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

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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:

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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.

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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.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Manu Ginobili hustling saves lead to Spurs bucket (VIDEO)

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That’s about the most Spurs play ever.

During the third quarter of San Antonio’s win over Washington Friday night, LaMarcus Aldridge saved the ball from going out-of-bounds on the baseline, he threw it out high to Manu Ginobili, who had to leap and save it from going into the backcourt. Two hustle plays. From there the Spurs whipped the ball around the perimeter, and it ended up back to Aldridge on the baseline, where he nailed the 12-foot jumper.

Eventually, the Spurs would get a Kawhi Leonard jumper to give them the victory.

LeBron on Cavs’ three-game losing streak: “We got to get out of the honeymoon stage”

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James wipes his face as he looks down after guard Kyrie Irving missed a shot during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Chicago. The Bulls won 111-105. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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For a team that is 13-5 and atop the Eastern Conference standings, the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t been their intimidating selves consistently this season. There have been flashes during a 13-2 start, but mostly they win on talent, or when they flip the switch for a half, but they haven’t looked like a tested team working on building good habits through the first quarter of the NBA season. They have an elite offense, but their defense is surrendering 105.1 points per 100 possessions, 20th in the league.

It’s been worse the last four games. The Cavaliers had to come from behind to beat the Sixers, then got blown out by the Bucks and Clippers. Friday night, Cleveland lost to Chicago, giving the Cavs a three-game losing streak, and LeBron James had enough. He sent a message to his team through the media (from the Associated Press):

“We got to get out of the honeymoon stage,” James said. “You got to play the game, the right way. We’ve got to battle every night like we ain’t won nothing. Last year is last year. After ring night is over with, now it’s a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over. It’s time to play some real ball and be physical, especially in the trenches. Giving up 78 points (in the paint) is ridiculous. We’ve got to man up. Everybody.”

The Cavaliers would be far from the first team to have a championship hangover, and considering the five-decade title drought in Cleveland before that win we should have expected one of those “I can’t get off the couch, I’m just going to lay here and watch golf all day” kind of hangovers. As Gregg Popovich has said before, its human nature to let up after a big win.

However, the blowout loss at the hands of the Clippers Thursday — the only title contending team the Cavs have faced this season — should be a wake-up call. The fact is the Cavaliers are still playing well enough to beat everyone in the East, but their real tests come in the form of the Warriors/Clippers/Spurs out West. Right now it’s hard to picture the inconsistent defense of the Cavaliers lifting them past any of those teams in four out of seven games.

LeBron has been to six-straight Finals for a reason — he does not let up. And he’s going to have to shake this team out of its malaise to get them back to an elite standing.

It’s also the first week of December. It’s we’re having this same conversation the last week of March about the Cavaliers then it’s okay to start looking for the panic button in Cleveland. For now, trust LeBron to be the leader this team needs. Calling them out was just step one.

 

James Harden scores 20 in Rockets’ runaway win over Denver 128-110

Houston Rockets guard James Harden brings the ball upcourt against the Denver Nuggets in the first half of an NBA basketball game late Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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DENVER (AP) — James Harden scored 20 points and the Houston Rockets led from start to finish in beating the Denver Nuggets 128-110 on Friday night.

Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson had 18 points each and Sam Dekkar added 17 points for Houston, which completed an impressive road back-to-back sweep that began with its 132-127 win over Golden State in double overtime on Thursday.

Wilson Chandler had 24 points to lead the Nuggets, who saw their three-game winning streak against the Rockets come to an end. The Nuggets have lost four of their last five and fell to 3-7 this season at home, the high-altitude venue they once routinely dominated.

Up by 10 points at halftime, the Rockets took a 99-84 lead into the fourth quarter and kept the pressure on the rest of the way as part of a sharpshooting display that included converting 17 of 37 3-point attempts against a listless Nuggets defense. Denver made 9 of 30 from beyond the arc.

The Rockets took a 73-63 halftime lead over the Nuggets, who allowed a season high in points over the first two quarters by an opponent.

Houston led by as many as 15 points in the first half, hitting nine 3 pointers, including four by Anderson, to gain early separation with its highest scoring output over the first two quarters this season.

