Kurt Helin

Pau Gasol, Spain hold off Nigeria 96-87 in men’s basketball

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Pau Gasol scored 24 points, Ricky Rubio added 15 and Spain rallied for a crucial 96-87 win over Nigeria 96-87 on Thursday night in men’s basketball.

The teams began the game in a nearly empty arena as security officials prevented fans from entering while police exploded a suspicious backpack left near a public restroom. The explosion reverberated inside and out Carioca Arena. Fans were allowed in later in the first quarter.

Rudy Fernandez added 13 points for Spain, which began the tournament with losses to Croatia and Brazil. Another loss would have put the defending silver medalists in danger of not advancing past pool play.

Spain trailed by one point entering the fourth, when they turned to Olympic veterans Gasol, Rubio and Fernandez.

Chamberlain Oguchi scored 24 and Josh Akognon 12 for Nigeria, which was within 83-82 but couldn’t come up with big plays down the stretch.

Set the DVR: 10 must-watch games this NBA season

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The NBA schedule is out — all 1,230 games this season are locked in place.

There’s a lot to like in the schedule. For example, no team has more than one four games-in-five-nights stretch, something the league has worked hard to cut down on (teams struggle in that final game). The league also continued its decrease of back-to-backs, with the league average now 16.3 such games per team (it was 17.8 last season and 19.3 the season before that). Spreading out the games leads to a better product.

With so many games to watch, we thought we’d highlight 10 where you should either carve out the evening to watch, or at least set the DVR and avoid your phone so you can watch and savor them. Here are the 10 must watch games of the season.

Opening night, Oct. 25:  New York at Cleveland. Carmelo AnthonyDerrick Rose, Joakim Noah and crew get to watch LeBron James hoist the first championship banner to go up in Cleveland in 52 years. This also could turn out to be an entertaining game — it’s too early in the season for the Knicks’ players bodies to have broken down, and teams often stink up the joint on the night of the banner/ring ceremony. Maybe the Knicks can pull the opening night upset.

Nov. 4: New York at Chicago. This is more than just the two rosters best built to win the 2011 NBA title, this is the return of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to Chicago. They should get a warm reception (especially the beloved Noah). The interesting question: Which one of these teams is better this season? 

Nov. 10: Chicago at Miami. Dwayne Wade returns to South Beach wearing a Bulls uniform. Expect Heat fans to boo him, after they show up in the second quarter. This is another early season matchup of teams with relatively lofty playoff expectations that they may struggle to live up to, but wins like this help.

Dec. 9: Toronto at Boston. These two look like the second and third best teams in the East (although Indiana might have something to say about that) and this is the first meeting of the season. When they get together, the games should tell us a lot. Hopefully.

Dec. 13: Minnesota at Chicago. Tom Thibodeau returns to Chicago, coaching a younger, more athletic team — the kind of team Bulls fans (and about 25 other franchise fan bases around the league) wish they had to cheer for. Everyone is expecting a leap out of the Timberwolves this season.

Dec. 25: Christmas Day: Golden State at Cleveland. Do we need to explain this one? Don’t eat so much Christmas ham that you fall asleep during the fourth quarter. 

Dec. 25: Christmas Day:  Minnesota at Oklahoma City. While the Finals rematch noted above is the marquee matchup with all the big stars on Christmas Day, this may be the most interesting game. With Karl-Anthony Towns as their star, the Timberwolves are a team on the rise, but how big a leap are they going to make under Thibodeau? Conversely, how big a step back are the Thunder going to take without Kevin Durant? By Christmas we may have an answer to those questions, but this is a fascinating matchup. 

Jan. 13: Boston at Atlanta. It’s almost halfway through the season before Al Horford makes his return to Atlanta wearing Celtics’ green. Will Hawks fans boo him? And is Paul Millsap going to go off for a monster night to remind Horford of what he left?

Jan. 16: Cleveland at Golden State. Will the visitor’s locker room still smell like champagne? This is the Cavaliers’ one trip to Oracle Arena this season, and both times these teams meet we should watch the Finals rematch and likely preview.

Feb 11: Golden State at Oklahoma City. Thunder fans are going to be there to boo Kevin Durant early and often. He’s the villain now, and not just in OKC. Durant is going to find that’s a mental adjustment, just like LeBron did in Miami. Expect Westbrook to score at least 50 in this game.

March 11: Golden State at San Antonio. Even with all the changes — no Tim Duncan, instead Pau Gasol; and Durant forming a Bay Area superteam — these still are likely the two top teams in the West and they face off relatively late in the season. If any team is going to threaten Golden State in the West, the Gasol/LaMarcus Aldridge/Kawhi Leonard Spurs are the best bet.

