Author: Kurt Helin

2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup - Day Four

DeMar DeRozan threw it down on the Dominican Republic (VIDEO)


Damn DeMar.

DeMarDeRozan may be a guy buried on the bench for Team USA, but he’s an NBA All-Star player who knows how to get to the rim and finish, plus with all the blowouts nobody is buried for long on that bench. DeRozan got loose against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday and threw down this monster dunk.

He finished with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting to help spark another USA rout. You have to love that the guys the USA throws out in a blowout are All-Star players.

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.

Report: Lakers could make big run at Goran Dragic and/or Eric Bledsoe next summer

New York Knicks v Phoenix Suns

The Eric Bledsoe situation could play right into the Lakers’ hands.

As you read this the Suns and Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, are deadlocked on negotiations for a new contract — the Suns offered four years, $48 million, which they think is fair; Bledsoe and his agent want the max of five-years, $85 million. They have yet to find common ground, which has Bledsoe considering taking the risk and playing for the qualifying offer of $3.7 million next season (that’s a lot of guaranteed money for a guy whose had knee surgery to turn down) then becoming a free agent next summer.

If Bledsoe does that the Suns are in a bind and the Lakers could make them pay, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

Should Bledsoe decide to sign the qualifying offer, as appears increasingly likely if no sign-and-trade materializes, Bledsoe can’t be traded without his consent for the whole season … and would instantly set himself up to join Goran Dragic as an unrestricted free agent next summer….

If Bledsoe elects to go the rare qualifying offer route, Phoenix would suddenly face the very real possibility of losing both of its two best assets without compensation in 2015 free agency.

The Lakers, for example, are just one team league sources say would likely make a hard run at both of them, based on the premise that the Suns couldn’t afford the cost of paying both at that point, theoretically making either Bledsoe or Dragic gettable. Sources say that Houston, furthermore, has Dragic on its list of potential targets next summer given how he’s blossomed since leaving the Rockets for Phoenix in the free-agent summer of 2012.

There’s a lot of ifs here, starting with Bledsoe playing for the qualifying offer. Sure, he’s saying that (as is Detroit’s Greg Monroe) but it’s not something guys do — players don’t leave a lot of guaranteed money on the table. However, Bledsoe seems closer to signing the qualifying offer than anyone expected (Bledsoe’s agent Rich Paul is getting criticized in some quarters for this, but you have to wonder what other teams have told him could come).

If Bledsoe does sign it that would really put the Suns in a bind. Which is why them offering a little more now to keep him makes some sense, but at what price is Bledsoe willing to sign on, and do you want to really give a guaranteed fifth year to a guy who only played half of last season due to knee surgery?

Meanwhile the Lakers (and soon the Knicks) will just sit in the wings and wait for their chance.

After lackluster start, Team USA rallies to blow out Dominican Republic, secure group top spot

Rudy Gay

Team USA has won the FIBA World Cup Group C.

Which is about as big a surprise as your mother forwarding an email with a cute cat video in it — we all knew that was coming. We’re all still waiting for something more interesting.

The USA grabbed the top spot with a 106-71 thrashing of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, improving to 4-0 in the World Cup. Team USA was not energetic and focused to start the game — they led just 25-22 after one quarter — but went on a 22-0 run late in the third into the fourth, turning a comfortable win into a laugher.

The USA has one group game left, Thursday against the Ukraine (ESPN 2 at 11:30 ET), then they start the knockout round Saturday in Barcelona against an opponent yet to be determined. That’s when things start to get interesting, although it may well be a couple games after that before the USA gets its first real test.

Once again Wednesday it was the energy of Kenneth Faried that led the way for Team USA, he had 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting, plus pulled down six rebounds. He’s the big story right now — and to do it heading into a contract year is a good time to break out. DeMarcus Cousins had 13 points and six steals and brought some passion to the court, Anthony Davis finished with 10 points and five blocks as again it was the inside play of the Americans that anchored them and got them the win.

