Team USA trying to adjust to FIBA referees, one step at a time

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andre_iguodala_team_usa.pngIf the calls of NBA officials are curious, than those of FIBA referees are completely baffling; calls aren’t even consistent on a play-to-play basis, much less from game to game.

Though the members of Team USA have a few intrasquad scrimmages, a handful of exhibitions, and two preliminary games under their belts, all with FIBA officiating, the Americans are still struggling to adapt to the ever-changing interpretations of common basketball rules. The most notable rule in contention thus far? The traveling violation.

Traveling is very debatable at just about every level of basketball, and the liberal read and implementation of the ruling in the NBA has groomed players to move with the ball in a certain way. That doesn’t mean that FIBA referees are somehow more correct in their enforcement of the rule. In some ways, the interpretation is actually irrelevant. The bigger problem is the lack of officiating consensus. Regardless of how a particular referee might make sense of the traveling rule, there’s no FIBA-wide agreement on what constitutes a travel and what does not.

That’s made it incredibly difficult for the members of all national teams to adjust to the tournament’s constantly shifting standard. However, the members of Team USA seem to think that they have been uniquely victimized by the traveling calls thus far. From John Schuhmann of NBA.com:

The low point was a stretch of 25 offensive possessions spanning the
first and second quarters when the U.S. had twice as many turnovers
(12) as they did scores (six). Four of the 12 turnovers were
travelling calls. The whistle was quick to blow when a U.S.
ball-handler took a step or two before putting down a dribble after
receiving a pass, a call that is not made in the NBA and that will come
into play often for this team that wants to push the ball every chance
they get.

“It’s tough when you’re going full speed to catch the
ball, stop on a dime and dribble,” Andre Iguodala said afterward. “It’s
almost like you can’t catch it.” That travelling rule seems to be
officiated differently every night and is one that the U.S. was rarely
whistled for in the 2008 Olympics. In fact, after Sunday’s game,
Slovenian forward Bostjan Nachbar said that not enough of those
travelling calls were made against the U.S.

“Too many times, the refs don’t call that when Team USA’s on the floor,” Nachbar said.

Either way, it’s a call that this team will certainly have to adjust to
as this tournament goes on, because their margin for error will not be
as great in the medal rounds as it was on Sunday.

Consider Bostjan Nachbar’s statement to be the necessary counterpoint in all of this, and a nice reminder of how quotes to the media act as an extension of one’s agenda, even for ballplayers and coaches. Nachbar, along with every other player and coach in the World Championships, has a reputation to uphold and a team to support. So naturally, the Americans traveled a lot. And just as naturally, Andre Iguodala will tell you that they didn’t.

This is the game that we all have the fortune of playing along with. Yet in this particular situation, neither player is entirely wrong. Both have a right to complain about the officiating, in this game and likely in all of their remaining games. It’s that inconsistent, and though more refereeing complaints hardly makes for interesting theater, that doesn’t make the players’ claims any less legitimate.  

Zion Williamson’s first NBA basket a putback

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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In his first NBA action, Zion Williamson looked like what he is: A rookie trying to find his way.

At least Willaimson didn’t force the issue and tried to blend in, making smart basketball plays, which led to a first-half bucket and assist in his 8:11 minutes of action.

Zion’s first bucket in the NBA came in the second quarter of his debut game, a putback off a Nickeil Alexander-Walker miss.

In his first quarter run, Zion looked to be unselfish with the ball and made the right basketball play a  few times, passing out of soft doubles and picking up an assist to Brandon Ingram cutting down the lane (but Zion was 0-of-1 shooting).

It was a good start if a bit tentative, something to be expected of a guy who missed 44 games and is now trying to come into the rotation midseason.

As he grows more comfortable, New Orleans needs Zion to attack the rim. The Pelicans have shot creators and shooters — Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick — and a rim-running, attacking threat that forces defenses to collapse a little will make things easier for the Pelicans’ perimeter players.

San Antonio was sharp in the first half and led by double-digits for much it. That came in part because New Orleans started 0-of-9 from three (despite some clean looks). San Antonio led 60-51 at the half. If the Pelicans are going to make a playoff push, this is the kind of game they need (at home against another team in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the West).

NBA games still not on China’s state run television

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In the wake of the backlash from China after Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted out support for the protestors in Hong Kong — the kind of political statement the NBA takes in stride domestically but found it stirred a hornets’ nest in this case — Chinese state television stopped showing NBA games.

That is still the case today, according to Nets’ owner Joeseph Tsai.

Tsai — one of the co-founders of the Alibaba Group, which runs the Chinese equivalent of Amazon — is a billionaire with his feet in both the United States and China. He spoke to Bloomberg News recently about where things stand now in the NBA/China relationship (hat tip Nets Daily).

Tsai is eager to see NBA games back on [state run] CCTV. Although [streaming service] Tencent has begun showing them again, the state-owned broadcaster has yet to budge. A person familiar with the matter says the league is optimistic the network will relent, beginning with the All-Star Game on Feb. 16—there’s no ready replacement, after all, for LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Once you are on the air,” Tsai says, “everything will come back.”

For now.

The NBA, like any American group doing business in China, is caught up in geopolitical forces well beyond its control, from trade wars to protests in Hong Kong. Morey’s Tweet touched on what Tsai called a “third rail of Chinese politics” but he spoke of the Hong Kong protestors as separatists when they would argue they simply want what was promised them in the agreement that transferred control of the city from Brittish to Chinese rule. (And that last sentence itself is a gross oversimplification of a complicated situation.)

NBA games likely will end up back on Chinese television soon (although it will be longer for Rockets’ games), and the business of the NBA in China will continue. Both sides want to make money (and in China, keep a younger generation happy with a sport they have grown to love). However, the underlying issues that caused the last flare-up are not going away — things may be just simmering on the back burner, but the flames are not turned off.

When things do flare up again, Tsai will end up fight back in the middle of it.

Cavaliers: Ante Zizic out indefinitely with vestibular condition

Ante Zizic
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Kyrie Irving left the Celtics for the Nets after two seasons. The Cavaliers flipped Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder their first season in Cleveland.

The last player remaining with his team from that monumental-looking Cavs-Celtics trade, Ante Zizic might not be long for Cleveland, either.

In fact, it’s unclear whether he’ll play again for the Cavs.

Cavaliers release:

Center Ante Zizic, who has missed the team’s last five games after being diagnosed with a vestibular condition, will be OUT indefinitely. After experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness, it was determined by the Cavaliers medical team that Zizic requires a period of vestibular rehabilitation to evaluate those symptoms further. His return to basketball activities will be updated as appropriate.

“Indefinitely” always sounds scary. That’s especially so with an uncommon basketball medical update.

If the Cavaliers unload veterans like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love before the trade deadline, Zizic could be in line for more playing time down the stretch. He could use a showcase entering unrestricted free agency this summer.

Hopefully, he’s healthy enough to be up for it.

Mavericks reportedly reach out to Joakim Noah to help at center

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Dallas’ starting center Dwight Powell is lost for the season due to a torn Achilles suffered Tuesday night.

The Mavs have other centers on the roster, Maxi Kleber and Boban Marjanovic, but they want more depth behind those guys. That has led to them touching base with Joakim Noah, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

The Lakers worked Noah out before the season but decided to go with Dwight Howard.

Noah had a solid second half of last season with Memphis, coming off the bench and providing good defense and 7.1 points per game. He was moving well and fit in as a role player at giving them 16.5 minutes a night.

That’s all Dallas would need, someone to grab rebounds and do the dirty work inside that lets Kristaps Prozingis play his pick-and-pop game. We’ll see if Dallas goes this direction, or another one.