Author: Kurt Helin


Despite sloppy offensive first half USA blows out Slovenia, on to World Cup semi-finals


This win over Slovenia wasn’t pretty — if Team USA plays like this Thursday against Lithuania it will be a close game. If they play like this Sunday against Spain they will lose.

The USA struggled with its offensive execution in the first half of the World Cup quarter-finals — James Harden was 0-of-8, Stephen Curry 0-of-4, the USA team shooting just 36 percent against one of the weaker defenses in the tournament — and it was just a seven point game at the half.

Then the USA won the second half 70-32.

Team USA overwhelmed another opponent with their athleticism and took the game 119-76 over Slovenia. They advance to the World Cup semi-finals against Lithuania on Thursday in Barcelona (3 ET on ESPN). Lithuania is a physical, veteran team that lost to Team USA by just five points at the London Olympics. They will not roll over and feature NBA front line players in Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas and the Rockets’ Dontas Motiejunas (which will lessen USA’s advantage on the glass so far this tournament).

Team USA needs to bring the second half defensive pressure and offensive execution for the entire next two games. Because the start of this game was not pretty.

The Americans opened the game 1-of-11 from the floor as they played too much isolation, one-on-one basketball without much ball movement. Basically a lot of drive without much kick. Meanwhile on the other side the fired up Slovenians were making shots and plays. They hung close for the first half of the first quarter.

But the USA’s big men of Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried and DeMarcus Cousins were too much for the undersized Serbians to handle — the Americans had 14 offensive rebounds in the first quarter. Faried finished the game with 14 points and 13 rebounds, Davis 13 and 11, Cousins 9 and 5.

Still the game remained tight as the Americans missed shots, didn’t execute in the half court and get frustrated by the always unpredictable FIBA officiating. It was a seven point game at the break, 49-42.

In first half, USA shot 36 percent overall, 3-of-10 from three. The USA was 4-of-13 shooting outside paint until they hit their last couple jumpers before the half.

After back and forth start to the third quarter the USA went on a 17-5 run, taking advantage of Slovenian turnovers to get out and run, stretching lead out to 22. The USA found its defensive pressure and was getting its transition points, which is how the team was built to play. USA put up 37 in the third quarter and led 86-64 after three.

Klay Thompson had 20 off the bench to lead Team USA in scoring. James Harden had 14 all in the second half, Kyrie Irving had 13. Derrick Rose had a dozen on 6-of-10 shooting and looked the best he has all tournament.

Goran Dragic had 13 points to lead Slovenia but needed 15 shots to get there. His brother Zoran Dragic had 11 points on 12 shots.

It goes down as another blowout American win, but one that still leaves you wondering if they can win the tournament.

Al Jefferson says he’s 100 percent, plantar fasciitis gone

Charlotte Bobcats v Miami Heat - Game Two

Al Jefferson was a beast last season for Charlotte — he averaged 21.8 points on 50.9 percent shooting, pulled down 10.8 rebounds a game, plus he worked hard on defense and had the best year of his career at that end. That was enough to get the Hornets to the playoffs and Jefferson on to Third Team All-NBA.

But come the playoffs he was slowed by plantar fasciitis, enough so that he missed Game 4 against the Heat.

The only real cure for plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the plantar fascia tissue band that runs along the bottom of the foot) is rest, and Jefferson told the Hornets’ official site he got that this summer and is good to go. He was back at the team facilities taking part in optional workouts with no restrictions.

He also said his focus this season was to improve on the defensive end. I said above that he worked harder on defense than he ever had but he’s never going to be a defensive force. However, he was solid as part of a top 10 defense with the Bobcats last season. Coach Steve Clifford deserves a lot of credit for that.

This season Charlotte should take a step forward, not only making the playoffs but being a threat in the first round. The Bobcats lacked offensive creativity on the wings last season but add Lance Stephenson to go with Kemba Walker at the point and that should give them points plus more defense.

Add that to a healthy Jefferson in the post and the Bobcats are going to be fun to watch next season.

Australia issues statement denying it tried to lose game to Angola

Australian forward Joe Ingles celebrates

What else were they going to say?

FIBA is investigating if Australia intentionally lost its final World Cup group game to Angola for the reason of getting on the other side of the knockout bracket and away from Team USA as long as possible. Goran Dragic rightfully called Australia on it.

(It worked in that Australia got to the other side of the bracket, but then the team lost its first game of the knockout stage to Turkey. The best laid plans of mice and men….)

Australia released a statement denying they tried to throw the game.

The Australian Boomers went into the game against Angola to win — plain and simple. Claims to the contrary are widely speculative, insulting to the Australian sporting culture and to our playing group who gave their very best throughout this tournament. They’re downright wrong.

Basketball Australia has put a strong and detailed case to FIBA outlining why the decision was made to rest injured players and restrict playing time for fatigued players during the last game day of Group D. That decision was supported by clear and definitive medical advice.