 

 

Pelicans to bring Robert Sacre, Chris Copeland into training camp

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The New Orleans Pelicans already have 15 guaranteed contracts on the books for next season, the max number they can carry into the season.

They also have depth questions along the front line. Anthony Davis is still a flat-out stud — everyone seemed to think he had a down season last go around, he averaged 24.3 points and 10.3 rebounds a game with a PER of 25 (ninth best in the NBA). So yes, he sucked (read that again, but do it sarcastically, as intended). After that things thin out. They have players such as Omer Asik, Cheick Diallo, Alexis Ajinca, and Kendrick Perkins. I hope to see some Davis at center Solomon Hill as a small ball four lineups, but that will be an experiment too. It’s fair to question the quality of their depth up front.

Which is why the Pelicans are going to make training camp interesting.

Robert Sacre or Chris Copeland would need to play surprisingly well for the Pelicans to eat the contract of Terrence Jones or Alonzo Gee and put them on the roster. The two new additions are auditioning for other jobs more than necessarily landing one in New Orleans.

But the Pelicans are looking for guys that fit along their front line, this is a team that wants to get back on the trajectory we thought we saw a couple of seasons ago.

Report: Thunder reach deal to bring in Ronnie Price as backup point guard

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Oklahoma City is set at starting point guard, they feel comfortable trusting that to Russell Westbrook.

But when he sits things get interesting. Second-year guard Cameron Payne was going to get a heavy load, but last month he had surgery for a Jones fracture in his foot. The Thunder needed depth at the spot.

Enter Ronnie Price, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Price is a solid journeyman who will be a great fit in the locker room, is athletic, defends well, and plays hard. He’s just not a great shooter — last season in Phoenix 65 percent of his shots were from three, and hit just 31.3 percent of them.

For the price and expected role, this is a great fit. Price isn’t going to demand a lot of time on the court, and when he’s called upon he will be ready to go.

NBA schedule is out, here are some highlights

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The NBA schedule is out for next season.

There are 1230 games over the course of an NBA season, and technically they all count the same. However, some you want to make sure you watch more than others. Here are a few highlights from this season’s schedule.

Opening night, Oct. 25: New York at Cleveland. Carmelo Anthony and crew get to watch LeBron James hoist the first championship banner to go up in Cleveland in 52 years.

Opening night, Oct. 25: San Antonio at Golden State. The other opening night game is Kevin Durant’s first official one in Warriors uniform. These are likely the two top teams in the West next season, and both come in with different looks (Tim Duncan is out, and Pau Gasol is in for the Spurs).

Oct. 27: Boston at Chicago. Al Horford in a Celtics uniform vs. Dwyane Wade in a Bulls uniform.

Oct. 27: San Antonio at Sacramento. The Spurs will be in town for the Kings’ first regular season home game in their new arena.

Oct. 28: Cleveland at Toronto. A rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals, with the Raptors trying to prove last season’s playoff success was no fluke.

Nov. 3: Oklahoma City at Golden State. The first time Durant takes on Russell Westbrook and the rest of his former team.

Nov. 10: Chicago at Miami. Wade returns to South Beach wearing a Bulls uniform. Expect Heat fans to boo him, after they show up in the second quarter.

Dec. 9: Toronto at Boston. These may well be the second and third best teams in the East (Indiana might have something to say about that), and all their meetings should be interesting.

Dec. 25, Christmas Day: This is the NBA’s unofficial second opening night, and they have stacked it with the biggest names and brands. The games in order are:

Boston at New York
Golden State at Cleveland
Chicago at San Antonio
Minnesota at Oklahoma City
L.A. Clippers at L.A. Lakers

Jan. 13, Boston at Atlanta. It’s almost halfway through the season before Horford makes his return to Atlanta wearing Celtics’ green.

Jan. 16, MLK Day: This is one of the NBA’s other big holidays, and they lined up four quality games:

Atlanta at New York
New Orleans at Indiana
Cleveland at Golden State
Oklahoma City at L.A. Clippers

Jan. 19: Minnesota at L.A. Clippers. The Timberwolves are one of the up-and-coming teams in the West. The Clippers are a team trying one more time to win with a lineup that hasn’t gotten out of the second round. This is an excellent mid-season measuring stick for both.

Feb 11: Golden State at Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant returns to OKC wearing a Warriors uniform and playing the villain.

March 11: Golden State at San Antonio. These still are likely the two top teams in the West, and they face off late in the season.

April 12: The final night of the NBA season, and a few of these matchups could have playoff implications.

Detroit at Orlando
Toronto at Cleveland
Milwaukee at Boston
Dallas at Memphis
Minnesota at Houston
San Antonio at Utah
New Orleans at Portland