FIBA Americas Tournament became Renaldo Balkman show on Friday

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The 2013 FIBA Americas tournament tipped off on Friday in Caracas, Venezuela, with teams from North, South and Central America attempting to move one step closer to playing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It’s still a bit early to be talking about that since the tournament won’t end until September 11, but Puerto Rico showed Friday why they were earmarked as the favorites heading into the 10-team extravaganza.

Puerto Rico drew Brazil for their first game of the tournament, making it a matchup of the top two teams in the tournament and a likely preview of the eventual championship game. The game lived up to its billing, too, considering the score was 62-61 with 2:28 left in the game before Renaldo Balkman rattled off five straight points to help his country score an eventual 72-65 victory.

Balkman, the Knicks’ first-round pick in 2006, scored 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots while playing 37 of the game’s 40 minutes — and he didn’t even choke a teammate in the process. Former Boston University standout John Holland added 15 points and nine rebounds while Minnesota Timberwolves dynamo J.J. Barea struggled to 12 points on 11 shot attempts, committing four turnovers in the process. Other notables on the Puerto Rican squad include Carlos Arroyo (7 points, 2-of-9 shooting), Ricky Sanchez (four points, four rebounds and four fouls) and former USC star — and  current 36-year-old chucker — Larry Ayuso (two points, four fouls, five shots).

The only NBA player on the Brazil roster is Utah Jazz draft pick Raul Neto because Nene, Tiago Splitter, Leandro Barbosa and Anderson Varejao all decided to sit this tournament out. Neto isn’t exactly a focal point of his nation’s roster, either, as he earned a DNP-CD in Friday’s loss. Brazil was led by Marcelo Huertas as the Spanish League point guard scored 16 points and dished out five assists to lead his team in both categories. Guilherme Giovannoni added 11 points and Vitor Benite scored 10 to round out Brazil’s double-digit scorers.

Three other games happened Friday at the FIBA Americas and, for those not following along at home, a quick recap is included below.

Canada 85, Jamaica 64 — Canada has the most current NBA players on its roster and, even though those players don’t include Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins or Kelly Olynyk, our neighbors to the North put together a pretty solid squad.

San Antonio Spurs backup point guard Cory Joseph flirted with a triple-double en route to 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, but his scoring total was tied by Baylor Bears sharpshooter Brady Heslip. Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson added 13 points, Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson scored seven and backup Miami Heat center Joel Anthony added six points and three fouls in 14 minutes to round out Canada’s NBA player contributions.

Jamaica has some recognizable names on its roster, but it was Adrian Uter — a burly 6’7 big man that plays professionally in Italy — who led the team in scoring with 16 points to go with eight rebounds. Former New York Knicks center Jerome Jordan added a solid 12 points and eight rebounds while Samardo Samuels was disappointing as he converted on just one of his eight shot attempts for four points in 27 minutes.

Mexico 65, Venezuela 56 — Neither of these two teams are expected to end up qualifying for next year’s FIBA World Cup, but both have rather fun rosters — though a lot of that fun was removed when Venezuela learned it’d be without point guard Greivis Vasquez. The lack of Vasquez, along with rookie Gregory Echinique and Oscar Torres, is likely what led to the host team being upset in their first game of the tournament (that or the fact that Eric Musselman is no longer the head coach due to his demaning schedule as the associate head coach at Arizona State).

Mexico was led by their only NBA player as new Atlanta Hawks big man Gustavo Ayon had a huge game with 22 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks — while curiously only shooting four free-throws compared to 23 shot attempts. Jorge Gutierrez, who spent last year playing in the D-League after a solid career at Cal, added 17 points and former UCLA fan-favorite Lorenzo Mata-Real added three points and four rebounds in ten minutes.

Venezuala thought they got a coup when Donta Smith became a naturalized citizen at the last second, but the former Atlanta Hawks wing scored a disappointing ten points for a squad in desperate need of a scoring punch.

Argentina 95, Paraguay 60 — This iteration of Argentina’s roster doesn’t feature Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni or Carlos Delfino, instead relying on Luis Scola and a whole bunch of guys most American basketball fans haven’t heard of. That roster still had no trouble handling Paraguay, however, as the 35-point difference makes it seem even closer than the game actually appeared. Scola played just ten minutes, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds before taking a seat on the bench to rest for the grueling schedule ahead, but six of his teammates scored in double figures.

We’ll bring you all of the updates you can stomach through the remainder of the tournament with daily previews, recaps and anything else exciting happening in Caracas.

Ben Simmons leaves game in first quarter, to have MRI on lower back Sunday

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Philadelphia, routed by Milwaukee on Saturday night and still starting on the road if the playoffs began today, may have another problem coming.

