Puerto Rico's Balkman goes for a basket against Brazil's Giovannoni during their FIBA Americas Championship basketball game in Caracas

FIBA Americas Tournament became Renaldo Balkman show on Friday

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The 2013 FIBA Americas tournament tipped off on Friday in Caracas, Venezuela, with teams from North, South and Central America attempting to move one step closer to playing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It’s still a bit early to be talking about that since the tournament won’t end until September 11, but Puerto Rico showed Friday why they were earmarked as the favorites heading into the 10-team extravaganza.

Puerto Rico drew Brazil for their first game of the tournament, making it a matchup of the top two teams in the tournament and a likely preview of the eventual championship game. The game lived up to its billing, too, considering the score was 62-61 with 2:28 left in the game before Renaldo Balkman rattled off five straight points to help his country score an eventual 72-65 victory.

Balkman, the Knicks’ first-round pick in 2006, scored 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots while playing 37 of the game’s 40 minutes — and he didn’t even choke a teammate in the process. Former Boston University standout John Holland added 15 points and nine rebounds while Minnesota Timberwolves dynamo J.J. Barea struggled to 12 points on 11 shot attempts, committing four turnovers in the process. Other notables on the Puerto Rican squad include Carlos Arroyo (7 points, 2-of-9 shooting), Ricky Sanchez (four points, four rebounds and four fouls) and former USC star — and  current 36-year-old chucker — Larry Ayuso (two points, four fouls, five shots).

The only NBA player on the Brazil roster is Utah Jazz draft pick Raul Neto because Nene, Tiago Splitter, Leandro Barbosa and Anderson Varejao all decided to sit this tournament out. Neto isn’t exactly a focal point of his nation’s roster, either, as he earned a DNP-CD in Friday’s loss. Brazil was led by Marcelo Huertas as the Spanish League point guard scored 16 points and dished out five assists to lead his team in both categories. Guilherme Giovannoni added 11 points and Vitor Benite scored 10 to round out Brazil’s double-digit scorers.

Three other games happened Friday at the FIBA Americas and, for those not following along at home, a quick recap is included below.

Canada 85, Jamaica 64 — Canada has the most current NBA players on its roster and, even though those players don’t include Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins or Kelly Olynyk, our neighbors to the North put together a pretty solid squad.

San Antonio Spurs backup point guard Cory Joseph flirted with a triple-double en route to 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, but his scoring total was tied by Baylor Bears sharpshooter Brady Heslip. Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson added 13 points, Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson scored seven and backup Miami Heat center Joel Anthony added six points and three fouls in 14 minutes to round out Canada’s NBA player contributions.

Jamaica has some recognizable names on its roster, but it was Adrian Uter — a burly 6’7 big man that plays professionally in Italy — who led the team in scoring with 16 points to go with eight rebounds. Former New York Knicks center Jerome Jordan added a solid 12 points and eight rebounds while Samardo Samuels was disappointing as he converted on just one of his eight shot attempts for four points in 27 minutes.

Mexico 65, Venezuela 56 — Neither of these two teams are expected to end up qualifying for next year’s FIBA World Cup, but both have rather fun rosters — though a lot of that fun was removed when Venezuela learned it’d be without point guard Greivis Vasquez. The lack of Vasquez, along with rookie Gregory Echinique and Oscar Torres, is likely what led to the host team being upset in their first game of the tournament (that or the fact that Eric Musselman is no longer the head coach due to his demaning schedule as the associate head coach at Arizona State).

Mexico was led by their only NBA player as new Atlanta Hawks big man Gustavo Ayon had a huge game with 22 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks — while curiously only shooting four free-throws compared to 23 shot attempts. Jorge Gutierrez, who spent last year playing in the D-League after a solid career at Cal, added 17 points and former UCLA fan-favorite Lorenzo Mata-Real added three points and four rebounds in ten minutes.

Venezuala thought they got a coup when Donta Smith became a naturalized citizen at the last second, but the former Atlanta Hawks wing scored a disappointing ten points for a squad in desperate need of a scoring punch.