The Dominican Republic was without Houston Rockets swingman Francisco Garcia — he’s averaged 21 points a game and played 31 minutes a game so far this World Cup — who sat out with a sprained ankle. He tweaked it at the end of Tuesday’s game against Finland and with Thursday’s Dominican Republic game against Turkey determining whether or not they advance to the knockout stage (win and they move on, lose and it could get dicey), the Dominican Republic coaches wisely gave Garcia a game off. A game they weren’t going to win anyway.

Credit the Dominican roster, filled with guys who played college ball in the USA, for playing well early on. They slowed the game down at points, got back on defense in transition, ran a solid zone defense, made smart fouls and drove the lane. The problem was they struggled with the length of Team USA when they tried to finish those drives (DR shot just 39.6 percent on two pointers). The USA had five first quarter blocks and altered many more shots — the USA bigs were cleaning up a lot of messes.

It also was close early because the USA just missed stuff they normally make. Davis missed a couple dunks, Curry clanked a wide open three, and the USA started 2-of-7 from the free throw line. Just not in a rhythm, not playing with energy. USA struggled again against the zone.

The USA got a spark off the bench, particularly some chemistry between Cousins and Derrick Rose. It wasn’t a great statistical game for Rose — six points on five shots, three assist in 13 minutes — but his defense was better than the guys on the floor, he made some smart passes, and bottom line he was out there when the complexion of the game started to change. By the half the USA was up 15, 56-41, and had yet to go on a real run.

In the second half the USA played improved defense (the Dominican Republic scored just 30 points after the half) and with that started to really pull away and make this a rout.

Thursday’s game against Mike Fratello’s Ukranian team likely ends in pretty similar fashion.

Again for the USA there are legit areas of concern. There are the slow starts, we can pick apart the half court defensive decisions at times, not to mention the ball movement vs. too much isolation basketball ratio, but the USA seemed a little better about those things today (well, not the slow starts). It’s not easy to judge until they face a team they can’t just overwhelm, but that likely does not happen until the quarter or semi-finals next week.

Against Spain (or maybe Slovenia or Lithuania) these kinds of sloppy starts and defensive miscues could be real trouble. But the USA knew how this game would end and it’s human nature not to be as focused in those cases.

Thursday likely sees more of the same.

Deron Williams still hasn’t gotten used to life in New York City

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets

Deron Williams started his career in Utah where he and Jerry Sloan had a successful if not always tight relationship, but before he could bolt they traded him to the Nets. Those Nets needed him to open the Barclays Center and paid in handsomely to move to Brooklyn — and part of the reason he said he stayed was liking the area and the off-the-court opportunities it provided him in terms of business.

That doesn’t mean he feels like a New Yorker. Or that he doesn’t miss Utah.

Williams talked with Resident Magazine about a number of topics, including his autistic son and charitable foundation. But he admitted he’s not really feeling like a local in NYC. (Hat tip The Brooklyn Game.)

“I’m not going to lie. I don’t really feel so much like a New Yorker. I grew up in an apartment in Texas where you could send your kids outside like ‘yeah, go play in the sun.’ Here it’s more challenging. The process of getting them into school is a nightmare. Even private schools where you pay are an ordeal. In Utah, you just send your kids to the first public school in the area because they’re all great. Truth is, we enjoy getting away from the hustle and bustle and going back to Utah every summer. It’s a relief to take that timeout. No traffic. No crowds. My daughters still have their friends there. There’s a big backyard. They go to the pool; the playground and they jump on the trampoline. Kids running wild and free here (in New York)…? I don’t think so.”

It’s a different world. As a parent I get what Williams is saying — having some space to for your children to just run and be children matters, the schools really matter, just not feeling pushed and pulled matters. But there are advantages and tradeoffs everywhere in life.

Williams just sounds like a small town guy who, once his playing days end, would like to return to that lifestyle. Can’t blame him.

But in the short term Brooklyn needs him to get healthy and have a bounce back year. There’s some parity in the East after the top two teams and if Williams and Brook Lopez are healthy the Nets could do some damage for new coach Lionel Hollins… who also doesn’t strike me as a very New York guy.