Tournament to decide final three Olympic berths taking place

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Kentucky coach John Calipari is in Venezuela as you read this. Coaching the Dominican Republic. Al Horford is in Venezuela as well. So are Andrei Kirilenko, J.J. Barea and a host of other players you know.

All trying to earn their ticket to London for the 2012 Olympics.

FIBA’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament — all the teams that just missed out qualifying in their regions for the Olympics — are in Venezuela competing for the final three spots in the London games.

Twelve teams get invited to the Olympic men’s basketball tournament and nine teams have already earned their spot — including the United States, which qualified by winning the FIBA World Championships in 2010.

The final three spots are determined from a tournament featuring all the teams that just missed out last year in qualifying. And there are some good teams — Russia, Lithuania, Puerto Rico, and the Calipari-led Dominican Republic among them. (Don’t think Calipari agreed to coach them because a highly recruited player is coming out of the island nation in 2014, that couldn’t be it at all.)

Here is how it works — the top two teams from each group advance to an 8-team single elimination tournament. What are the groups? Glad you asked:

Group A – Greece, Puerto Rico, Jordan
Group B – Nigeria, Lithuania, Venezuela
Group C – Russia, Dominican Republic, Korea
Group D – Macedonia, New Zealand, Angola

The two teams that reach the championship game get automatic berths. The third place game between the semi-finals losers will be the one to watch, a trip to London is on the line.

Predicting who could come out of any single elimination tournament is risky — that’s why the NCAA Tournament is so fun — but I would expect Russia to advance with the Dominican (Horford scored 30 in their first game), Puerto Rico, Greece and Lithuania in the mix for the other spots.

Two of the countries that advance from this land in Team USA’s Olympic first round group.

Charles Barkley on new schedule: “These poor babies can’t play back-to-back games”

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Training camp hasn’t even opened yet, but Charles Barkley is already in midseason “get off my lawn” form.

Barkley — the man who can’t stand jump shooting teams, or analytics, or LeBron James asking for better players, or your newfangled technology — went off on another tedious rant at an SMU event Wednesday, this time about the NBA’s decision to start the season a little earlier and have fewer back-to-backs and eliminate four-games-in-five-nights.

Ugh. Like a lot of former players — and a lot of non-athletes, for that matter — Barkley is convinced his peak as a player coincided with the greatest era of basketball ever. Things were never better than the way they did it in his day.

Which means facts — like pointing to the studies that show players both are less likely to be injured and play better and more efficiently when rested — don’t matter. Barkley did it, so players now should have to do it. Who cares if all these packed in games can shorten their careers?

Then again, maybe a few days off would have helped Barkley in the second half of his career.

B.J. Armstrong, former Jordan-era Bull turned agent, told me last year that if teams and players knew in his day what they know now about rest and injury, you would have seen stars like MJ rest. Over time we learn more information, and the smart people and organizations adjust.

Barkley will make far more headlines over the course of the season, he gets paid to be brash, say whatever pops into head, and be generally draw attention to himself. It makes him entertaining, and that’s what Inside the NBA is about. But I will defer to Steve Kerr’s comments from last playoffs on all these old “get off my lawn” players.

“The game gets worse as time goes on. Players are less talented than they used to be. The guys in the 50s would’ve destroyed everybody. It’s weird how human evolution goes in reverse in sports. Players get weaker, smaller, less skilled. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”

For a couple grand, Warriors fans can have Larry O’Brien Trophy visit their suite

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There’s so much money floating around the Bay Area right now thanks to another tech boom, this price almost seems low.

If you have a suite for the Golden State Warriors home games this season — and those are pretty much sold out, the Warriors draw big from the Silicon Valley crowd — you can have the NBA championship Larry O’Brien Trophy visit your suite. All for just a couple grand. From Gilbert Lee, via ESPN’s Darren Rovell.

The best part is it includes champagne… do you get to spray each other with it as you hold up the trophy? Now that would be perfect (goggles included, of course).

Have an issue with this? Why? To the victor goes the spoils. The Warriors may be able to sell this package for years.

Sixers new “Spirit of 76” court is fire

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First, the Sixers nailed the Nike “statement” jersey.

Now, they have announced a new “Spirit of 76” promotion, with seven tribute nights this season honoring the history of the franchise and of the Philadelphia area (and there is plenty of history to honor).

The best part — the “Spirit of 76” court with the bell logo.

Here is the promo vid

I just hope the Sixers team can live up to all the hype.

Wizards’ Markieff Morris to have sports hernia surgery, miss start of camp

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When the Washington Wizards open training camp next Tuesday, starting forward Markieff Morris will not be on the court.

That’s because he will have surgery to repair a sports hernia, a story broken by Candice Buckner of the Washington Post and since confirmed by Chase Hughes at CSNMidAtlantic.com.

While we don’t have details on the surgery, often recovery time for this is just a few weeks, and Morris could well be ready for the start of the season.

Morris averaged 14 points and 6.5 rebounds a game last season, and the Wizards offense was 5.7 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court last season. With him out, coach Scott Brooks can lean on Jason Smith or Mike Scott for traditional lineups, but don’t be shocked if he tries a little small ball with Otto Porter and/or Kelly Oubre at the three or four.

Morris also is in the midst of a felony assault trial in Arizona (one where he does not need to attend).