Argentina 95, Paraguay 60 — This iteration of Argentina’s roster doesn’t feature Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni or Carlos Delfino, instead relying on Luis Scola and a whole bunch of guys most American basketball fans haven’t heard of. That roster still had no trouble handling Paraguay, however, as the 35-point difference makes it seem even closer than the game actually appeared. Scola played just ten minutes, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds before taking a seat on the bench to rest for the grueling schedule ahead, but six of his teammates scored in double figures.

We’ll bring you all of the updates you can stomach through the remainder of the tournament with daily previews, recaps and anything else exciting happening in Caracas.

Report: After fining Wizards, league issues memo warning teams on bench etiquette

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12:  Courtney Lee #5 of the New York Knicks takes a three point shot in the first quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on January 12, 2017 in New York City. 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  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The NBA league office fined Washington Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe $5,000 — and the team an additional $15,000 — for his role in distracting a New York Knicks shooter during a game this last week.

Now, the league has issued a warning to teams: make sure you’re practicing good bench etiquette, or we’re coming for your wallets.

According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the NBA sent a memo to all 30 teams on Saturday reminding them to remain on their own bench in accordance with league rules. Obviously that means no stepping onto active basketball courts:

So what are coaches needing to confine themselves to?

Official NBA rules state simply:

The coach’s position may be on or off the bench from the substitution box line (closest to the coach’s bench) to the baseline. A coach is not permitted to cross the midcourt line and violators will be assessed an unsportsmanlike technical foul immediately. All assistants and trainers must remain on the bench. Coaches and trainers are not permitted to go to the scorer’s table, for any reason, except during a dead ball.

Like we see with preseason points of emphasis, it’s possible we see additional fines in the weeks to come. Several coaches enjoy toeing the line (literally) to see what they can get away with and how far out on the court they can stand. Tom Thibodeau immediately springs to mind.

Or, it could go the other direction. Perhaps we see more coaches sitting back, respecting their distance?

Hopefully we just don’t see any more of them trying to close out on opposing shooters.

Joel Embiid wants the center position to return to the NBA All-Star ballot

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The NBA got rid of the center position on the All-Star ballot starting in 2013, thanks in part to some positional confusion around former San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan. But just a handful of years later, Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid says it should make a comeback.

Embiid — who finished third in the Eastern Conference for forwards in All-Star fan voting — told CSN Philly that due to the plethora of talented big men in the NBA, the position should return.

Via CSN Philly:

“There’s a lot of talented big men in the league, especially at the center position,” Embiid said. “That’s something the NBA should think about, putting the center back on the All-Star ballot.”

There has been a resurgence of talented and burgeoning centers that have entered the league and are performing at a high level. Embiid is one of them, and so too is DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Hassan Whiteside, Clint Capela, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams, and Jahlil Okafor.

Adding the center position back might be a tough sell as having it doesn’t reduce eliminations from the roster. It’s much more free-flowing now, and there’s nothing keeping great centers off the All-Star team.

It would also be a little strange if center was added back but there wasn’t a point guard spot, too. ESPN’s Zach Lowe has suggested three categories for the roster in point guard, wing, and frontcourt. That idea is as good as adding the center position, perhaps moreso to many folks in the NBA.

I don’t think adding the center position will make a comeback any time soon. Meanwhile, we’re all just waiting to see if Embiid makes the All-Star reserves.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies for reverse alley-oop jam (VIDEO)

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Is Aaron Gordon a three or a four?

That’s a debate for another day. What we all know he can do is leap out of the building, and he showed off how that can be useful during a game Friday night — Jabari Parker actually defends this fairly well, Gordon can just go over the top of him and get it. With that, we get a highlight.

The Magic upset the Bucks 112-96, behind 20 from a resurgent Elfrid Payton. Parker had 25 for the Bucks.

 

Warriors embrace/struggle through yoga

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 05:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in the second quarter of Game 2 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at ORACLE Arena on June 5, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Anderson Varejao lowered his 6-foot-11 frame into a runner’s lunge and raised one arm high into the air to add a twist, demonstrating after a recent shootaround the new yoga pose he just learned.

Then, he took it up a notch and attempted an airplane balancing pose on one leg with his arms spread wide.

The Golden State Warriors have become yogis.

Coach Steve Kerr is committed to changing things up, and he gave Golden State a day off from the practice floor one day last week so the players could practice yoga instead. In the middle of a prolonged stretch at home with a more regular routine, the schedule allowed for some improvising.

