EuroBasket recap: On to the second round with the group of death

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After a dozen games on Monday, half of the teams that came to Lithuania for EuroBasket — an Olympics qualifying tournament — have been sent home.

Now things get serious, as virtually all of the top teams are in one supergroup — a true group of death that will mean some very good teams will not advance even to next summer’s pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, let alone the games themselves.

Let’s look at Monday’s results through the lens of the new groups (which start play Wednesday). So you understand the system, there were four groups of six to start the tournament (24 teams) and the top three of each group advanced to the second round (12 teams). We have two groups of six. A team’s record against the other teams in the group that advanced remains, and each team plays the three new teams in the second group. Four teams will advance from each group to the elimination round. Just stick with me, it will make more sense.

Group E (the supergroup)

France (2-0): They got a big 97-96 overtime win over Serbia Monday on the last day of the first round, keeping them undefeated heading into the second round. Tony Parker had 24, including the game winning free throws in an interesting way. Serbia hit a three to 24 seconds to go to take a 96-95 lead. But rather than do something crazy like play good defense, Serbia intentionally fouls Parker so that they can have the last shot. Parker hits both free throws (giving you the final score) but it almost worked as Serbia had a wide-open look to win it and just clanked it.

Serbia (1-1): Read the description of the game with France above, then tell me if a team that does not trust its defense is likely to advance. They will have to play better over the next week.

Spain (1-1): They lost to a desperate Turkey team on Monday (Turkey needed to win to have any shot to advance, and still needed Luol Deng and Great Britain to win and provide some help). But there was no Pau Gasol, out with a sprained ankle, and it was a reminder that with the elder Gasol Spain is a contender, without him they are very beatable. Gasol is day-to-day.

Turkey (1-1): On paper as talented as Spain (or nearly), but they never play up to that potential. They are led by Hedo Turkoglu, enough said.

Lithuania (0-2): FIBA’s fifth ranked team in the world coming into this tournament, but they are going to have to step it up to qualify for the Olympics.

Germany (0-2): They picked up an 81-80 win over Latvia on Monday and they may have the best front line in EuroBasket with Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. But they need better play from the guards and wings to climb out of this hole.

Group F

Russia (2-0): The team almost certain to advance out of this group with the top seed, they have gotten great play from Andrei Kirilenko (well, except on Sunday).

Macedonia (2-0): This is the most surprising team to advance, but they have won three straight including 75-63 over Bosnia Herzegovia on Monday.
Slovenia (1-1): Their loss came by just one point to Russia on Sunday. It’s a sign this is a team that (in this group anyway) has a good shot to advance and cause problems for others.

Greece (1-1): Considering they are in a transition with the program (older stars pulling away and making room for young stars), this was a good job to advance. They beat Montenegro 71-55 on Monday Huge game against Serbia Thursday.

Georgia 0-2: Led by Zaza Pachulia, they will need some magic to get out of this hole. They face Macedonia on Thursday.

Finland 0-2: This is maybe the most unexpected find, just getting here was a victory. Finland should savor it.

Miami’s James Johnson threw down a massive dunk over Marcus Morris (VIDEO)

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Miami essentially killed Detroit’s playoff hopes Tuesday night on a tip-in at the buzzer.

About five minutes before that, Miami’s James Johnson did a terrible, mean thing to Andre Drummond, who got in the way of a powerful dunk.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.

 

Steve Kerr has now reached 200 wins faster than any coach in NBA history

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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr already has a championship under his belt as a coach. Now the 51-year-old former NBA player has reached another milestone in an already decorated career as a player and coach. After the Warriors beat the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night, 113-106, Kerr became the fastest coach in NBA history to reach 200 wins.

Kerr hit the mark in just 238 career games. His seasons at the helm of Golden State have produced just 38 losses — 15, 9, and 14 over the last three years, respectively.

In doing so, Kerr surpasses the mark set by former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

Congratulations are in order to Kerr and the Warriors. It’s certainly a huge accomplishment, and the lack of losses is dizzying to think about.

Three Things We Learned Tuesday: Warriors, Trail Blazers, Heat all help their playoff causes

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Tuesday was a big night for playoff chase games, so much so that the Wizards clinching the division title — their first since 1979 — or the bad night for the Pacers dropping them to seventh in the East didn’t even make the cut here. Here are the three big takeaways from the night.

