Tag: FIBA World Championships

Winderman: Team USA's core may be playing themselves out of jobs

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Thumbnail image for teamusa.jpgFile this one under “conundrum” when it comes to USA Basketball and those at the back end of the Mike Krzyzewski’s roster at the World Championships.

Should the United States win its final two games this weekend, it punches a ticket to the 2012 Olympics, with only the gold-medalists earning an automatic bid.

That would make life easy for Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Chris Bosh to parachute in to London for a couple of weeks two years from now and work toward another Games gold.

But should the United States lose either in the semifinals or championship game in Istanbul this weekend, it would then mandate regional Olympic qualifying next summer in Argentina.

And that might be a burden (lockout permitting) the league’s prime stars, especially those planning to play deep into the NBA playoffs, might not choose to accept, essentially 24 months of round-the-clock basketball.

Ah, not-so-sweet irony.

But offering their “A” game this weekend, Russell Westbrook, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, Lamar Odom and Eric Gordon could be hastening their own Olympic demise.

We’ve seen it before on the Olympic platform, those in successful qualifying heats pushed aside when it comes to the championship glory of the race for the medals.

Of course, Jerry Colangelo’s master plan never was supposed to offer this grim reality. To play in the Olympics meant playing in any qualifying round needed, similar to the model leading up to the 2008 Beijing Games.

With a U.S. loss over the weekend, the NBA’s leading men will have to decide whether to participate in Olympic qualifying next summer. That could lead more than a few to declare their retirement from international play, what with NBA championships now Kobe’s defining measurement, with the Heat’s Big Three pledged to make mid-June basketball a South Florida staple, with Paul and Carmelo facing the same types of contract concerns that kept Wade, LeBron and Bosh away this summer.

But with a pair of U.S. victories this weekend, London becomes a more manageable exercise for the NBA’s elite, able to push aside those who took their spots in basketball’s preliminary relays, so to speak.

Sunday in Turkey, gold will go to the victors.

But for several, if not most, members of this current U.S. team, outside of, say, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and, perhaps, Chauncey Billups, those medals also could wind up feeling like consolation prizes, accompanied not with tickets to London, but rather merely with heartfelt thanks.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

USA, Kevin Durant wear down Russians, win 89-79. Bring on the semifinals.


Thumbnail image for durant_team_usa.jpgIt’s still the one thing the USA can do in basketball that the rest of the world can’t match.

The USA rolls with a dozen top-flight players — Danny Granger leads the Indiana Pacers in scoring, is an All-Star and gets DNPs on this team. He’d star on any other team in the World Championships.

That kind of depth wears teams down, and that’s just what happened with the USA beating Russia 89-79 to advance to the semi-finals Saturday (against Argentina or Lithuania).

Early on the Russians did a good job of making the USA pay for defensive pressure and gambles. Russia is not a great shooting team but they couldn’t seem to miss their threes early on. They also crashed the glass hard at both ends, creating second chance opportunities for themselves (six offensive rebounds in the quarter), limiting the USA’s second chances. At the end of the first quarter it was 25-25.

Through it all USA did a great job of sticking with its game plan. First, get out and run — the USA picked up several baskets on run-outs after Russian makes.

The other was to attack the zone off the dribble and get inside, and nobody was doing that like Kevin Durant. Because there is no player in this tournament like Durant. He finished with 33 points for the game and was 8 of 11 on two pointers and got to the line nine times. He was in attack mode and carried the USA for stretches.

Russia’s effort was there, but they could not keep up with the waves of players the USA kept sending at them. Russell Westbrook came off the bench and his speed and pressure defense was too much for the Russians to handle, and he finished with a dozen points. Chauncey Billups had 15 points and was 4 of 8 from three.

Near the end of the second quarter, the USA went on a 12-0 run that gave them a seven-point lead and they never looked back. In the third the USA stretched the lead out by being efficient — the USA had no third quarter turnovers. Russia missed J.R. Holden, their star point guard, as they started to melt under the USA pressure in the second half. Mentally, the Russians could not stand up to the relentless American attack.

The one Russian most being watched in America was Knicks signee Timofey Mozgov — and he looked talented but raw. He had 9 points in the first quarter and showed that he is very good at setting picks and rolling to the basket. He outplayed Lamar Odom at times. Mozgov was also a foul sponge, picking up four pretty quickly, which limited his minutes and how aggressive he could be on the floor.

Mozgov is not going to come in and dominate at the NBA level, but he does some things well and he moves well. You can see him developing into something nice. Which is about what we all expected.

