marjanovic’s head

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Hassan Whiteside lost his cool and elbowed Boban Marjanovic in the head Tuesday.

The Heat center received a flagrant 2 and an ejection, and now he’s getting the rest of his punishment.

NBA release:

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has been suspended one game without pay for throwing an elbow and making contact with the head of San Antonio Spurs center Boban Marjanovic, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Whiteside was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected, occurred with 9:35 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 119-101 win over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on Feb. 9.

Whiteside will serve his suspension when Miami plays the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 19 at Philips Arena.

The suspension will cost Whiteside $8,921. As a result, the Heat – in line to become the first team in NBA history to pay the repeater luxury-tax rate – trim their impending tax bill by $24,534.

More importantly for Whiteside, this will be a strike against him for teams considering offering him a big contract in free agency this summer.