Argentina's LuisScola goes for a basket against Martinez of Dominican Republic during their FIBA Americas Championship basketball game in Caracas

FIBA Americas results and recap, featuring Jack Michael Martinez vs. Luis Scola

Leave a comment

The 2013 FIBA Americas tournament finished its second day of action on Saturday night. The games that were supposed to be the best ended up being the most lopsided but, on the bright side, even those games were relatively fun to watch for a weekend in August.

Saturday’s featured game, according to your’s truly, took place between Argentina and the Dominican Republic. Both squads are expected to qualify for next year’s FIBA World Cup and therefore a step closer to a bid in the 2016 Olympics. Saturday’s game showed that Argentina is going to need their big guns back if they want to make noise on the national scene, however, as Luis Scola struggled and the Dominican’s dominated en route to a 91-72 victory.

Dominican Republic captain Jack Michael Martinez is known for his gritty play, nifty passing and seemingly-fun attitude and, surprisingly, he’s usually able to back up his bravado on the court. He did that Saturday, anyway, to the tune of 12 points, 14 rebounds and three assists (and that’s not counting a few nifty behind-the-back passes that didn’t result in points). Martinez was matched up against the Indiana Pacers’ Scola while wearing a crazy mask after a gnarly scratch he sustained in a game last week at the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup:

source:

The average NBA fan has likely never heard of Martinez, but that’s not because he’s not talented. The big man’s basketball prowess is likely going to earn a few headlines over the course of the FIBA Americas tournament and then again next summer, too, meaning it’s probably time for a quick history lesson:

The 31-year-old Martinez was, at one time, the best player on the top-ranked high school team in the USA. Reporters eventually learned that he’d falsified his age on some immigration documents, however, and the older than average senior was shipped back to the Dominican Republic. There were apparently some NCAA opportunities and a few reported NBA training camp invites that came in the years to follow, but Martinez was unable to obtain a visa and instead has spent the majority of his professional career playing in Central America.

Martinez isn’t the only talented Dominican, though: The Republic’s only NBA player, Houston Rockets swingman Francisco Garcia, scored nine points to go with five rebounds and four blocks to offset a 3-for-11 shooting performance. Newcomer James Feldeine, a former standout at Quinnipiac before taking his talents to Spain, led all scorers with 21 points thanks to a smooth stroke from beyond the arc. Point guard Juan Coronado added 18 points, former Louisville standout Edgar Sosa scored seven as he attempts to overcome injury issues — including the gruesome knee injury suffered at this event in 2011 — and former Kentucky backup big Eloy Vargas added eight points and 11 rebounds in the starting role that usually belongs to Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks.

Argentina’s day didn’t go so hot, however. Scola began the game with a pair of errant three-point attempts, having both carom off the front of the rim  — an unsurprising stat considering he’s 4-for-33 from beyond the arc during his entire 468-game NBA career. It didn’t get any better for the new Pacer, either, as he finished the game 13 points and seven boards after going an abysmal 4-for-18 from the field (he missed two more three-pointers along the way, for what it’s worth). 23-year-old point guard Nicolas Paprovittola helped Scola by tying his team-high 13 points, but this iteration of the Argentinean team is in desperate need of some scoring.

***

There was a second solid Saturday game featuring a pair of potential champs, too, as Puerto Rico took on a Canadian squad featuring four current NBA players. Despite their tournament-high cont of NBAers, however, Canada is missing Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk. All three would’ve been welcome on Saturday while Canada was overmatched en route an 83-67 defeat. The United States’ neighbors to the north stuck close for the first three quarters, but Puerto Ricoe overtook them in the final stanza, outscoring Canada 24-9 score on the backs of their four best-known players.

Carlos Arroyo, J.J. Barea, Renaldo Balkman and Larry Ayuso were the only Puerto Ricans to score in the fourth quarter as they pulled away for the big win. The first three aforementioned players all have extensive NBA experience … and Ayuso is notable for being a 36-year-old chucker out of USC, though he has a couple of NBA training camp appearances in his past. Arroyo finished with 20 points, Ayuso 19, Balkman had 18 to go with his 11 rebounds and Barea finished with an inefficient 11 points on 10 shots.

Canada’s two young NBA bigs played best for them, but the frontcourt didn’t get enough help from the backcourt to keep the game competitive all the way to the final buzzer. Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson finished with 21 points and seven rebounds while Cleveland Cavaliers post Tristan Thompson added 20 and nine, but the rest of the roster failed to score in double-digits. San Antonio Spurs backup Cory Joseph was particularly disappointing, scoring just four points on 10 shot attempts while his brother Devoe was actually worse, adding a pair of points on seven shots after getting the start. Miami Heat backup big man Joel Anthony played sparingly, picking up two points and three fouls in nine minutes on the court.

The other two games weren’t as important on the world stage, but we’ll give them the quick recap treatment anyway.

