EuroBasket recap: On to the second round with the group of death

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After a dozen games on Monday, half of the teams that came to Lithuania for EuroBasket — an Olympics qualifying tournament — have been sent home.

Now things get serious, as virtually all of the top teams are in one supergroup — a true group of death that will mean some very good teams will not advance even to next summer’s pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, let alone the games themselves.

Let’s look at Monday’s results through the lens of the new groups (which start play Wednesday). So you understand the system, there were four groups of six to start the tournament (24 teams) and the top three of each group advanced to the second round (12 teams). We have two groups of six. A team’s record against the other teams in the group that advanced remains, and each team plays the three new teams in the second group. Four teams will advance from each group to the elimination round. Just stick with me, it will make more sense.

Group E (the supergroup)

France (2-0): They got a big 97-96 overtime win over Serbia Monday on the last day of the first round, keeping them undefeated heading into the second round. Tony Parker had 24, including the game winning free throws in an interesting way. Serbia hit a three to 24 seconds to go to take a 96-95 lead. But rather than do something crazy like play good defense, Serbia intentionally fouls Parker so that they can have the last shot. Parker hits both free throws (giving you the final score) but it almost worked as Serbia had a wide-open look to win it and just clanked it.

Serbia (1-1): Read the description of the game with France above, then tell me if a team that does not trust its defense is likely to advance. They will have to play better over the next week.

Spain (1-1): They lost to a desperate Turkey team on Monday (Turkey needed to win to have any shot to advance, and still needed Luol Deng and Great Britain to win and provide some help). But there was no Pau Gasol, out with a sprained ankle, and it was a reminder that with the elder Gasol Spain is a contender, without him they are very beatable. Gasol is day-to-day.

Turkey (1-1): On paper as talented as Spain (or nearly), but they never play up to that potential. They are led by Hedo Turkoglu, enough said.

Lithuania (0-2): FIBA’s fifth ranked team in the world coming into this tournament, but they are going to have to step it up to qualify for the Olympics.

Germany (0-2): They picked up an 81-80 win over Latvia on Monday and they may have the best front line in EuroBasket with Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. But they need better play from the guards and wings to climb out of this hole.

Group F

Russia (2-0): The team almost certain to advance out of this group with the top seed, they have gotten great play from Andrei Kirilenko (well, except on Sunday).

Macedonia (2-0): This is the most surprising team to advance, but they have won three straight including 75-63 over Bosnia Herzegovia on Monday.
Slovenia (1-1): Their loss came by just one point to Russia on Sunday. It’s a sign this is a team that (in this group anyway) has a good shot to advance and cause problems for others.

Greece (1-1): Considering they are in a transition with the program (older stars pulling away and making room for young stars), this was a good job to advance. They beat Montenegro 71-55 on Monday Huge game against Serbia Thursday.

Georgia 0-2: Led by Zaza Pachulia, they will need some magic to get out of this hole. They face Macedonia on Thursday.

Finland 0-2: This is maybe the most unexpected find, just getting here was a victory. Finland should savor it.

The time Kendall Gill stayed out all night then led Hornets to early-afternoon win (video)

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In the great history of NBA party-then-play stories, 15-year-pro Kendall Gill has a new tale from his rookie year with the Hornets in 1991.

Gill on Off The Dribble:

We pulled into D.C. My cousin took me out. I was out until 6 in the morning. He brings me back to the hotel. My coach, Gene Littles, is sitting in the lobby. And as I walked in the door, he’s like, “What the hell are you doing out here, rook? Don’t you know we’ve got a game at 12 o’clock in the afternoon?” Well, turns out, I go and I score 28 points that day, the high for my rookie season. I scored 28 points. He comes to me after the game and says, “You can go out and hang out any time you want to until 6 in the morning – if you play like that.”

A couple details are off. Gill scored 24 points to lead Charlotte over the Washington Bullets on March 31, 1991. But that wasn’t his season high. He scored 28 a few days earlier in Phoenix. The Washington game also had a listed start of 1 p.m., not noon.

Still, this comes close enough on the verifiable facts. Besides, I want the fun parts of this story to be true, so I’ll choose to believe them, anyway.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

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The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

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Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.