Olympics Day 16 - Basketball

Consider USA, Spain favorites for 2012 London Olympics

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There are 298 days left until the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics.

We, as Americans, expect a gold medal in basketball as our birthright, as we expect inexpensive gasoline and a well-grilled steak. To make sure we get what we want, USA Basketball will be sending its big guns — LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, etc. — and America will be the prohibitive favorite in London.

But a year out, who is our biggest threat?

Spain primarily, but once we get to the one-and-done part of the tournament, a few teams can be scary. There’s a fantastic breakdown of what to expect next July over at The Painted Area today (one of the best sites for international hoops opinions), where they talk about Spain coming off its European championship.

MVP Juan Carlos Navarro was in full La Bomba mode during the knockout round, but it’s Pau Gasol who is the lynchpin for this side. Pau easily led the EuroBasket with a whopping 36.9 PER (20 and 8 on 54% FG in 26 minutes per game).

While the return of Pau was essential for Team España, the addition of newly naturalized Serge Ibaka was an intriguing personnel game-changer for Spain. Ibaka, who was a force in the gold-medal game with five blocks in 21 minutes, adds a welcome dose of athleticism. The equation of Gasol brothers plus Serge might well equal the best rotation of bigs in London, depending upon the frontline players Team USA is able to assemble.

We have talked about this before — when Coach K sits down to assemble this version of Team USA, he is going to have to account for the size and athleticism of the Spanish front line. Playing Dwight Howard at the five then Carmelo Anthony at the four will not cut it against the Gasol brothers.

Everyone goes into the Olympics expecting a Spain vs. USA gold medal rematch from 2008.

Who can spoil that party? How about France? They have Joakim Noah to play defense in the paint but they were able to score during EuroBasket as well.

Certainly, the return of Tony Parker after a year off was critical to the French offense. Parker was the best guard in the tourney, averaging 22.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals in 35 minutes per game. Also, Nic Batum delivered a fine EuroBasket, averaging 13.8 points and 2.0 steals with 53.5% FG in 31.5 minutes, an improvement on his play in Turkey in 2010 (12.5 points and 1.3 steals with just 42.9% FG in 28.5 minutes). France still has room for improvement, as they could potentially add players like Ronny Turiaf, Roddy Beaubois or Mickael Pietrus to this year’s squad.

Argentina will make one last run at it with their golden generation of Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and others. This is a team that is more seasoned and has played together longer than anyone else in London, and they are a threat.

Brazil will be right in there too. They came in second at FIBA Americas behind Tiago Splitter and a bunch of guys you don’t know (and you may not no Splitter all that well as Gregg Popovich kept him on the bench plenty last season). But they can add Nene, Leandro Barbosa and Anderson Varejao, which will make them a threat.

Go read the entire Painted Area post. There are teams like Lithuania and Russia could be a threat in a one-and-done scenario.

That said, we’re Americans and basketball is our sport. We expect our gold medal and we don’t really care how we get it.

Sunday is 16th anniversary of greatest dunk ever: Vince Carter over Frederic Weis

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It was the last game of the group stage of the 2000 Olympic basketball tournament at the Sydney Olympics, the USA was taking on France, another USA win on its way to another gold medal.

But what we all remember is this one play — Vince Carter dunking over the 7’2″ French center Frederic Weis.

Best. Dunk. Ever.

By anyone.

Weis was never the same.

In an impressive career — two-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Star, hours and hours of crazy highlights — this is always going to be the highlight at the top of the list. So we will use the anniversary of this dunk to look at it one more time.

Hat tip to nitramy at NBA Reddit.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford suggests allowing teams to advance ball in final two minutes without timeout

Steve Clifford
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The final minutes of a close NBA game rank among the best moments in sports – which is pretty remarkable, considering frequent stoppages interrupt and impede enjoyment of the game.

Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout.

Coaches should probably call fewer timeouts, because drawing up a play also allows the defense to set. But timeouts give the offense the option of advancing the inbound spot into the frontcourt, a key advantage. So, teams will keep calling timeouts.

Unless…

Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:

For Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, the ability in the final two minutes of a game to advance the ball without requiring a timeout to be called could speed up the action. That has been used on a trial basis in the D League and in Summer League, and several coaches felt it worked well.

“The game is at an all-time high in popularity, but a lot of people complain about the last two minutes,” Clifford said. “I think it would add a different dimension but it would also be a good thing in addressing our biggest issue.”

Not that the coaches would be willing to lose any of their timeouts, though. They just wouldn’t save them specifically for that purpose.

I’m here for that.

I’m unsurprised control-seeking coaches want to keep all their timeouts, and reducing those seems unlikely, anyway. The NBA pays its bills through commercial breaks.

Would moving those advertising opportunities earlier in the game pay off? Audiences are probably larger in crunch time, but an action-packed closing stretch could hook fans and grow overall audiences. It’s always a difficult decision to forgo maximizing immediate revenue in pursuit of more later.

But I’m fairly certain fans would appreciate the change, which is at least a starting point in considering it.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

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Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.

Check out top 50 plays from Kevin Garnett’s Hall of Fame career (VIDEO)

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First Kobe Bryant. Then Tim Duncan.

Now Kevin Garnett. The Hall of Fame class in five years is going to be stacked.

But before we move on from Garnett’s announcement this week that he is retiring after 21 years in the NBA, let’s look back at his greatest plays (compiled by the folks at NBA.com). Enjoy this for 11 minutes rather than watching your NFL fantasy team flounder. Again.