Uruguay 68, Jamaica 66 — This was essentially a matchup to decide whether it’d be Uruguay or Jamaica being the team eliminated in the first round of pool-play in Group A and, barring something strange happening, it looks like Jamaica will be on the outside looking in when it comes time to begin the next round. That’s a shame, too, considering they actually have a decent team with a few recognizable names.

Uruguay was led by Esteban Batista, a former backup big with the Atlanta Hawks and an absolute double-double machine when it comes to international basketball in the Americas. The 6’10 center led the game in both scoring and rebounding, piling up 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds (seven on the offensive end). The only other considerable contribution on Uruguay’s side came from Leandro Garcia as the 6’2 guard scored 20 points thanks to 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.

Jamaica’s roster features a pair of former NBA bigs, but they haven’t been able to get both to play well in the same game yet. Saturday was Samardo Samuels turn as the former Cleveland Cavaliers big man racked up 19 points and six boards, but former Knicks backup Jerome Jordan was held scoreless and missed all six of his shots in the game. Point guard Akeem Scott added 18 points while Weyinmi Rose (known as Weyinmi Efejuku during his time at Providence) added 15 points and four rebounds.

Venezuela 75, Paraguay 70 — Paraguay isn’t expected to win a game this tournament and, if the USA wouldn’t have turned down its bid, they wouldn’t have even been eligible for the tournament. The underdogs were still able to give the host team a scare, but their upset bid ultimately fell short in Saturday’s nightcap.

Venezuela misses the contributions Greivis Vasquez, Gregory Echinique and Oscar Torres, but the healthy members left on the roster have been together for a few years now. 35-year-old Axiers Sucre led the team in scoring with 15 points to go with nine rebounds and Gregory Vargas added 14. The player that was supposed to be  a star has yet to be spectacular, however, as former Atlanta Hawks swingman Donta Smith had a rather quiet 14 points while going just 1-for-5 on his shots from beyond the arc.

Sunday’s schedule includes Canada playing Brazil along with three likely blowouts: Mexico vs. Paraguay, Dominican Republic vs. Venezuela and Puerto Rico vs. Uruguay.

Harden focused on helping Rockets improve after tough season

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets warms up before playing the Golden State Warriors in game four of the first round playoffs at Toyota Center on April 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

HOUSTON (AP) James Harden was second in the NBA with 29 points per game last season and his 7.5 rebounds were a career high.

Still, it was a disappointing year for Harden and the Houston Rockets, who were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State, and the star knew he had to adjust things to take the team farther this year.

“Last year was frustrating, numbers individually was pretty solid, but just the love and excitement wasn’t there,” he said. “So I had to look in the mirror this summer and realize that I got to change and I got to get back to how I was.”

To that end, he refocused this offseason and put an emphasis on becoming a better leader. He organized players-only training and outings in both Miami and Las Vegas in an attempt to create cohesiveness within the group before camp.

“Just getting to know somebody and hanging out … it was really good,” he said. “That’s going to carry over onto the court.”

The way his embraced his role as the undisputed leader of this team has impressed everyone in the organization, starting with owner Leslie Alexander.

“It shows that James wants to win very badly,” Alexander said. “He’s a winning player … James is one of the top three or four players we’ve ever had here and he wants to win as much as (Hakeem) Olajuwon and (Clyde) Drexler and everybody else.”

Trevor Ariza is entering his 13th NBA season, but had the excitement of a rookie on Friday as he talked about how much better things feel entering this season than they did last year. It was a season that saw coach Kevin McHale fired after just 11 games and the Rockets take a step back after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2015.

“I think just last season was frustrating for everybody because we just couldn’t figure it out together,” Ariza said. “I don’t even know how to explain. It was just a weird, weird, weird year.”

So how have things changed now?

“The vibe has just been totally different,” Ariza said. “Everybody is excited to show what they’ve worked on and excited just to be around each other.”

These positive-attitude Rockets enter the season with new coach Mike D’Antoni and without eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard, who signed with Atlanta in the offseason. A big question for this team will be who will step in to make up for Howard’s absence.

Their top options are Clint Capela, a third-year player who saw limited action the past two seasons as Howard’s backup, and Nene, who played 53 games for Washington last year before joining Houston in the offseason.

General manager Daryl Morey raved about Capela’s improvement in his first year, but knows he’ll have to do more this season if the Rockets hope to be a force in the Western Conference.

“Clint is going to have to take a big step forward and it’s not an easy step,” Morey said. “To go from playing 15-20 minutes against often not the starting center to playing 25-plus minutes against front-line guys, that’s a big step forward. It’s more physical. It takes a big toll on your body to do that night-in and night-out.”

Along with Nene, the Rockets also added outside shooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon this offseason. Houston expects the addition of those two to fill a void that this team has had in recent years.

“We were able to upgrade our shooting … for the style we want to play,” Morey said. “I don’t feel like we had enough shooting (before). We do have that.”

