FIBA Americas tournament tips off today

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The 2013 FIBA Americas Championship tournament begins in beautiful Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday morning. This is actually the fourth FIBA tournament of the year — following Asia (where Hamed Haddadi was MVP), Oceania (which was just Australia vs. New Zealand a couple of times) and Africa (where Nigeria was just upset despite featuring four players with NBA experience) — but also the one most relevant to the interests of the American basketball fan.

The first few days of the tournament will feature round-robin play in the two groups of five with the top four teams from each advancing into a second round-robin tournament to whittle the field down further to four teams. Those four teams will advance to next year’s FIBA World Cup, but they’ll also play a quick tournament to determine the FIBA Americas champion.

Friday’s action will actually feature a game matching the top two teams in the tournament when Puerto Rico and Brazil face off in Group A action.  Puerto Rico’s backcourt includes Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea and its frontcourt includes Renaldo Balkman and Ricky Sanchez, among others, so they’re a team worth watching if one’s clamoring to watch NBA-type players play meaningful basketball. Brazil isn’t nearly as loaded as they could be with Nene, Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa all out of action this summer, but they’re still a team that is very fun to watch with a lot of solid players currently playing professionally in Europe — and recent Utah Jazz draftee Raul Neto plays for them, too.

The three other games on Friday feature Jamaica and Canada where Samardo Samuels vs. Tristan Thompson will likely be a featured matchup; Luis Scola’s Argentinean team taking on an overmatched squad from Paraguay and Venezuela vs. Mexico. The last one would typically be a good game, but new Venezuelan Donta Smith — formerly of the Atlanta Hawks — isn’t going to make up for the loss of Greivis Vasquez, Gregory Echenique and Oscar Torres. Mexico does feature some fun players in Gustavo Ayon, Lorenzo Mata-Real, Orlando Mendez-Valdez and Jorge Gutierrez, however.

The games begin at 10:30 Eastern Time and can be streamed on ESPN3 for those so inclined.

Bulls’ Kris Dunn shoves Russell Westbrook, scuffle breaks out (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook has a way of getting under an opponent’s skin.

Monday night it was the Bulls’ Kris Dunn‘s turn.

While moving over in position on the strong side, Westbrook and Dunn made contact, and after the whistle blew for a foul (with the ball handler), Westbrook made a grand gesture of pushing Dunn off him. Dunn responded with an outsized shove. And then it was on.

There’s more stuff to break down here than the Zapruder film.

• Jeremi Grant of the Thunder came in and tried to go at Dunn a little, in front of Westbrook (protect the star).

Bobby Portis tried to slide Grant out of the way, but…

Robin Lopez came in and went at Grant getting in his face, so Grant basically throws Lopez into the first row.

• Which just made Lopez even madder, leading to a meme-worthy angry face.

• Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen gets Grant in a headlock and pulls him out of the situation.

Steven Adams calmly makes sure Portis is out of the picture, then walks back over to Lopez and then Adams and Lopez get separated.

• In the end, the officials handed out for technicals: Westbrook, Dunn, Grant, and Lopez.

A few minutes later, Lopez blocked a Grant shot, decided to taunt him, and that got Lopez a second technical and he was tossed (Lopez is a veteran, he has to know the officials are going to call everything tight at that point). Watch Adams pat Lopez on the back as the Bulls’ big man makes the walk to the locker room.

James Harden scores 47, including sinking dagger into Jazz (VIDEO)

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Utah and Houston met in a battle of the disappointing early season Western teams — predicted by most to finish 2/3 in the West, they came into the night 10th and 13th — and in the tight West these kinds of games matter.

So James Harden turned it up a notch.

The reigning MVP looked every bit that guys scoring 47 points and adding six rebounds, five assists, and five steals in what was a Houston win, 102-97. It was Harden that sank the dagger into Utah.

That’s four wins in a row for Houston as they try to climb out of the hole they dug themselves early this season.

Taj Gibson helps defend drive with one shoe on, one shoe in his hand (VIDEO)

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In the first quarter Monday night, Timberwolves veteran Taj Gibson was working in the post on the Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica, Gibson got the bucket but lost his shoe.

He picked it up, ran to the other end with one shoe in hand, and then defended a Bjelica drive well enough that Karl-Anthony Towns would come over and get the block on the play.

Somehow, Tom Thibodeau is going to get credit for this new defensive style.

Thunder reportedly pick up final option year on coach Billy Donovan’s contract

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At 18-10 to start the season, the Thunder went into Monday night’s action in third place in the tight Western Conference, pulled there by the best defense in the NBA and enough offense from Russell Westbrook and Paul Gorge to get by.

That the team is doing this with a thin roster, and by putting some role players in strong positions to succeed, and by playing so cohesively has guaranteed coach Billy Donovan one more year as coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Donovan has done well to help the Thunder find a new, winning identity after Kevin Durant left a few years back.

Next season (2019-20) will be the final one on Donovan’s contract. Teams often extend a coach before that, feeling that a “lame duck” coach may have trouble getting some players to fall in line (or the team will struggle recruit free agents, because a good player with options doesn’t want to walk into uncertainty). It will be interesting to see how the Thunder handle that.