EuroBasket semi-finals set, so are five of seven World Championship berths


At this point Spain, France, Lithuania and Croatia are playing for pride.

Those are your four EuroBasket semi-finalists, the Final Four of the European championship. All four of those teams advanced with quarterfinal wins in the last 48 hours. All have a shot at the title.

Those four teams have already sewn up one key prize — Europe has seven slots in the World Championships next summer (24 teams from around the globe get invites). Spain was already in as host, so the other three teams punched their card to that dance with their quarterfinals wins. They can all pack their bags for Spain.

Spain advanced to the semifinals by beating Serbia (a route that saw a crazy Marc Gasol outlet pass), France by beating Slovenia.

Thursday the two losers of those games faced off and tournament host Slovenia won handily, 92-74, behind 23 points and 9 rebounds from Zoran Dragic (that would be Goran Dragic’s brother). What that means is Slovenia is fifth place in EuroBasket and they are in for the World Championships next summer, too.

For the final two automatic slots in the World Championships it shakes out like this: Ukraine and Italy will play (they lost to semi-finalists Lithuania and Croatia) and the winner gets a world championship slot. Finally the loser of Ukraine/Italy will face Serbia in a win and you’re in game. The loser has to hope FIBA uses one of its four wildcard spots on them.

(By the way, if you’re wondering, the USA had an automatic invite as the defending Olympic champions.)

While there is some pressure in the losers bracket to win and get an invite to the dance next summer, the four teams left in the winners bracket semifinals are playing for pride — and that can lead to interesting games.

Spain has been the best team in the tournament (they are deep with guys such as Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez and more), but France led by Tony Parker is one team that could upset them in a one-game tournament (which this is).

The winner of that will take on the winner of Lithuania and Croatia in the championship game. France or Spain will be healthy favorites in that game.

PBT Extra bold prediction previews: Don’t expect more wins in Toronto

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After winning the Atlantic Division then getting thumped in the playoff two years running, the powers that be in Toronto decided it was time for a change.

The added DeMarre Carroll and made shifts to make this a more defensive-minded team, all because of dreams of playoff success (which for the Raptors would be making the second round). What this changeover is not going to mean is an improvement off the 49 regular season wins the Raptors had last season — they sacrificed some scoring to get this defense, and there is a trade-off.

That said, I still expect the Raptors to win the Atlantic. Maybe they make the second round of the playoffs (way too early to make that call).

How many regular season wins they get — and if they win a postseason series — for me is going to come down to if Jonas Valanciunas takes a step forward. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be strong, Carroll is an upgrade, but the big man in the middle will be the hinge for everything.

Mike Budenholzer smirks at lawyer calling Thabo Sefolosha ‘NBA superstar’

Mike Budenholzer, Thabo Sefolosha
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The funny part, via Robert Silverman:

The substantive part:

NEW YORK (AP) — NBA player Thabo Sefolosha, who was arrested outside a New York City nightclub in April following a confrontation with police officer, has a character “of the highest order,” his head coach, Mike Budenholzer, testified Thursday.

Taking the stand as the final defense witness in Sefolosha’s trial, Budenholzer described the Atlanta Hawks guard-forward as “highly intelligent” and a “hard worker.”

When asked by defense attorney Alex Spiro to describe his character, he said it was, “of the highest order.”

“Thabo is of the highest character,” he said during brief testimony in Manhattan Criminal Court.

The Swiss national is charged with misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges stemming from a confrontation with officers outside a trendy Manhattan nightclub early in the morning on April 8. He has pleaded not guilty.

Officers testified this week that Sefolosha and former teammate Pero Antic repeatedly disobeyed their orders to move off the block and away from a crime scene that had been established following the earlier stabbing of another NBA player, Chris Copeland, and two women.

One of the officers also said Sefolosha lunged at an officer with his arm extended but was intercepted before making contact, eventually taken to the ground and arrested.

Sefolosha has testified that he was complying with orders and moving up the block as a particularly aggressive officer screamed profanities at him.

His attorney has argued that his client was singled out by the officer, who is white, because Sefolosha is black.

Sefolosha testified Thursday that he was trying to give money to a panhandler before entering an awaiting car when he was grabbed by police. He said his leg was kicked in the scuffle and he was taken to the ground, handcuffed and hauled to a police precinct. He suffered a fractured right leg, which forced him to miss the playoffs.

The case is the second one involving high-profile athletes accusing New York Police Department officers of wrongdoing this year. On Wednesday, the city agency charged with investigating police misconduct substantiated claims by former tennis star James Blake that an officer used excessive force when he took him to the ground last month after mistkaing Blake for a fraud suspect.