In establishing the hierarchy of teams competing in the FIBA World Championships, Team USA and Spain are clearly on the top tier. Both squads have superior talent to the rest of the Championship pool, and while both have their respective kinks to workout before the competition really ramps up, they’re rightfully considered co-favorites.
However, it’s no stretch to say that Spain may have the slight edge over the Americans, particularly since Team USA has yet to prove itself against a worthy competitor. Thus far, USA has only played friendlies with China and France, neither of which is a particularly competitive squad. Spain, on the other hand, is a proven team with long-established chemistry and plenty of depth. Overlooking any game with the Spanish national team is an easy way to take a loss.
Even then, the Spaniards aren’t merely a team that can take their opponents by surprise. Even other national teams looking to tech against them will have trouble slowing down Spain’s impressive offensive balance. Team USA will need to execute well in their head-to-head games with Spain, lest they surrender some early tournament. Spain is more than formidable, and it’s clear that the Americans have a lot of respect for the members of the Spanish team and their success over the years.
Kobe Bryant, for example, though he isn’t playing in the World Championships, picked out Spain as “‘that one’ team that could really challenge the Americans in the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey,” according to Adriano Torres of ESPN Los Angeles. His comment isn’t a token tossed to a would-be contender, either. Bryant has a firm understanding of what Spain can accomplish in these types of tournaments, and he considers the Spaniards to be a real threat to the Americans in the FIBA World Championships.
Americans invented the game and, when actually interested in giving international competition a proper go, tend to do quite well. Yet with this year’s Team USA a B-team and Spain returning all of their vital cogs aside from Pau Gasol, the Spanish national team could definitely take their second straight World Championship. Kevin Durant et al will have a say in that, but should the Americans not continue to improve from now until the elimination rounds, the WC looks like Spain’s for the taking.
After turning the ball over late in the fourth quarter, James Harden meandered near halfcourt as the Jazz pushed for a fastbreak layup. But that put him in perfect position to receive a long inbound pass after Utah scored. Harden caught the ball and whipped it ahead Kenneth Faried, who dunked to give Harden a triple-double-clinching assist.
You’ll have to forgive Harden for not hustling back on defense. He did most of his heavy lifting far earlier.
By late in the first quarter, Harden created 28 points (17 scored, 11 assisted) to the Jazz’s 13 total points. The Rockets never looked back.
Houston crushed Utah 118-98 in Game 2 Wednesday to take a 2-0 series lead. It seems the Jazz – who lost Game 1 by 32 points and a 4-1 second-round series in this matchup last year – have no answer for the Rockets, particularly Harden.
Harden finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He was a game-high +24.
Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in red. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in blue. This Houston-Utah series is in silver. This Bucks-Pistons series is in cream.
Teams that outscored their opponents by at least 50 in the first two games have never lost a best-of-season series. The Rockets, +52, might have built an insurmountable advantage.
Especially the way the Jazz guard Harden. They’re trying to overplay him but wind up just giving him lanes into the paint. The talented guard is picking them apart.
Until Utah solves that, secondary matchups won’t matter. Houston is content winning through its superstar.
The Pistons fought harder. Luke Kennard moved into the starting lineup and provided a spark. Detroit defended more actively.
But the result was largely the same: A Bucks blowout.
Milwaukee routed Detroit 120-99 in Game 2 Wednesday. Following a 35-point Game 1 victory, the Bucks have outscored the Pistons by 56 points in the series. Every team to outscore its opponent by at least 50 in the first two games of a best-of-seven series has won it.
Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in green. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in red. This Milwaukee-Detroit series is in cream.
The Pistons can’t stop Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists). With Kennard (Detroit-high 19 points) starting for defensive specialist Bruce Brown, the Pistons also couldn’t contain Eric Bledsoe (27 points). Khris Middleton (24 points) provided his usual steady production.
Meanwhile, without Blake Griffin, Detroit lacks a difference-making star. Andre Drummond (18 points and 16 rebounds) had nice individual moments but was -32 (another terrible plus-minus for him).
The Pistons are just overwhelmed by the superior Bucks, and it’s hard to see that changing.
In what had been a tight game, the Pacers built a four-point lead over the Celtics with four minutes left in the third quarter. From there:
Irving scored 37 points and dished seven assists, leading Boston to a 99-91 Game 2 win Wednesday. The Celtics now lead the first-round series 2-0. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 93% of the time.
The Pacers just can’t muster enough offense – not against this sound Boston defense. Indiana went nearly nine scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter. Even after ending that drought, the Pacers’ final five possessions: miss, miss, miss, turnover, turnover.
This is why the Celtics got Irving. His ability to create shots sets them apart in these slogging playoff games.
Jayson Tatum added 26 points. But Al Horford struggled while playing through illness. Marcus Morris shot 0-for-8. Jaylen Brown didn’t really get going.
This wasn’t the prettiest game for Boston, but because of Irving, it was a win.
LeBron James couldn’t even influence the Lakers into the playoffs.
But as a businessman and philanthropist, his reach is only growing.
LeBron remains the NBA’s biggest star. He’s still an elite player (when healthy), and his name resonates with casual fans and even non-fans. Add his off-court interests – more accessible to him in Los Angeles – and his importance can’t be denied.
That’s why LeBron made TIME’s 2019 list of 100 most-influential
Warren Buffett wrote about LeBron:
I’ve been impressed with his leadership skills, his sharp mind and his ability to stay grounded. People in LeBron’s position get tugged in different directions and have a lot of chances to make bad decisions. He’s kept his head, and that’s not easy.
There is so much on LeBron’s plate – production, acting, his school, even basketball. His ability to handle it all is incredible.
Having such varied interests might not lend itself to LeBron dominating on the court. But it makes him even more deserving of this list.