FIBA World Cup round of 16 roundup: USA, Spain meeting still on track

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We are down to eight teams at the FIBA World Cup after the first two days of the win-or-go-home knockout rounds. We know you were watching football all weekend (so were we), so here is the roundup of what you missed.

Bottom line, it still looks like Team USA vs. Spain will meet for the gold medal Sept. 14. Both look clear and away to be the best teams.

BARCELONA GAMES

USA 86, Mexico 63: This went pretty much as expected, another easy USA win behind 20 points from Stephen Curry. NBA free agent Gustavo Ayon put up 25 and 8 for Mexico, but this game was never in doubt as the Americans came out with a little fire from the start for a change. Next up for them is Slovenia, who the Americans beat by 30 in a Madison Square Garden exhibition a couple weeks back.

Slovenia 71, Dominican Republic 61: Goran Dragic had 18 points and six assists to get his team the win. Their reward? Team USA next round. This is why Dragic was complaining about Australia throwing a game to get the three seed in their group, so they avoided the Americans longer (in theory). They got blown out by Team USA in an exhibition, but having seen the Americans should help in this meeting. Not enough, but it will be closer.

Turkey 65, Australia 64: Hey Aussies, getting on the other side of the bracket to avoid the Americans only works if you win and advance. Australia led by five with 1:02 left when Cavaliers guard Matt Dellavedova made a lay-up. But Emir Preldzic hit a two threes including one with five seconds left to lift Turkey. Next up Lithuania.

Lithuania 76, New Zealand 71: Give New Zealand credit, they fought hard and made this one close but in the end they had no answer for Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas who had 22 points and 13 boards in the game. They have a tough but winnable game with Turkey next (then the USA looming after that).

MADRID GAMES

Spain 89, Senegal 56: Spain looks dominant. Yes, they could beat the USA. Senegal was no match, with Pau Gasol scoring 17 on 8-of-10 shooting, while Serge Ibaka chipped in 11 and Marc Gasol had 9. Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng had a fantastic tournament for Senegal but he struggled against this huge front line for Spain, shooting just 1-of-9 on the night.

France 69, Croatia 64: Nicolas Batum came alive with 14 points to spark the defending European champions France to the win. France beat Spain to get that Euro title last year, now they have to face Spain again in the next round, and it’s going to turn out differently. Nets incoming rookie Bojan Bogdanovic had 27 in a losing effort.

Serbia 90, Greece 72: Big game from Bogdan Bogdanovic — the guy the Suns drafted in the first round this year, not to be confused with the Croatian Bogdanovic who is the Nets property — with 21 points. Serbia was much the better side in this one and looked like a team that could be in the mix for the bronze medal.

Brazil 85, Argentina 65: Everyone was pumped for this South American skirmish, but Brazil just owned the game as Argentina’s golden generation just looked old and slow. Raul Neto stole the show for Brazil with 21 points, while the combination of Tiago Splitter Anderson Varejao looked good inside combining for 19 points and 17 rebounds. Brazil may be my favorite to get the bronze right now, but they have a tough game with Serbia coming.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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