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.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 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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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.