This was not a dominant USA performance, it gave you some glimpses of what the USA can expect in the next two rounds. Russia for long stretches went away from its Princeton-inspired offense and went pick-and-roll, and that gave the USA some trouble (especially with Mozgov as the roll man). But the USA seemed to improve at defending the play as things went along.

But it was still a quality win against a good opponent. A good showing for the USA. They may have to play better in future rounds, but this was a win to be proud of.

Do the Timberwolves have a Euro sleeper in Nemanja Bjelica?


Bjelica_serbia.jpgYou ever heard of Nemanja Bjelica? Of course not, you have a life and a fantasy football team to obsess over. That’s why teams hire European scouts, to go find guys who might fit in the NBA some day so you don’t have to.

Bjelica was a guy who caught interest because he’s 6’10” with a guard’s ball handling skills. Sort of in the Lamar Odom/Kevin Durant mold, save for the fact he is not as explosive athletically can’t shoot as well as those two. But a power forward with handles draws interest.

So the Timberwolves traded for him on draft day. And in Serbia’s win over Spain Wednesday, Bjelica made his presence felt.

Bjelica had 14 points, 11 in the first quarter and a key three in the fourth quarter. He was 5 of 5 from the floor, 3 of 3 from deep. If he can shoot like that the Timberwolves will have something.

He will not be in the NBA until 2012 at the earliest, he just signed a deal with a top Spanish club, Caja Laboral (Tiago Splitter’s team the last few years).

USA’s international scouting guru Tony Ronzone told this to the Minneapolis Star Tribune about Bjelica:

He’s not putting up big numbers, but this is intense competition. He’s young [22], he needs to get stronger. But he’s in a great situation: He’s here in the Sweet 16 with Serbia, and he’s going to a great team that won Spanish league for the next two seasons.

Just another guy to keep on the radar, he could be a real steal in a couple years.

Ricky Rubio is good, but until his shot falls more the legend part is on hold


rubio_spain.jpgRicky Rubio has reached a legendary status. With reason — the guy was on the floor in the key moments of an Olympic gold medal game at age 19, or just check out his mix tapes. He has mad game.

He’s 19 and will spend this season playing for Barcelona, then decide whether to come to Minnesota Timberwolves next year (don’t be shocked if he stays in Europe one more year with a lockout looming). He’s seen as future premiere point guard, right there along with John Wall and others.

But we got a good look at him against quality competition in the World Championships and… he was a mixed bag.

He was a floor general and showed that great feel for the game that is just instinctual with him. There were spectacular passes. There was a comfort on the big stage that is just uncanny for someone of this age.

But his shooting remains his Achilles heel. He shot 27.5 percent for the tournament and that includes just 2 of 15 from three (13.3 percent). He was able to create his own shot, but whether with the jumper or at the rim, he struggled to finish.

Because of that, well, the brilliant Jay Aych said it best at The Painted Area — against Serbia in an elimination game, Rubio failed to really impact it. He didn’t play poorly, but for a guy of his skills we expect more.

Can he play in the NBA? Yes, and right now. He could walk in tomorrow and fit in, especially on a team with an up-tempo style. (Why Minnesota wants him to run the triangle offense, which is not terribly point guard friendly, is another question entirely.)

He’s 19. We can’t emphasize that enough. He has plenty of time to learn to shoot — it’s a skill that can be taught, his feel for the game cannot. But until he learns to shoot, to finish those plays himself, his impact will be limited. Wherever he plays.

Russian coach, Coach K in cute little war of words


Thumbnail image for David_blatt.jpgHey, we’ve got some almost actual intrigue for today’s Russia vs. USA game at the world championships.

Russia’s coach Mike Blatt — a guy born in the United States now living in Israel and coaching the Russians — and Mike Krzyzewski are in a little war of words.

First, Blatt said that the 1972 Olympic gold medal game — a controversial ending where the Russians got three attempts to redo a final play — was indeed “fair.” Coach K responded that of course he said that, he’s Russian.

So today Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo got the response from Blatt.

“I think Mike’s overlooked the fact that I’m every bit as much of an American as him,” Blatt told Yahoo! Sports at his team’s hotel. “In America, we’re taught that freedom of speech and freedom of thought allow us to try and view things objectively, form our own opinions and express them.

“The ability to do that without risking it being called an act of unpatriotism may be lost upon him.”

This is what passes for trash talk between 50+ white guys. This is their dozens.

Well Thursday is the 38th anniversary of that fateful gold medal game and the game at the World Championships between the USA and Russia by players not even born yet when the first game happened will certainly settle everything. Right?