Everyone is saying the right things and Morey believes he made the upgrades necessary for the team to succeed in D’Antoni’s system. But with all the improvements other teams made in the West, it’s hard to know what to expect from this team.

Alexander was confident, yet tempered when asked about his expectations.

“I think we’ll win more games than people anticipate,” he said. “But when the season rolls on we’ll see how well we do.”

Front desk at new Sixers practice facility made out of court from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Ben Simmons walks on stage after being drafted first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of 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 Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
3 Comments

The Philadelphia 76ers have just opened a new, state-of-the-art practice facility, and maybe the coolest part is a unique touch that nods to one of the iconic moments in the history of Philadelphia basketball. The reception desk in the lobby of the building is made out of hardwood, but not just any hardwood — it’s a part of the court from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game on March 2, 1962. Here’s a photo, via CSN Philly’s Jessica Camerato:

When Chamberlain scored 100 points, it was for the Philadelphia Warriors, not the 76ers, but it’s still a piece of the city’s sports history, and this is a cool, unique way to honor it.

51 Q: Will Tom Thibodeau fast-track the Timberwolves’ ascension?

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 05:  Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves is congratulated by Ricky Rubio #9 after he made a basket against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on April 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
1 Comment

The Minnesota Timberwolves won just 29 games last season, but few teams have more crowded bandwagons right now, or brighter futures. In many ways, their position isn’t too dissimilar to the Oklahoma City Thunder circa 2009 — still a lottery team, but the talent of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook was obvious. The Wolves have a similarly promising young core with the last two Rookie of the Year winners, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the latter of whom has all the makings of a once-in-a-generation, MVP-caliber big man and an unbelievable amount of poise and polish for his age.

Young teams take time to come together, but the Timberwolves set themselves up to make a leap with their biggest offseason move, parting ways with interim head coach Sam Mitchell (who filled in admirably following the passing of Flip Saunders before last season) and hiring Tom Thibodeau. Because of this alone, the Timberwolves will win more games than they did last year. That’s what Thibodeau does — he wins games, no matter what his roster looks like. He does this by treating every game like it’s Game 7 of the Finals, and unlike the injury-riddled Bulls teams he got to overachieve, this Wolves group is young, healthy and unproven.

But even though any group with Wiggins, Towns and Thibodeau projects long-term to be in the title race, it would be unfair and unreasonable to expect contention overnight. Even Thibodeau, who expects the absolute most out of any group he coaches, is fully aware of that. Here’s what he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in July:

“We like our young core a lot,” Thibodeau said, “and I would say this: We’re also not fooling ourselves. We know we’re in a very competitive conference. We won 29 games last year.”

Short of the kind of offseason haul of superstars that transforms a roster (think the Celtics getting Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007, or the Cavaliers getting LeBron James and Kevin Love in 2014), going from a bottom-tier lottery team to a contender overnight just doesn’t happen. A more realistic expectation of a best-case scenario for the Timberwolves under the first year of Thibodeau would be the 2009-10 Thunder. After winning just 23 games in 2009, Oklahoma City went 50-32 in 2009-10, grabbed the eighth seed in the Western Conference and lost to the eventual champion Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. A playoff berth and a competitive first-round loss to the Warriors or Spurs is only incremental progress, but considering what the starting point is, and the fact that the Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, a similar season would be a resounding success for the first year under Thibodeau.

The bottom of the Western Conference playoff race is going to be an uphill battle for the Wolves to break into. Beyond the top tier (Golden State, San Antonio and the Clippers), it seems to be a safe bet that the Jazz, Blazers, Thunder and Grizzlies will be in the playoffs. The Timberwolves will be one of the teams fighting for the final spot, but they’ll have stiff competition with the Rockets, Pelicans and Mavericks in the hunt. It’s not hard to picture the Wolves edging those teams out, but it’s far from a sure thing.

Long-term, it’s hard to think of a team with a higher ceiling than this Timberwolves group. In the here and now, though, it’s best to keep expectations in check.

Anthony Davis on New Orleans: “I never plan on leaving here”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans takes a shot during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
3 Comments

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. On media day, Anthony Davis — who signed a five-year max extension with the Pelicans last summer and cannot hit the open market until 2020 at the earliest — told reporters that he wants to play in New Orleans his entire career.

Right now, I have no doubt that Davis means what he said and wants to stay in New Orleans forever. But it’s worth keeping in mind that virtually every superstar who signed a long-term extension with the team that drafted them said something similar. Matt Moore of CBSSports.com has a few examples from Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, all of whom eventually left their teams.

For the Pelicans, it will depend on how the next four seasons go. If they can put a title contender around Davis and not waste the bulk of his prime (a la Kevin Garnett‘s first stint in Minnesota), they have a chance to convince him to stay. But it would be unwise to hold him at his word right now in four years, especially if the next several seasons don’t go the way they want.