The lack of defensive urgency by Denver was epitomized by Gordon’s fastbreak layup at the halftime buzzer as he drove the length of the court virtually uncontested in the final 3 seconds of the period.

TIP-INS

Rockets: F Trevor Ariza left the game in the final minutes with a leg injury, apparently after coming down awkwardly while going for a rebound. … Houston has made at least 10 3-pointers in 19 consecutive games, the longest streak of its kind in league history. … Houston’s previous high for first-half points was 71 against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 26. … Houston is 7-2 on the road since beginning the season 2-3.

Nuggets: C Nikola Jokic missed the game because of a sore left wrist. … G Gary Harris remains sidelined with a right foot injury. … G Will Barton returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the previous two games.

 

Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade lead Bulls to 111-105 win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, front left, talks with Chicago Bulls' Dwyane Wade before an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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CHICAGO (AP) — LeBron James wasn’t holding back.

Cleveland’s superstar had plenty to say after the Cavaliers gave up 78 points in the paint on the way to another loss. The condensed version was this: It’s time to start playing like a championship team again.

Jimmy Butler scored 26 points, Dwyane Wade had 24 and the Chicago Bulls beat James and the slumping Cavaliers 111-105 on Friday night.

Taj Gibson added a season-high 23 points and 11 rebounds for Chicago. Rajon Rondo had 15 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds as the balanced Bulls handed the Cavaliers their third straight loss.

“We got to get out of the honeymoon stage,” James said. “You got to play the game, the right way. We’ve got to battle every night like we ain’t won nothing. Last year is last year. After ring night is over with, now it’s a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over. It’s time to play some real ball and be physical, especially in the trenches. Giving up 78 points (in the paint) is ridiculous. We’ve got to man up. Everybody.”

James manned up to the tune of 27 points and 13 assists, a championship-level performance on a night when he showed up dressed as a World Series champion: He arrived at the arena in a Cubs uniform to honor a World Series bet with buddy Wade.

Kyrie Irving added 20 points and eight assists, but the Cavaliers matched their longest losing streak in a year.

Chicago dominated Cleveland 78-60 in the paint, outrebounded the Cavaliers 49-33 and came out on top despite shooting 3 of 18 on 3-pointers. It was a big turnaround for the Bulls coming off a loss to the Lakers.

“I think we know what we’re capable of if we play basketball the right way and do what we’re supposed to do,” Butler said.

DOWN THE STRETCH

The Bulls used a strong third quarter to turn a one-point halftime deficit into an 88-80 lead. And they withstood several pushes in the fourth to knock off the defending NBA champions.

Kevin Love nailed a 3 to cut the lead to 103-99 with about 4 minutes left, but the Bulls hung on.

Wade drove for a layup to make it 107-101 with 2:39 remaining. Nikola Mirotic then stole the ball from James, leading to a putback basket for Wade.

Mirotic came up with another big play when he blocked a 3 by Irving with 1:11 left to cause a shot-clock violation.

KING CUB

James clearly wasn’t thrilled about having to wear a Chicago Cubs uniform after he rooted hard for his hometown Cleveland Indians in the World Series. But he was a man of his word, honoring the wager he made with Wade, his good friend and former Miami Heat teammate.

James wore a No. 23 Cubs jersey with his last name stitched across the back, a Cubs hat partially covered by a Cubbie-blue hoodie, pinstripe pants and long baseball socks. James’ uniform even had the 2016 World Series champions shoulder patch.

“I actually thought he looked good,” said Wade, who was waiting for James when he arrived at the arena and took a picture of his ex-teammate. “He actually did look like a baseball player.”

The two hugged before tipoff and had some playful moments during the game.

James patted Wade on the backside as they ran down the court together after he hit a tough fadeaway jumper over his pal in the third quarter. Wade returned the favor after burying a 3 in James’ face moments later.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: G/F Mike Dunleavy Jr. missed his second consecutive game because of a concussion.

Bulls: Rondo’s triple-double was his first with the Bulls and the 29th of his career. … Butler has 12 straight games with 20 or more points. … With the Bulls playing four times in five days, coach Fred Hoiberg said Wade won’t travel to Dallas for Saturday’s game. … Hoiberg said F Doug McDermott (concussion) could be cleared for contact shortly and might practice with the D-League’s Windy City Bulls.