Quarterfinal knockout round set at EuroBasket

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There has been drama — like the Russian win Monday that eliminated Macedonia.

There have been surprises — none bigger that Germany being eliminated in group play and thereby eliminated from the Olympics. Dirk Nowitzki admitted later he was tired and maybe not able to help his team as much as he wanted to.

And now we are down to a final eight at EuroBasket, the Olympic qualifying tournament. This means we are in the knockout stage — one and done. The two finalists will get their passports stamped for England as they will earn berths in the 2012 London Olympics. Finishers two through six are headed to the pre-Olympics last chance qualifying tournament next July.

Here are the four quarterfinal games:

Spain vs. Slovenia: Spain has been the best team in the tournament so far, compiling a 7-1 record behind brothers Marc and Pau Gasol. We all love to watch great perimeter players, but Ricky Rubio has struggled in EuroBasket and it hasn’t mattered because Spain has the best and most skilled front line. Big men win. Spain has depth to go behind them at every position. Anything less than an automatic Olympic bid would be a bitter disappointment for Spain.

Slovenia has not looked good of late and needed to beat Finland on Monday to get into the quarterfinals — they did 67-60, but it was a sloppy, unimpressive win. Slovina’s zone defense can be picked apart and Spain has the players to do it. If you want a silver lining, Slovenia does go in with no pressure against Spain. Just not sure that will be enough.

Macedonia vs. Lithuania: Macedonia has been on of the surprise teams of the tournament and they almost beat Russia on Monday (scroll down to see the video of Russia’s winning shot – that guy did not call bank). Macedonia is led by Bo McCalebb, who was raised and played his ball in the New Orleans area and now makes a nice living overseas.

Lithuania should beat them, but everybody has been surprised by Macedonia this tournament and if Lithuania coasts they will pay. Lithuania has some players you know, such as Darius Songaila, Sarunas Jasikeicius, and recent No. 5 pick of the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas. They move spectacularly well off the ball and are hard to defend. They are rightly favored in this game, but it will not be easy.

France vs. Greece: France came in with questions about their offense but Tony Parker has been the MVP of this tournament, leading the French to a 7-1 record (and the loss came to Spain when Parker and other key players were held out for rest). France has good defense with Joakim Noah in the paint and Nicolas Batum of Portland on the wing, plus they also have Boris Diaw. They expect one of those Olympic berths.

Greece has been solid all tournament but not spectacular — they do not look like the squad that knocked off the Americans the World Championships five years ago, in part because key players are not here. They are good enough not to get blown out of games but seem to lack the ability to finish.

Russia vs. Serbia: Russia has remained undefeated in this tournament (8-0) and Andrei Kirilenko has led the way averaging 13.9 points per game. They haven’t blown people away, but they have played solid all around basketball and in the crunch have found ways to win, like how they beat Macedonia in the final game of group play.

Serbia will be no pushover – this team beat out Dirk Nowitzki’s Germany and World Championship runner up Turkey to advance to this stage. Serbia has one of those classically European offenses with a lot of ball and player movement that when they are crisp is hard to stop. But their pick-and-roll defense has been exposed in this tournament and you can bet Russia will exploit it.

Jazz reportedly extend contract of coach Quin Snyder, locking him down well into future

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Quin Snyder has evolved into one of the best coaches in the NBA (and my pick to win Coach of the Year this season). He’s built a development program and system in Utah that has turned Rudy Gobert into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donovan Mitchell into the face of a franchise, and Joe Ingles into a guy other teams covet. His players like and respect Snyder, and he has worked well with the front office of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.

So the Jazz are locking him up with a contract extension beyond the two seasons remaining on his deal. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has agreed to a long-term contract extension, league sources tell ESPN. Snyder had two years left on his deal, and a new contract extends multiple years beyond that term, sources said.

After upgrading the team’s talent base over the summer, locking Snyder into an extension had been a top organizational priority.

Jazz fans should be ecstatic about this.

Snyder has built a system team in Utah, one that moves the ball beautifully on offense, and that has been tough to defend in the regular season, with the Jazz winning 50 games last season. Utah has made it to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, but when the level of play made that leap a lot of the system gets taken away by good defenses, and the Utah offense became Donovan Mitchell against the world. It didn’t work, Mitchell (still just 22) wasn’t fully ready and there was not enough shooting around him.

This past summer, the Jazz added Mike Conley at point guard and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing, two excellent shooters who also can create off the dribble. Expectations are high in Utah.

Whatever happens, Snyder is their coach now for a long time.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he learned from Kawhi Leonard: “He was calm”

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Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.

Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.

Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.

“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make.  That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.

If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.

Domantas Sabonis on trade rumors: ‘I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now’

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The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?

That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.

If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.

The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.

Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.

There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.

That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.

Raptors, Pascal Siakam reportedly agree to four-year, $129.9 million max contract extension

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Pascal Siakam is going to be the face of the Toronto Raptors going forward.

This was expected. Toronto was never going to let its young star slip away; the only questions were when it a contract extension got done and the price.

The answers came Saturday, with the Raptors and Siakam’s agents reaching terms on what will be a four-year, $129.9 million max extension for the reigning Most Improved Player. Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN broke the news.

There are no player or team options, this is a straight four years.

Last season, his third in the league, Siakam made a huge leap. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, shot 36.9 percent from three, took on a larger role as a shot creator, played impressive wing defense, and was a key part of the Raptors winning the first title in franchise history. He is at the heart of their future and a guy the Raptors wanted to keep through whatever rebuilding/retooling process comes in the next few years.

The Raptors could have played it out, and let Siakam go to restricted free agency next summer. However, in what will be a down free agent market, some team would have tried to poach the young wing — a real position of need around the league — with a max offer. The Raptors would have matched, but all that drama might have created bad blood. Maybe the Raptors overpaid a little, but they get to keep their guy and have him happy.

Siakam is the third player to get a max extension to their rookie contract this summer. Both Ben Simmons (Philadelphia) and Jamal Murray (Denver) signed five-year, $170 million max extensions. Siakam decided to take one year fewer, but also hits free agency again a little earlier.