Spain's basketball players Navarro, Gasol, Calderon and Rubio attend the presentation of their team for the Eurobasket at Madrid's Arena

EuroBasket underway, continent’s Olympic qualifying event

1 Comment

In less than a year, the Olympic basketball tournament will be taking place on European soil. Even if there are times the rest of Europe doesn’t really want to claim England.

Starting Wednesday, the Olympic qualifying tournament for Europe got underway – also known as EuroBasket, or the European Championships. In that part of the world a title in this is as big or bigger than an Olympic title, but this time around the top two finishers in this event get an automatic berth in the London Olympics. Finishers three through six go to the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament next summer to fight with teams from around the globe for one of the final spots in the games.

EuroBasket is filled with NBA players and some of the best teams in the world. We’re going to be writing quite a bit about this tournament over the next fortnight, so here is a little primer of the teams to watch (for more in depth stuff, check out The Painted Area, and follow them through the tournament).

Spain: They are the clear favorites and they are loaded with NBA talent: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez. The guys who don’t play in the NBA are experienced stars on Europe’s biggest stages. So they came out in their opener and sleepwalked to an 83-78 win over Poland — lethargic play in the early rounds by Spain is a sign that it’s a big tournament. They can be their own worst enemy. In that game against Poland, Pau Gasol had 29 points on 12 shots, while Rubio posted a line of 0-0-0. For Spain, anything short of a gold and qualifying for the Olympics is a let down.

After that, things are pretty wide open with a number of teams who could get that second Olympics spot.

France: They have NBA players Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum and Ronny Turiaf. They will be one of the best defensive teams in the tournament and if they can score they will be a threat in any game. But look for the offense to be streaky.

Lithuania: They played well at the World Championships last year and they are the host of this event — home teams do very well in international competitions (see Turkey in the World Championship finals last year). The guy to watch here is Toronto’s recent draft pick (No. 5 overall) Jonas Valanciunas, who looked dominant at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships and looked good against Russia in a recent game. The team is loaded with experienced, good European players such as Darius Songaila.

Germany: They have the best front line in this tournament with Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Like the Mavericks, they surround a good front line with a lot of shooters. One key to watch is Group B with Germany, Italy, France and Serbia — four good teams but only three advance out of group play to the knockout round. There is no room for error (Italy should lose out, but they will not go quietly).

Serbia: The player you know is Nenad Krstic (formerly with the Thunder), but what they bring is some of the best teamwork in a tournament often known for good teamwork. They have had the same team playing together for three straight summers. That matters.

Turkey: They boast almost as much NBA talent as Spain with Hedo Turkoglu, Omer Asik, Semih Erden, Ersan Ilyasova, and Enes Kanter (not as high a level of talent as Spain, but this is a good lineup). They played very well at home in Istanbul for the World Championships (losing only to the eventual champion USA) but how will they do away from home? This is not considered a mentally strong team, but if they put it together watch out.

You can stream all the EuroBasket action on ESPN3.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

2 Comments

TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine slam dunks the ball during the NBA all-star skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Associated Press
6 Comments

TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

2 Comments

TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
1 Comment

TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: