Behind Parker and Batum, France cruises to first European championship

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Tony Parker has three NBA titles and a Finals MVP, but in six previous attempts he had not been able to lead his native France to a EuroBasket championship.

Until Sunday.

France won it’s first ever European title on Sunday, pulling away from Lithuania in the second quarter and cruising to an 80-66 win.

France did it with a lineup that should look pretty familiar to Spurs fans — Parker, Boris Diaw, and Nando De Colo. But it was another NBA player who key on Sunday in Slovenia.

Portland’s Nicolas Batum took control in the second quarter when France pulled away with an 18-3 run that led to a 31-12 quarter for France. Batum hit a few threes and finished with a team high 17 points on the night, plus six boards.

Lithuania led by three after one quarter — mostly thanks to Linas Kleiza —but after the run they were down 16 at the half and the entire second half felt was like a coronation for France. The outcome was never really in doubt those final 20 minutes.

For past couple weeks of the European championships Parker has been the best player on the court, but in the championship game he was a cold (4-of-14 to start, he hit 2 of his last 3 and finished with 12 points). But the win is all he will care about — Parker has been incredibly loyal to the French national team for years and has said a European championship was something he really wanted on his resume. Now he has it.

The Raptors Jonas Valančiūnas had looked strong through the tournament but he played just 11 minutes in the finals and had no points and three rebounds. He had some foul trouble but not going to him more was an odd coaching choice.

Diaw added 15 points and six boards for France. Kleiza had 20 points to lead Lithuania.

In the days earlier game, Spain crushed Croatia for the bronze medal, winning 92-66. All four of those teams will be in Spain next year for the World Championship, although France may be without Parker.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.