Quarterfinal knockout round set at EuroBasket

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There has been drama — like the Russian win Monday that eliminated Macedonia.

There have been surprises — none bigger that Germany being eliminated in group play and thereby eliminated from the Olympics. Dirk Nowitzki admitted later he was tired and maybe not able to help his team as much as he wanted to.

And now we are down to a final eight at EuroBasket, the Olympic qualifying tournament. This means we are in the knockout stage — one and done. The two finalists will get their passports stamped for England as they will earn berths in the 2012 London Olympics. Finishers two through six are headed to the pre-Olympics last chance qualifying tournament next July.

Here are the four quarterfinal games:

Spain vs. Slovenia: Spain has been the best team in the tournament so far, compiling a 7-1 record behind brothers Marc and Pau Gasol. We all love to watch great perimeter players, but Ricky Rubio has struggled in EuroBasket and it hasn’t mattered because Spain has the best and most skilled front line. Big men win. Spain has depth to go behind them at every position. Anything less than an automatic Olympic bid would be a bitter disappointment for Spain.

Slovenia has not looked good of late and needed to beat Finland on Monday to get into the quarterfinals — they did 67-60, but it was a sloppy, unimpressive win. Slovina’s zone defense can be picked apart and Spain has the players to do it. If you want a silver lining, Slovenia does go in with no pressure against Spain. Just not sure that will be enough.

Macedonia vs. Lithuania: Macedonia has been on of the surprise teams of the tournament and they almost beat Russia on Monday (scroll down to see the video of Russia’s winning shot – that guy did not call bank). Macedonia is led by Bo McCalebb, who was raised and played his ball in the New Orleans area and now makes a nice living overseas.

Lithuania should beat them, but everybody has been surprised by Macedonia this tournament and if Lithuania coasts they will pay. Lithuania has some players you know, such as Darius Songaila, Sarunas Jasikeicius, and recent No. 5 pick of the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas. They move spectacularly well off the ball and are hard to defend. They are rightly favored in this game, but it will not be easy.

France vs. Greece: France came in with questions about their offense but Tony Parker has been the MVP of this tournament, leading the French to a 7-1 record (and the loss came to Spain when Parker and other key players were held out for rest). France has good defense with Joakim Noah in the paint and Nicolas Batum of Portland on the wing, plus they also have Boris Diaw. They expect one of those Olympic berths.

Greece has been solid all tournament but not spectacular — they do not look like the squad that knocked off the Americans the World Championships five years ago, in part because key players are not here. They are good enough not to get blown out of games but seem to lack the ability to finish.

Russia vs. Serbia: Russia has remained undefeated in this tournament (8-0) and Andrei Kirilenko has led the way averaging 13.9 points per game. They haven’t blown people away, but they have played solid all around basketball and in the crunch have found ways to win, like how they beat Macedonia in the final game of group play.

Serbia will be no pushover – this team beat out Dirk Nowitzki’s Germany and World Championship runner up Turkey to advance to this stage. Serbia has one of those classically European offenses with a lot of ball and player movement that when they are crisp is hard to stop. But their pick-and-roll defense has been exposed in this tournament and you can bet Russia will exploit it.

Lakers hire Kardashian trainer Gunnar Peterson

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LOS ANGELES (AP) A celebrity trainer known for getting the Kardashian clan into shape is going to work for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gunnar Peterson is the Lakers’ new director of strength and endurance training, the team announced Wednesday.

Peterson has been a favorite trainer among entertainers and athletes for many years while running a well-regarded private gym in Beverly Hills. His client list has included Sylvester Stallone, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and Pete Sampras, along with most of the Kardashian family.

Peterson will develop a strength and conditioning program for the Lakers, general manager Rob Pelinka says.

The 16-time NBA champion franchise has replaced several key members of its internal staff since Magic Johnson and Pelinka assumed control of basketball operations earlier this year.

Report: Bucks interested in Cavaliers GM David Griffin

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The Magic hired Jeff Weltman, and the Hawks are reportedly close to hiring Travis Schlenk.

In other words, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin – who’s still without a contract for next season – lost his leverage with other teams.

But to the rescue are the Bucks, who will not necessarily promote assistant general manager Justin Zanik to replace Orland-bound general manager John Hammond.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Multiple sources told cleveland.com that the Bucks, who lost general manager John Hammond to the Orlando Magic this week, have interest in Griffin, 47.

Griffin and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert have spoken about continuing their partnership in recent days, sources said, though no agreement was reached.

I still think Griffin stays in Cleveland. He helped assemble a championship contender, and he has LeBron Jamesendorsement. Plus, the Cavaliers can afford him.

But whomever gets the Milwaukee job will inherit a roster stocked with promising young talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. The Bucks wouldn’t be a bad fallback option for Griffin – if he can’t use them to get a deal with the Cavs.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors’

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With the Cavaliers up 3-1 on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, most basketball observers are focused on Cavs-Warriors III in the NBA Finals.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue is more concerned with Boston, which scored surprisingly well in Games 3 and 4 after losing Isaiah Thomas to injury.

Lue, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“I don’t even think about them,” Lue said of the Warriors to a small group of traveling Cleveland beat writers following the Cavs’ Game 4 win on Tuesday. “We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me, as far as the actions and all the running around and all the guys who are making all the plays, so it’s a totally different thing.”

Wait, the Isaiah Thomas-less 53-win Celtics are harder to defend than the Kevin Durant-supercharged 67-win Warriors? Come again, Coach?

“Like, they hit the post, Golden State runs splits and all that stuff, but these guys are running all kinds of s—,” Lue said of Boston coach Brad Stevens’ schemes. “I’ll be like, ‘F—.’ They’re running all kinds of s—, man. And Brad’s got them moving and cutting and playing with pace, and everybody is a threat. It’s tough, you know, it’s tough.”

I think Lue means in a very specific way – getting his players into proper position. And in that regard he might be right.

I also think the Warriors will take this in the broadest, most offensive way possible. That’s just the nature of this rivalry.

Without Thomas, Stevens has been forced to diversify Boston’s offense. The Cavaliers, who prepared for a very different scheme, were caught off guard and are adjusting on the fly.

That’s a real challenge. But framing it as the central issue sells Golden State short.

Even if it’s harder for Lue to get his players into proper position against the Celtics, the Warriors’ surplus talent – including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – more than makes up for it. And it’s not as if Golden State runs a basic scheme.

So why did Lue say this?

He didn’t think the travelling Cleveland beat writers would publish his candid remarks? He didn’t convey his thoughts clearly? He naively didn’t consider how this would motivate the Warriors? All are plausible.

Another theory: Lue is trying to plant a seed that acting Golden State coach Mike Brown, whose known (fairly or not) for his simplistic offensive schemes, is holding back the Warriors. If Steve Kerr doesn’t return, resentment of Brown is one of the few things that could tear apart a dominant Golden State team.

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.