Turkey is America's biggest threat at the World Championships

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Thumbnail image for Turkoglu_Turkey.jpgSpain is good with a depth of talent we know about. Argentina has the best player so far in the tournament in Luis Scola. Brazil already almost beat the USA. Greece has been very good and has the motion offense that can give the USA fits.

Turkey is playing better than all of them. And Turkey might be the toughest matchup for the USA. If these two teams meet, the USA could meet their match.

The World Championship hosts have shown flashes of spectacular play in international tournaments before — at the last Eurobasket they beat Spain (as well as Lithuania and Serbia). Then they lost to Greece in the round of 8 and that was that. Then they came into the World Champions as host but without Mehmet Okur, still recovering from his Achilles injury in the NBA playoffs. A lot of people, myself included, looked past them.

But Turkey is a beast — as shown in their 95-77 destruction of France. Slovenia is next and Turkey should have no problem there. Then likely would come Spain in the semi-finals and, theoretically, the USA in the championship game.

The USA may prefer Spain right now. For two reasons.

One is Turkey has proven to have the best front line in the tournament. They start Omer Asik (coming to the Chicago Bulls), Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks) and Hedo Turkoglu (Phoenix Suns). Then they bring in soon-to-be Celtic Semih Erden.

Turkoglu had not impressed through the group stage of the tournament but broke out in a big way against France scoring a game high 20 and hitting 4 of 7 from deep. Basically 2009 in Orlando Turkoglu showed up. If he does that will be hard for everyone else to stop. Meanwhile Ilyasova has averaged 15 points and 8.2 rebounds a game through the tournament and is hitting 56 percent of his threes.

Basically the undersized USA would have to take on a long, skilled front line — Turkey’s strength is the USA’s weakness.

The second Turkey has going for it is the best defense in the World Championships. In pool play, they allowed just 81.1 points per 100 possessions, best in this tournament and for comparison no team in the NBA was under 100 points per 100 possessions last season. (Thanks John Schuhmann of NBA.com for the stat.)

Turkey runs a 2-3 matchup zone, but it is much more aggressive than any other in the tournament. The guards out top extend the pressure up high, backline guys will chase shooters into the corners. While the USA’s zone looks like a zone, the Turkey zone really employs man-to-man principles and uses a lot of pressure.

Combine that halfcourt defense with a skilled long front line and the USA could struggle against them.

Fortunately, the USA would not see Turkey until the finals, if it can get past Spain. But either way, when the USA gets to the gold medal game they will be in for a real battle.

Kevin Durant keeps building up superstar accolades with second All-Star MVP

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CHARLOTTE – When Kevin Durant won All-Star MVP in 2012, he was asked whether he considered himself a star, a label he had resisted.

“I wouldn’t say that just yet,” Durant said. “Hopefully. Hopefully soon I can say that.”

The notion was silly then. Durant had already made two All-NBA first teams and finished second for MVP.

But that All-Star MVP started to change how Durant presented himself. He made another All-NBA first team, again finished second for MVP and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals that season.

“In 2012, I started to feel like I started to hit that elite level,” Durant said. “All that stuff in one year was pretty exciting to me.”

The hits have kept rolling since.

Durant has added an MVP, two titles and two Finals MVPs. Tonight, he claimed another All-Star MVP. The Warriors star scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting to lead LeBron James‘ team to a 178-164 win.

“I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess,” Durant said.

That’s seven years between his All-Star MVPs. Few players sustain that elite level – starring among stars – so long. Only LeBron James (12 years), Michael Jordan (10 years), Kobe Bryant (nine years), Oscar Robertson (eight years) have gone so long between their first and last All-Star MVPs.

Durant, 30, appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Of course, the impending question: Where? Durant can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and this weekend included plenty of speculation.

Tonight’s game gave Knicks fans reason to fanaticize. New York’s presumed targets with its double-max cap space, Durant and Kyrie Irving showed strong chemistry. Half Durant’s baskets were assisted by Irving, who sent five of his six assists to Durant (the other an alley-oop to former teammate LeBron).

Asked which of his All-Star teammates he best meshed with, Durant refused to name one.

“You don’t really have to do too much when you’re playing with so many great players,” Durant said. “You can do what you’re just best at.”

Team LeBron starts playing defense first, comes from 20 down to win All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Team LeBron started to care.

Down 20 at one point early in the third, Team LeBron came out of a mid-quarter timeout with a different energy. The “bench” guys on the court started defending with the kind of relative intensity usually reserved for the final minutes of this exhibition (when it’s close), the players on the bench were standing and cheering like it was a playoff game, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal started knocking down everything, and the game just shifted. It culminated when Damian Lillard tied the game up with a 35-foot three.

Team LeBron kept up the momentum, owned the fourth as Durant went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and Team LeBron got the win 178-164.

“It was our second unit that came in — Dame, Klay, Brad Beal, LaMarcus, Ben Simmons, KAT,” LeBron said after the game about what turned the momentum. “They came in and just changed the whole complexion of the game. We got stops, and, obviously, Dame and Klay caught fire from beyond the arc, and that allowed us to get back in the game.”

Durant was named MVP, a clear choice with his second-half play in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George showed anyone that hasn’t seen him this season how well he’s playing — MVP conversation level — on his way to 20.

This All-Star Game opened with the level of defensive intensity we have come to expect in All-Star Games. Which is to say none.

Well, except when Stephen Curry was guarding Klay Thompson.

The one guy who was intense from the start was Antetokounmpo, who scored the first six points for Team Giannis. He didn’t slow down on his way to 20 first-half points, plus he had one of the game’s great highlights on a bounce pass alley-oop from Curry.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Buck hot to start, Khris Middleton entered the game midway through the first quarter and drained three shots from beyond the arc in a row. In the first nine minutes of the game, the Bucks were beating Team LeBron 28-27.

The favorite crowd moment of the first half was when future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki walked on the court and splashed a couple of threes.

Dwyane Wade was the other Commissioner addition to the game, which means for one last time we got Wade throwing the alley-oop to LeBron.

Curry struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth, but he still got to rub it in Thompson’s face a little.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

Team Giannis was in control most of the first half and was up 13 (95-82) at the half, not that 13 points is much of a deficit in the All-Star Game. Not when one team started to care.

Stephen Curry gets four-point play after Klay Thompson foul, Curry does some taunting

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry is enjoying going against Klay Thompson. Maybe a little too much.

In the first half, Curry was matched up on his Warriors’ backcourt mate and enjoyed that Thompson missed the shot.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tight, Curry drained the contested three and drew the and-1 on Thompson — and did a little taunting.

That’s some All-Star fun.

Stephen Curry bounces alley-oop way above rim, Giannis Antetokounmpo slams it down (video)

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CHARLOTTE – Stephen Curry bounced this so high!

I suppose it helps that Giannis Antetokounmpo has such ridiculous reach.