I call BS on that.

If Australia had needed to win that game, would they have played it this way? No. Did they benefit from a loss? Yes.

Australia played their best guys the first half against Angola, were up double digits and decided if they won they got the Americans in the second round and pulled their guys so they could avoid the USA another round (in theory). For the record, let me note that in trying to tank the game they played Dante Exum a lot (sorry Jazz fans). That they can get the team doctor who is paid by the team to back up the claim, and that they can make a case they just wanted to rest guys before the knockout stage, is moot. Their intentions were clear here, they were the better team trying not to win.

I think the bigger finger should be pointed at FIBA itself for creating a system where tanking is a good idea. Not that the NBA has figured that out, but Australia did what the system called for. FIBA should look in the mirror when assigning blame.

Danny Ferry has no plans to resign… which means he should be fired

Detroit Pistons v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 6

Danny Ferry is not long for the Atlanta Hawks.

He should be let go for what he said on a conference call about Luol Deng — one of the highest character guys around the NBA and he was verbally thrashed with ugly, bigoted language. To quote what Ferry said according to another owner on that call: “He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

I don’t really buy Ferry’s “I was just reading the scouting report” excuse but it doesn’t really matter — part of his job is to read those reports, take information from them and at times pass that information along in a more digestible way. Ferry didn’t, he just spouted the bigoted statements. That speaks to a culture of racism in his organization that this was allowed to happen. What he did was worse that what owner Bruce Levenson said in his email and Levenson is selling his share of the team (at a massive profit).

Ferry, however, says he is not resigning. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Hawks general manager Danny Ferry has no immediate plans to resign following racist comments he claims to have read during a conference call regarding potential free agent Luol Deng in June.

According to David Aldridge of, the Hawks have no further plans to discipline Ferry (aside whatever was already done internally).

The Atlanta Hawks have no current plans to further discipline general manager Danny Ferry past the internal punishment issued by team CEO Steve Koonin, according to a source involved in the process…

The source indicated that the Hawks’ punishment of Ferry was more than what was recommended by the investigative body that looked into the team’s business practices. The team has not disclosed its punishment of Ferry, who was hired two years ago by the Hawks.

In his released statement Ferry said this:

“Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I apologize to those I offended and to Luol, who I reached out to Monday morning.”

Too little, too late.

If Ferry isn’t stepping down he should be fired. And that will happen by the time a new majority owner is found to replace Levenson — you think a new owner coming in wants to have this mess still on his plate? That owner needs to change both the culture and the perception of the culture of this franchise in Atlanta (then get the fans in the building again, they were 28th in attendance last year). Ferry cannot be a part of that. Not anymore.

Besides some of the owners want Ferry out. That’s what part-owner Michael Gearon, Jr. wanted, which is why he brought the full quote forward. The Atlanta Spirit ownership group is legendarily dysfunctional but you’d have to think the largest shareholder still on the team masthead (Levenson has come down) could get the GM fired.

Ferry has to go. It’s that simple. If he’s not going to resign, then someone should make the decision for him.

Hawks owners agree to meet with civil rights leaders in Atlanta

Atlanta clergy, civil rights activists react to Atlanta Hawks owner's race-tinged email

Atlanta has a strong civil rights history — it was the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and is still home to the MLK National Historic Site (which is a fantastic visit). It has been home to a strong African-American community with impressive wealth in some quarters since back to the reconstruction era.

Which is why the comments of Hawks GM Danny Ferry about free agent Luol Deng and the crass email from now outgoing Hawks owner Bruce Levenson about the makeup of the crowd at Hawks games is even more of a punch to the gut of many in Atlanta.

Now a group of civil rights leaders from the Atlanta area want to meet with the Hawks ownership, reports the Associated Press.

The Rev. Markel Hutchins said he and others wanted a chance to discuss what they think is a racist attitude permeating the entire organization.

”Evidently the culture of racism and bigotry that is pervasive and ever-present in the Atlanta Hawks leadership is embarrassing to the city of Atlanta and undermines the very best of Atlanta’s history of race relations and being a leader for the nation and the world,” Hutchins said during a news conference outside Philips Arena, where the team plays.

Team officials said they expected to meet in the next two days, though details were still being worked out Monday.

The details of what Danny Ferry said on a conference call with owners makes it feel as if Hutchins is right — there seems to be a culture of racism, or at least a big vein of it, in the Hawks organization. Whether or not what Ferry said was written by a scout and not changed, or if he said it out of his own volition, this is an organization where someone thought this was an acceptable thing to have said in a conference call. Combine that with the Levenson’s email and perspective, and it paints a bad picture.

Whoever the new Hawks owner ends up being, his job out of the gate is to change that culture. It’s hard to see Ferry even being around when the sale happens at this point, but the changes need to be more systemic with that.

Even with it could take a while to win back the Hawks fan base, not to mention convince big time free agents to come to town. It’s going to be a long process for Hawks.