Tag: FIBA World Championships

Preview USA vs. Lithuanians: Now we see how far the youngsters have come

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Thumbnail image for andre_iguodala_team_usa.pngBack in August, the USA got together to take on Lithuania in a “friendly” — and the young Americans got punched in the mouth for a half. Don’t believe me, this is what Coach K told John Schuhmann of NBA.com.

“They were playing the international game and we were still playing a U.S. game that night,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said Friday. “And they knocked us back. We did enough to win the exhibition, but we’re going to have to play a lot better than that to win on Saturday.”

They have to because Lithuania is playing better, more confident than they did in that meeting. That and this the World Championship semi-finals, one-and-done. Lithuania is 7-0 so far and have knocked off Argentina and Spain in this tournament. Lithuania is capable of shooting lights out for long stretches (59 percent in the first half against Argentina when they took the game by the throat early).

This is a measuring stick game for the USA — they are better, more talented than Lithuania, but if the Americans have not progressed as a team since the last meeting it will not matter.

Here’s what you really need to know about Lithuania — they will fight. Not in the Greece/Serbia sense, in the way every coach in every sport in every country wants their team to fight and scrap. They are the definition of gutty and physical. They were down double digits to Spain, France, China and Canada and came back to win every game. The USA cannot take their foot off the gas in this one.

Lithuania spreads the floor on offense and will run a lot of pick-and-rolls, a classic European offense in that there always movement off the ball, plenty of cutting to the basket. Pretty much everyone on the Lithuanian roster will drive the lane, save Simas Jasaitis who just stands out there and knocks down threes. They like to run, although how much they push the pace against a more athletic USA team remains to be seen.

We already told you all about Linas Kleiza, who is leading the team in scoring at 19 a game. He brings a more complete and more confident game to this game than NBA fans will remember from his days in Denver. The USA will likely counter him with Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, but Kleiza’s physicality will be a challenge for either of them.

The USA is the better team, the deeper team. But Lithuania is playing about as well as it can right now, and it will fight for this one. They know that in a best of seven they are toast, but one game… anything can happen. Unless the USA comes in focused and on its game, then this is decided.

Why is basketball so big in Turkey? Thank "The White Shadow"

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white-shadow.jpgThe White Shadow is a cult classic here in America, a touchstone for men (then boys) alive in the late 1970s. The television show about a white former NBA player whose career was cut short by a knee injury so he coached at a predominantly African-American high school was the Friday Night Lights of its day. Groundbreaking in some ways, glamorizing a sport in others.

Not just here, but in Turkey, according to Pete Thamel of the New York Times.

Turkey’s rapid rise as a basketball power can be traced, in part, to “The White Shadow,” whose 54 episodes appeared on black-and-white TV here from 1980 to 1982.

“It made people aware of basketball in Turkey,” said Alper Yilmaz, a former national team player who works in the front office of Efes Pilsen, a club in Istanbul that has won 13 Turkish League titles since its founding in 1976.

“There was already basketball in Turkey,” Yilmaz added, “but after that show, everyone started playing.”

Another American cultural export takes hold thanks to television. You’re welcome, world.

Andre Iguodala called the Russians a what?


Thumbnail image for Iguodala_USA.jpgAh, the joys of language.

A Russian player accused the USA’s Rudy Gay of calling them… well, Chris Sheridan from ESPN has the story.

“He say in Russian a bad word. I don’t know how he know this. I won’t even translate it. It’s bad,” said Russian forward Andrey Vorontsevich, who got yelled at by Iguodala after being a little too physical with Lamar Odom.

“All I said was, ‘watch it, watch it,'” Iguodala said, bewildered. “I don’t speak any Russian.”

Apparently (according to bilingual Russian journalist Vladimir Gomelsky of NTV+, the Russian all-sports cable network), if you say, “watch it, watch it” fast enough, it can be misconstrued as the Russian euphemism for a female canine.

Technically, the Russians were the USA’s female dogs. Still, not nice to remind them of it.

Now for some lessons in insulting people in Lithuanian

Next up for the USA is Lithuania, which isn't as easy as you think


Thumbnail image for Kleiza_Lithuania.jpgSadly, the Lithuanians will not be breaking out the Grateful Dead tie-dye uniforms Saturday.

They will not be rolling over for the USA, either.

Lithuania advanced to the semifinals of the World Championships, routing Argentina 104-85.

A lot of people probably thought with Argentina gone this should be easier for the USA, but Lithuania has been anything but an easy out this tournament — they are undefeated. They have defeated Spain and Argentina.

Former Nugget, soon to be Raptor Linas Kleiza has been the leader of this team — dropping 30 on China last round then 17 on Argentina —  showing off a more rounded game than he was allowed to in Denver. But more on him tomorrow. (That’s called a tease in the business.)

Lithuania fell to the United States in a warmup game for the World Championships, 77-61. It was a game where the Lithuanians were very physical with the USA and it was close for a half, with the Americans shooting just 25 percent. It was a combo of poor play from the USA as they adjusted to a more physical brand of basketball, and the fact that Lithuania isn’t bad.

And they are playing better, with more confidence now than they did then. Russell Westbrook (12 points), Rudy Gay (14) and the quickness of the Americans eventually wore down Lithuania. It probably will again. But like we said, every step on the road to a title gets more challenging, and this will fit that mold.

Kevin Durant is still right to pick Luis Scola as the MVP of the World Championships

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I don’t know that there’s a good player response to questions about individual accolades, but typically, a player’s answer to that kind of prompting is used to construct or enhance the public representation of a player’s personality. They can convey arrogance or humility, hunger or passivity, appreciation or entitlement.

Or really, they’re just semi-canned responses to questions that top players know they’ll be asked at some point or another. So unsurprisingly, Kevin Durant’s answer, when asked on Wednesday about the possibility of being the MVP of the tournament, was self-deprecating and in-line with everything we think we know about the Durantula. From Chris Tomasson of NBA FanHouse:

“I doubt it,” said Durant about getting a spot on the team. “A lot of guys are doing better than I am. I’m just trying to go out there and win.”

Don’t think for a minute Durant believes he has a chance to be the Most Valuable Player even if his Americans win gold Sunday.

“He’s the best,” Durant said of Argentina forward Luis Scola, averaging 30.2 points and 8.0 rebounds in the event. “He’s had a hell of a tournament. MVP by far in this tournament. Win or lose, he has to be MVP because he’s putting on a show. He carried (Argentina on Tuesday with) 37 points. He’s tough to cover for anybody.”

Then again, maybe it isn’t self-deprecation at all. Durant’s 33-point outing today against Russia was one of the best showings in the tournament thus far, but it still doesn’t vault KD over the top of the MVP discussion. As of right now, Scola has just seven points and finds his team down 20 to an underdog Lithuania squad…yet he remains the easy pick for tournament MVP.

Five 30+ point performances in seven games, each with 57% shooting from the field or better. 195 points on 125 shot attempts. Gaudy rebounding totals.

Durant may be the top player on the tournament favorites, but Scola has been in a class of his own throughout. Durant obviously isn’t asked to shoulder quite as much of his team’s production, given Team USA’s superior depth. Yet in assessing which player is more worthy of MVP honors (not that KD isn’t a fine choice, as well), that’s hardly a decision-altering asterisk. Both players have led quality teams, but Scola’s production and performance have been off-the-charts, while Durant’s have been merely remarkable.