Plenty on line Thursday in last day of FIBA World Cup group play (just not for USA)

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The USA is going to play the Ukraine in a meaningless game for the Americans on Thursday — Team USA has already secured the top spot in Group C. For the Americans it will be about just trying to execute and improve, plus not get injured.

But there is a lot on the line for other teams on Thursday.

There are four groups of six in the World Cup and the top four from each group advance to the 16-team bracket of knockout play (single elimination). Basically there are two kinds of games going on Thursday:

1) Teams trying to qualify for the knockout round.

2) Teams trying to position themselves to avoid the USA/Spain super teams for as long as they can.

Here are the games to keep an eye on Thursday:

• Mexico needs to beat winless Korea (arguably the worst team in the tournament) to ensure they advance to the knockout stage. Their reward for advancing? Team USA on Saturday.

• By the way, Australia advanced to the knockout stage with a win over Mexico on Wednesday behind a big game from former Spur Aron Baynes.

• Winner of the Turkey vs. Dominican Republic game advances the knockout stage. The loser likely will as well, but it will come down to a tie breaker between them, the winner of the New Zealand vs. Finland game, and the Ukraine (which will lose to the USA). All three of them will be 2-3 and two will advanced based on the tiebreaker (which is what FIBA calls “goal average,” calculated by points scored divided by points allowed in the two head-to-head games against the other teams in the tie). What, you expected FIBA to have a straight forward tie breaker? (To be fair, in a two-team tie it is head-to-head.)

• Senegal and Gorgui Dieng can secure a knockout round berth but they need to beat a winless but feisty Philippines squad. Lose and it could head to a tie brea

• Lithuania takes on Slovenia to see who see who wins Group D? Winner gets to avoid the USA until the semi-finals (lose that game and you still play for the bronze), loser gets the USA in the quarter finals a round earlier.

• Argentina and Greece are doing the same thing, just trying to avoid Spain on the other side of the bracket.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies to finish amazing alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.

As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.

Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.

Former Hawk Pero Antic’s celebration accidentally punches teammate in face in Eruoleague (VIDEO)

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Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.

Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.

Maybe a little too pumped.

Ouch.

That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.

Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.

(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.