1) In a battle of elite offenses, Warriors’ defense gets them key win in the race for the top seed. Wednesday night comes the game that will get a lot of media attention — Golden State heads into San Antonio in a battle of the two top teams in the NBA. The Spurs are 2.5 games back of the Warriors for the No. 1 seed in the West and all of basketball, any hope they have of catching Golden State requires a win tonight.

Except it may too late for the Spurs — with their win Tuesday night, the Warriors made it tough to catch them. Fivethirtyeight.com now has Golden State with a 93 percent chance to retain the top seed in the West.

Golden State held on to beat Houston on the road Tuesday, 113-106, in a battle of the NBA’s top two offenses. However, it was Golden State’s elite defense that was the difference — the Warriors held the Rockets to 38.8 percent shooting overall and 16.1 percent from three. The Warriors crowd Harden with multiple defenders, and while he still puts up numbers — he had a triple-double in this game — he’s not as efficient.

Not that there wasn’t an offensive show, between Harden’s triple-double and Stephen Curry dropping 32 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Those two put on a show.

Golden State raced out to a fast lead and pushed that margin up to 22 by getting stops (and the Rockets just missing looks, they were 2-of-16 from deep in the first 24 minutes), then turning their defensive stops into transition buckets. Credit the Rockets because they battled back, started getting to the line, grinding a little, and by halftime it was just an eight-point Golden State lead. The game stayed in single digits through most of the second half, but the Warriors always kept the lead, and with a little push late got the win.

Which brings us back to the showdown Wednesday with San Antonio. If the Spurs win, they will be 1.5 games behind the Warriors, one game back in the loss column, with seven to play. The Spurs will have the tie breaker, but San Antonio would still need to win out (and Gregg Popovich has said he will rest players) and hope Golden State loses again (they have now won eight in a row heading into San Antonio). Certainly not impossible, but also not likely. By at least getting a split in their Texas two-step, the Warriors have probably earned themselves the top seed in the West.

2) Portland beats Denver, essentially ending the Nuggets’ playoff dreams. This wasn’t a must-win game for Denver in the purest sense — the Nuggets are mathematically alive for the eighth seed, just one game back of the Trail Blazers.

However, in the practical world, Tuesday night was a must-win game for the Nuggets.

And the Trail Blazers beat them. Beat then because of the guy Denver traded them at the deadline — Jusuf Nurkic had a career-high 33 points plus pulled down 16 rebounds, six offensive. After the game, he wasn’t shy telling his former team to enjoy their summer.

Going into the game Portland and Denver were tied for the eighth seed in the West, the final playoff spot. With the win, the Nuggets are one game up and have the tie-breaker, so it is, in essence, a two-game lead with eight to play. The challenge for Denver is six of their eight games are on the road, while Portland has just two of their eight away from home.

Fivethirtyeight.com now has the Blazers a 92 percent chance to make the postseason, the Nuggets get 8 percent. That’s not impossible, but it’s not likely.

3) Hassan Whiteside’s tip in keeps Heat in eighth seed, all but ends Detroit’s playoff hopes. This one play was the dagger shot to Detroit’s playoff chances. They had what amounted to a must-win game Tuesday against Miami, the Pistons needed one stop at the end, and this happened.

If I’m Stan Van Gundy, what keeps me up is not even the Hassan Whiteside tip-in, it’s little Goran Dragic pulling down the first rebound in and amongst the trees. How do you let him get that?

It was a disappointing ending to a disappointing game that caps off a disappointing season in Detroit. This team should be better than this, but here we are.  Detroit is now 2.5 games out of the playoffs with seven games to play. That’s too much. Fivethirtyeight.com has Detroit’s chances of making the playoffs at 1 percent.

Miami, on the other hand, has a 74 percent chance of making the postseason, according to the same site. The Heat’s biggest concern should be they are just one game ahead of Chicago for that last playoff spot, and the Bulls have a softer ending to the season (Miami’s last four games are Toronto, Washington, Cleveland, and Washington, although those teams could be resting guys at that point).