All-Star Ben Simmons skipped Thursday night’s game against Brooklyn with a sore lower back. He gave it a go Saturday in a nationally televised game against Milwaukee, but in the first quarter went back to the locker room not to return.

After the game, the news got more ominous.

Wojnarowski also reported, “There is some level of concern surrounding the possible nature of the injury.” That sounds ominous.

Simmons is averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, and 7.9 rebounds a game for the Sixers this season as the starting point guard. He’s also been playing All-Defensive Team level defense. If he misses extended time, it will be rough on Philadelphia.

When there is word on the MRI results, we will have it here at NBC.

Bucks pull away in second half behind 31 from Giannis Antetokounmpo, rout Sixers

AP Photo/Morry Gash
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks turned a tight game with the Philadelphia 76ers into a mismatch immediately in the second half, led by the reigning league MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Khris Middleton scored 25 points and the Bucks beat the 76ers 119-98 on Saturday night in a matchup of Eastern Conference rivals.

Antetokounmpo scored Milwaukee’s first 11 points in the third quarter as the Bucks took advantage of the absence of Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid, who went to the bench less a minute into the period after picking up his fourth foul, and quickly put the game out of reach.

“We came out the third quarter and played fast,” Antetokounmpo said. “We were able to rebound the ball and just attack them. Joel had four fouls. That worked in our favor. We tried to be aggressive in the third quarter and set the tone.”

Antetokounmpo added eight assists as Milwaukee won for the 16th time in its last 18 games to improve its NBA-best record to 48-8.

The Bucks led 56-50 at the half before Antetokounmpo’s scoring outburst put the Bucks in control. Milwaukee would go on to outscore the 76ers 37-23 in the period.

Embiid, coming off a 39-point performance on Thursday night, had 17 points and 11 rebounds but shot just 5 for 18. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton also scored 17 points apiece for the 76ers, who fell to 9-20 on the road.

“I liked what I was seeing in the first half, and the death knock was Joel sitting,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We just didn’t respond well to Milwaukee playing their tails off, and they shot the heck out of the ball.”

Philadelphia lost All-Star point guard Ben Simmons early in the first quarter. Simmons, who missed the 76ers’ previous game with lower back tightness, headed to the locker room after making consecutive driving layups, the second with a little more than 7 minutes left in the opening quarter. He didn’t return after the injured flared up.

“We never got in a rhythm. Losing Ben, then foul trouble, not making shots and some calls that could have gone a different way,” Embiid said. “But it’s on us.”

The 76ers shot just 35%, while the Bucks connected on 53% of their shots.

The Bucks got off to a scorching start, taking a 12-2 lead sparked by seven points from Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee led by as many as 11 in the quarter and held a 31-21 lead at the end.

Philadelphia pulled within 37-36 in the second before the Bucks used a 10-2 spurt to push the lead back to double digits.

Watch Dwyane Wade have his number retired by Heat

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Dwyane Wade is the greatest Miami Heat player ever.

He was at the heart of every championship the Heat won, he was active and beloved in the community, he was the face of the franchise.

Now his legacy is forever part of the American Airlines Arena — the Heat have retired his number.

Wade is a three-time champion, and 8-time All-NBA player, a 13-time All-Star, and a Finals MVP who averaged 22 points a game over his 16 year NBA career.

Next stop: Hall of Fame.

Stephen Curry cleared for contact, goes through full scrimmage with Warriors

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Stephen Curry is not sitting out the rest of the season. He wants back on the court — he’s targeting the first week of March — and the Warriors are not holding him out.

That got a step closer on Saturday when Curry went through a full scrimmage with the Warriors. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this after practice, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Yeah he scrimmaged today, first day of scrimmaging,” Kerr told reporters at the Chase Center practice facility. “We only had seven other healthy players, so there were two coaches out there scrimmaging too, it was not pretty, but Steph looked great.”

The March return for Curry seems on track. Klay Thompson will not return to the court this season.

The Warriors are not playoff bound, but there is no reason to sit out Curry and tank, either.

First, that’s not the kind of culture the Warriors have built, coming off three titles in five years. Second, the fan base could use the boost of watching Curry drain deep threes after a disheartening season to this point. Third, and maybe most important, what exactly would they need to tank for, better draft position? This is a down draft to begin with, so anyone the Warriors select likely can’t help them much next season anyway (which is why there’s a lot of speculation the Warriors may try to trade the pick). Also, with the flattened out lottery odds, they don’t gain much anyway. The Warriors have the worst record in the NBA, but the three worst teams all have a 14 percent chance at the top pick, and the fourth worst is at 12.5 percent, fifth is 10.5 percent. Curry’s return for a month isn’t lifting the Warriors to the point teams will not want the pick.

We could all use to be reminded just how special Curry is as a player. Hopefully, we get to see that in a couple of weeks.