FIBA World Cup round of 16 roundup: USA, Spain meeting still on track

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We are down to eight teams at the FIBA World Cup after the first two days of the win-or-go-home knockout rounds. We know you were watching football all weekend (so were we), so here is the roundup of what you missed.

Bottom line, it still looks like Team USA vs. Spain will meet for the gold medal Sept. 14. Both look clear and away to be the best teams.

BARCELONA GAMES

USA 86, Mexico 63: This went pretty much as expected, another easy USA win behind 20 points from Stephen Curry. NBA free agent Gustavo Ayon put up 25 and 8 for Mexico, but this game was never in doubt as the Americans came out with a little fire from the start for a change. Next up for them is Slovenia, who the Americans beat by 30 in a Madison Square Garden exhibition a couple weeks back.

Slovenia 71, Dominican Republic 61: Goran Dragic had 18 points and six assists to get his team the win. Their reward? Team USA next round. This is why Dragic was complaining about Australia throwing a game to get the three seed in their group, so they avoided the Americans longer (in theory). They got blown out by Team USA in an exhibition, but having seen the Americans should help in this meeting. Not enough, but it will be closer.

Turkey 65, Australia 64: Hey Aussies, getting on the other side of the bracket to avoid the Americans only works if you win and advance. Australia led by five with 1:02 left when Cavaliers guard Matt Dellavedova made a lay-up. But Emir Preldzic hit a two threes including one with five seconds left to lift Turkey. Next up Lithuania.

Lithuania 76, New Zealand 71: Give New Zealand credit, they fought hard and made this one close but in the end they had no answer for Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas who had 22 points and 13 boards in the game. They have a tough but winnable game with Turkey next (then the USA looming after that).

MADRID GAMES

Spain 89, Senegal 56: Spain looks dominant. Yes, they could beat the USA. Senegal was no match, with Pau Gasol scoring 17 on 8-of-10 shooting, while Serge Ibaka chipped in 11 and Marc Gasol had 9. Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng had a fantastic tournament for Senegal but he struggled against this huge front line for Spain, shooting just 1-of-9 on the night.

France 69, Croatia 64: Nicolas Batum came alive with 14 points to spark the defending European champions France to the win. France beat Spain to get that Euro title last year, now they have to face Spain again in the next round, and it’s going to turn out differently. Nets incoming rookie Bojan Bogdanovic had 27 in a losing effort.

Serbia 90, Greece 72: Big game from Bogdan Bogdanovic — the guy the Suns drafted in the first round this year, not to be confused with the Croatian Bogdanovic who is the Nets property — with 21 points. Serbia was much the better side in this one and looked like a team that could be in the mix for the bronze medal.

Brazil 85, Argentina 65: Everyone was pumped for this South American skirmish, but Brazil just owned the game as Argentina’s golden generation just looked old and slow. Raul Neto stole the show for Brazil with 21 points, while the combination of Tiago Splitter Anderson Varejao looked good inside combining for 19 points and 17 rebounds. Brazil may be my favorite to get the bronze right now, but they have a tough game with Serbia coming.

James Harden: Media narrative contributed to Giannis Antetokounmpo winning MVP

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James Harden scored 36.1 points per game last season, the highest-scoring season since Michael Jordan. Harden’s 32-game 30-point streak was the second-longest streak ever. He scored 30 points against every team besides the Rockets.

My favorite Harden stat is just looking at the highest-scoring games of the season:

1. James Harden 61

1. James Harden 61

3. Kemba Walker 60

4. Devin Booker 59

5. James Harden 58

5. James Harden 58

7. James Harden 57

7. James Harden 57

9. LaMarcus Aldridge 56

10. James Harden 54

This was a special season.

So, why did Giannis Antetokounmpo win Most Valuable Player?

“Politics” was suggested to Harden.

Harden on 97.9 The Box:

I think the same way you think.

I think once the media, they create a narrative about somebody from the beginning of the year, I think they just take that narrative and run with it the entire year.

I don’t want to get into details. But all I can do is control what I can do, and I went out there and did what I was supposed to do at a high level. You know what I’m saying?

The season, there’s probably only a few seasons where anybody’s ever done that before.

People were tuned in onto how many points that I was going to score the next game. You know what I’m saying? It was a thing.

Harden is right. Narrative factors way too much into MVP voting.

Michael Jordan lost 1997 MVP to Karl Malone due to voter fatigue. In 2011, everyone was so mad about The Decision, voters picked Derrick Rose (and Dwight Howard) over LeBron James for MVP. Those results didn’t reflect what actually happened on the court.

As Houston started slow last season, Antetokounmpo became MVP favorite. That early inclination probably had an anchoring effect for final voting.

The most important step in eliminating biases is acknowledging biases. I have railed for years against letting narrative affect award voting. I think MVP should honor the player who had the best season. Nothing more, nothing less. When analyzing candidates, I make a concerted effort to separate superfluous factors like narrative.

I favored Harden a huge chunk of the season. I entered my final review expecting to pick Harden. But I ultimately landed on Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo was excellent offensively – not as good as Harden, but close enough to offset the massive defensive difference. Caught up in Harden’s scoring brilliance, I hadn’t properly appreciated Antetokounmpo’s defense until late in the process.

Harden had a great year. It was widely judged to be the second-best year in the entire NBA. He should be proud of that.

It’s unsurprising he answered this way, though. After all, he he has been enabled by a general manager who once said Harden’s previous runner-up MVP finishes meant maybe the award shouldn’t exist at all.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.