“I really liked it,” Varejao said. “I’m going to do more.”

Doubt you’ll see Draymond Green or Klay Thompson doing downward-facing dog again soon – though Green might be talked into another try eventually.

“I’m bad,” Green said. “Yoga isn’t for everybody. I think it’s a great thing, I just don’t think my body is made for all of those different positions. I did well at a few of them. It’s hard, it’s tough. My body really isn’t cut out for yoga.”

The very next night after the group class, during warmups for a home game with the Pistons, player development coach Bruce Fraser pulled his foot to his opposite inner thigh for an impromptu tree pose. He laughed as an amused Shaun Livingston watched from the baseline.

Andre Iguodala is an experienced yogi who can really cat-cow and is considered top on the team, often taking classes. Center Zaza Pachulia also can forward fold with the best of them. They took prominent positions in the class led by Lisa Goodwin, Golden State’s director of corporate communications and also a yoga teacher, at a Berkeley studio – a first for Kerr taking the team away from team headquarters for a yoga session.

No surprise, two-time reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry can bring it on the mat, too.

“We’ve had some optional yoga sessions at our facility. This is the first time we took everybody and made it mandatory,” Kerr said. “It was good.”

The temperature was about 92 degrees for the hour-long power vinyasa class, so it was steamy.

Everybody was drenched in sweat by the end for final resting pose, or savasana.

“My muscles felt good,” forward James Michael McAdoo said, rubbing his stomach where his core got a workout. “It was fun. It was hot in there, like working in a sauna. I told our strength and conditioning coach, `You got to step up your game. Lisa embarrassed us.'”

“It’s awful, it’s pitiful,” Thompson said of his own yoga ability. “It’s something I worked on and it’s something I actually enjoy. More than just being physically challenging, it’s an incredible mental workout. It tests your pain tolerance and your ability to push yourself mentally. That’s why I like it. It was really good. I think it helped a lot of us – everybody, even the coaches.”

Along with the experienced yoga veterans, there were some first-timers.

A few found it extremely tough.

“I’m not the most flexible,” acknowledged player development coach Chris DeMarco.

Assistant coach Mike Brown described his debut as “terrible.”

“For me, it was really hard, but it was fun,” he said, later adding, “I nearly passed out.”

Ron Adams, another assistant who focuses on preparing Golden State’s defense, happened to work out in the hottest corner of the room for his first time practicing in that high temperature.

“It’s such a cleansing exercise,” he said.

The Warriors aren’t the only ones doing it.

Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy has scheduled yoga time for the Pistons, saying: “It’s got its value, no question about it. Would I consider doing it with them? Probably not.”

Kerr goes whenever he can fit it in, typically taking an hour-long class during the lunch hour on game days when the schedule – and his body – allows.

It’s a time he can focus on taking some deep breaths, literally, away from the pressure-packed NBA workload and just be just another yoga student for 60 minutes out of his day.

This weekend marks one year since Kerr formally returned to the bench last Jan. 22 against Indiana after a lengthy leave of absence to deal with complications from a pair of back surgeries. Current Lakers coach Luke Walton led the way during a record 24-0 start and went 39-4 before Kerr’s comeback on the way to winning Coach of the Year after an NBA record 73-9 finish.

While the 51-year-old Kerr still has some discouraging, physically challenging moments dealing with pain and headaches, he considers himself fortunate to be on the sideline doing what he loves.

“I guess normal is a good way to say it. He seems like his old self,” Curry said. “You know he’s been through a lot just physically trying to recover from the surgeries he’s had. I can’t imagine the frustration, how long it took and things he had to do and all the doctors he’s met with. His whole story is crazy. We’re obviously happy to have him back but not only that, you see him with energy and his presence like he wants. It’s been good to see.”

Whether Kerr will take his team back to yoga any time soon, time will tell. The Warriors are at the season’s midway point and the “dog days” of January as Kerr has put it. Golden State was home for all but a night from Dec. 26 until leaving for Houston on Thursday for Friday’s game against the Rockets, with just a quick bus ride to Sacramento as the lone road trip in a 10-game stretch during that span.

Because there was so much time to practice, the yoga day was a nice change of scenery.

“Just to get away and go do something else,” Green said. “We’re still together doing something productive. But, it’s not for me.”