Quick look at opening Olympic medal round games

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Finally, we are done with the “everyone gets to play” portion of Olympic basketball. Time to get on with it.

Eight teams remain in the win-or-go home medal round tournament starting Wednesday. The matchups are set after Brazil knocked off Spain (with Spain sitting key players in the fourth) and a surprise that didn’t matter (Australia over Russia).

Here is a quick look at what is to come:

USA vs. Australia: This is a game the USA should win handily. Not Nigeria handily, but more like France handily. Australia is led by everyone’s favorite underdog Patty Mills, who hit the game-winning three against Russia Wednesday. Mills led St. Mary’s to college the NCAA tournament and has played in Portland and, last season, San Antonio. He’s fun to watch, and has averaged 20.6 points per game during the Olympics, but overmatched in this one. Australia has had a good Olympics, especially considering Andrew Bogut couldn’t play. They upset Russia and made it out of the group stage. That’s going to have to be enough.

Brazil vs. Argentina: Two South American rivals that know each other very well and this likely is the best game of the next round. Brazil has real size with Nene (who missed the team’s last game with more plantar fasciitis, which bothered him last NBA season, too) and Tiago Splitter. But their best player the last couple of games has been Leandro Barbosa, who is trying to get an NBA contract. Argentina has a lot of NBA talent — Manu Ginobili has been amazing through the games and Luis Scola is outscoring him — but they have been inconsistent — they lost to France, they struggled against Nigeria and they had a terrible second half against the United States Monday. I’d say which Argentinian team shows up will determine the outcome.

France vs. Spain: France has been underrated good — Tony Parker has played into his conditioning and is scoring 15.8 a game while controlling the offense. Nicolas Batum has been dropping 16.8 per game and playing good wing defense. Other guys like former Sonic Mickael Gelabale and Nando De Colo have stepped up at key spots. They have been a good offensive team. But they are not as talented as Spain who roles out Pau Gasol (20.6 points per game in the Olympics), Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez and other stars. But from the tune-ups through two losses in group play (although they kind of mailed in the end of the Brazil game, some might say tanked) they have just not been right. If Spain can find their old groove they will win this one, but if they are just half a step slow France is playing very well.

Russia vs. Lithuania: Russia won Group B and looked very good, maybe the second best team in the games, so we’re willing to write off the meaningless loss to Australia Monday. Andrei Kirilenko has averaged 18.2 points per game, and fellow soon-to-be Timberwolves player Aleksey Shved has averaged a dozen a game. But Lithuania is the kind of veteran team that can make a real contest of it if Russia is not focused — just like Lithuania did against the United States. There is a chance of an upset, but the Russians are going to have to help cause their own doom.

Mark Cuban says no Mavericks player will wear No. 24 again in honor of Kobe

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Kobe Bryant never suited up for the Dallas Mavericks, but his impact on the NBA and Mark Cuban is undeniable.

As a tribute to Kobe — who died in a helicopter crash Sunday along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others — the Mavericks’ owner announced that no player will wear No. 24 for the Mavericks again.

Kobe was a nemesis of the Mavericks — back in 2005 he scored 62 points on them in three quarters, outscoring the entire Mavericks’ team’s 61 points — but had earned the respect of their players. And owner. Cuban was part of a league-wide outpouring of both shock and love for Bryant upon the news of his untimely death.

Five Mavericks players have worn No. 24 before: Mark Aguirre (1982-1989), Jim Jackson (1993-1997), Hubert Davis (1998-2001), Pavel Podkolzin (2005-2006), and most recently Richard Jefferson (2015).

He will be the last.

Shaquille O’Neal says he’s ‘SICK’ over losing his brother, Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal
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Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal will always be linked – as champions, as enemies and eventually as friends.

The historically great combination led the Lakers to a threepeat from 2000-2002. Their egos were too large for one team and, eventually, they broke up. But later in life, their bond – built through shared experiences – prevailed over distant grievances.

In the wake of Bryant’s tragic death, O’Neal shared his sorrow:

These photos span 17 years. Bryant and O’Neal went through so much together.

They were just settling into the next phase of their relationship – poking at each other while knowing an underlying affection existed. Disagreements had become more fun than biting.

It’s such a shame their ever-evolving relationship gets undercut so soon.

Michael Jordan: ‘Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe’

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan
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Kobe Bryant grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. Bryant styled his game after Jordan. Bryant even wanted to sign with Jordan’s Wizards. Though they never became teammates, Bryant still developed a brotherly relationship with Jordan.

In the wake of Bryant’s tragic death, Jordan shared a heartfelt message.

Bryant once said he wanted Jordan or Phil Jackson to present him at the Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s unbelievably sad Bryant’s impending induction will come posthumously. But Jordan would be such a fitting speaker about his brother.

Kobe Bryant, daughter die in helicopter crash

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Kobe Bryant, the legendary Laker star who was saluted by LeBron James on Saturday night, has died in a helicopter crash in Southern California.

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northwest of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant, and where he was reportedly headed to coach his daughter’s game.

The crash killed nine people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

His death sent waves of sadness and shock around the NBA and beyond.

Bryant starred for 20 years in NBA

Kobe had a 20-year NBA career that will send him to the Hall of Fame (once he becomes eligible). He was a five-time NBA Champion, a 15-time All-NBA player, NBA MVP, two-time scoring champion, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Medalist for Team USA, and a player who influenced a generation who came up after him. His work ethic was legendary and was part of what rubbed off on LeBron and many others.

He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.

Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.

He stepped away from the game and focused on storytelling, which helped him win an Oscar in 2018 for the animated short “Dear Basketball.”

Kobe became synonymous with the Lakers and their brand — the loyalty Kobe generated with his fans was unmatched in the modern NBA.

Kobe’s death came just a day after LeBron passed him for third All-Time in NBA scoring.  LeBron talked about how he had grown up idolizing Kobe and the influence Kobe had on his life. Kobe’s last Tweet was about LeBron and, appropriately, the future of the game.

More details on the crash

From the AP story on his death:

Juan Bonilla of Calabasas said he was working on his roof Sunday morning when he heard a helicopter flying low nearby. He said he thought it was a sheriff’s helicopter on a training mission. He heard nothing amiss with the engine or rotors and said he did not see any mechanical issue with the chopper. It was foggy Sunday morning, but he said visibility didn’t seem to be low at the time of the crash.

Firefighters worked to douse flames that spread through about an acre (.40 hectares) of dry brush, said Art Marrujo, a dispatch supervisor with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the downed chopper was a Sikorsky S-76.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a “go team” of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause can take a year or more.

“They will look at man, machine and environment,” said Gary C. Robb, an aviation attorney in Kansas City who wrote a textbook on helicopter-crash litigation.

“They will look at the pilot – was there any indication of fatigue, any indication of a training issue?They’ll scour his or her record,” Robb said. “They will look at this helicopter from stem to stern. They will take the engine to the NTSB metallurgical laboratory outside Washington, D.C., and examine it to see if there was something that malfunctioned in flight.”

Investigators will also consider what role might have been played by weather, terrain, radio towers or bird strikes, he said.

Robb said he has handled many cases involving Sikorsky S-76 crashes and regards the machine as having a good reputation.

“It is generally regarded as a good helicopter with a good safety record,” he said, “but parts fail, parts break. Anything can happen.”