France shocks Spain at World Cup 65-52, USA’s path to gold just became more open

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One week ago, Spain toyed with France winning by 22 in group play. Spain dominated inside — Marc Gasol had 17 points, Pau Gasol 15 — and played defense that held the French to 39 percent shooting.

Wednesday the scrip flipped — and the USA’s path to the gold medal just became a lot more wide open.

France played a fantastic defensive game Wednesday — their recovery on the pick-and-roll was spot on all game, while inside the combination of Joffrey Lauvergne in the first half and the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert in the second held Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to a combined 5 points on 2-of-14 shooting.

The result was a shocking upset — France 65, Spain 52. No Tony Parker or Joakim Noah, no problem. France advances on to the World Cup semifinal Friday against Serbia.

Host Spain is done. Adios. It was shocking because they were undefeated in the tournament having won their previous six games by an average 26.5 points. They, along with Team USA, had looked like the clearly two dominant squads of this World Cup, and with Spain at home there was seemingly no question that they would play for the gold.

Suddenly the USA’s path to gold looks much easier. Lithuania (Thursday’s opponent) and either France or Serbia in the final might have a puncher’s chance against the USA. But really it would take their best games and a terrible, off night from the USA to see an upset.

Spain seemed flummoxed by what France did defensively, with fantastic pick-and-roll defense and discipline that didn’t give the Spanish guards (or bigs) room to make the ball moving passes they had all tournament. France also did a great job of slowing the game down, not letting the guards of France get a lot of easy buckets in transition.

Plus, Spain just missed shots. They started 0-9 from three in the first half and were just 2-of-22 from three for the game. On the night Ricky Rubio was 1-of-7 shooting, Sergio Rodriguez 0-of-3, Rudy Fernandez 2-of-6. Combine that with Ibaka and Marc Gasol’s off nights and you have a Spanish team that shot just 32 percent.

But maybe the most shocking part of the night was the way Lauvergne and Gobert controlled the paint and glass – Gobert had 13 rebounds and Lauvergne 10, while the Gasol brothers had a dozen combined.

We have talked about how for Team USA players like Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried could use their World Cup play as a springboard into a huge NBA season. Throw Gobert on that list.

Also we should be fair to Pau Gasol, who was the one Spanish player who had a good night — 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting plus he had three blocks. He had a very strong entire tournament. Bulls fans will love him this season (likely in a way some Lakers fans never did).

On offense France was doing enough attacking off the dribble in the half court, keeping it a half court game and slowing it down. And they were hitting their shots when it mattered. Boris Diaw had 15 points to lead the way, and late in the game some of the offense ran through him (and as you would expect, it was creative and smart with the ball). Then there was point guard Thomas Heurtel, who was running the show late and hit a couple of key baskets including a dagger three.

It was a team win for France, the European champions who are now looking at a real chance to medal at the World Cup.

It was a team loss for Spain in a year that, at home, they thought they could get a World Cup gold medal. But in a one-and-done tournament you have to bring it every night.

Wednesday France brought it, and they move on.

Much to the delight of Team USA (even though they would never say that publicly).

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.

NBA referee Brent Barnaky explains standing for the national anthem

NBA referee Brent Barnaky
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Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Heat big Meyers Leonard and Spurs coaches Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon drew plenty of attention for standing during the national anthem while nearly all NBA players, coaches and referees kneeled.

Referee Brent Barnaky also stood.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

This isn’t much of an explanation. Nor does it need to be. Barnaky explained that he wasn’t countering the message of kneeling players (opposing racism, particularly through police brutality). That’s sufficient for Barnaky to maintain his neutral positioning – important for an official.

For decades, nearly everyone stood for the national anthem. For many people, that was just about following norms. Even NBA players espousing social-justice messaging previously stood for the national anthem.

But Colin Kaepernick’s brave defiance caused some people to thoughtfully consider their national-anthem posture. So, while many people continued to stand for the national anthem because that’s just was done, some made deliberate choices based on their own values. Sometimes, that led to kneeling. Sometimes, that led to standing.

The thoughtful standers blended into the crowd… until kneeling became widespread in the NBA. Now, they’re the noticeable outliers within the league.

It can take courage to go against the grain. I commend Barnaky for that – and for voicing his support for social justice and peaceful protest.

Barnaky made a personal choice that can stand alone. It doesn’t undermine what anyone else is doing.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer and Thunder’s Billy Donovan win Coach of Year from peers

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer and Thunder coach Billy Donovan
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The Bucks (high) and Thunder (low) entered the season on near-opposite ends of the pressure spectrum. Despite their radically different situations, both teams have experienced success this season for a common reason:

They were well-coached.

National Basketball Coaches Association release:

Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan are the 2020 recipients of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award, the National Basketball Coaches Association announced today.

The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award recognizes the dedication, commitment and hard work of NBA Head Coaches and is presented annually to a Head Coach who helps guide his players to a higher level of performance on the court and shows outstanding service and dedication to the community off the court. It honors the spirit of Michael H. Goldberg, the esteemed long-time Executive Director of the NBCA, who set the standard for loyalty, integrity, love of the game, passionate representation and tireless promotion of NBA coaching. It is unique in that it is the only award voted upon by the winners’ peers, the Head Coaches of all 30 NBA teams. This year’s voting was based on games played from the start of the 2019-20 regular season through games played on March 11.

The depth of coaching excellence in the NBA is reflected in this year’s voting as 8 Head Coaches received votes. In addition to Budenholzer and Donovan, the following Coaches also received votes: Taylor Jenkins, Nate McMillan, Nick Nurse, Erik Spoelstra, Brad Stevens and Frank Vogel.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse was third in the race — and just one vote away from creating a three-way tie, sources said.

This is not the main Coach of the Year. That’s voted on by media and will be announced later. This in a new award created by coaches a few years ago.

Nurse remains favorite for the NBA’s recognized Coach of the Year. (He was our unanimous choice.) It’s surprising he didn’t win this award. But it’s also easy to see how fellow coaches would be reluctant to honor an up-and-comer who supplanted Dwane Casey, a coach beloved by his peers and who won this award while getting fired by the Raptors in 2018.

That shouldn’t take away from Budenholzer and Donovan, though. Both had strong seasons.

After turning the Bucks into an elite team last season – winning this award and the NBA’s official Coach of the Year – Budenholzer has Milwaukee looking even stronger this season. The Bucks’ defense is historically dominant, and their role players fit so well around Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Donovan got dealt a tricky hand – an all-time great point guard in Chris Paul who’s past his peak but still in his prime and a point guard of the future in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Donovan made it work while squeezing in another point guard in Dennis Schroder. Donovan’s versatility remains an asset for Oklahoma City.

Raptors rookie Terence Davis arrives to game with hole in mask

Raptors rookie Terence Davis
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The NBA – with threat of fine and suspension – reminded everyone inside the bubble to wear their masks.

Why issue that warning now?

Maybe because of Raptors rookie Terence Davis.

Davis arrived to Toronto’s win over the Lakers on Saturday with a hole in his mask.

Perhaps, it was inadvertent. Accidental rips happen. But it’s hard to give Davis the benefit of the doubt after his social-media activity:

Undrafted, Davis has a lot of confidence in himself. He earned that in basketball. If the cut were deliberate, he ought to give more credence to actual coronavirus experts.

Masks are highly important for the general population. We often don’t know whether we have coronavirus. Testing is insufficient, especially of asymptomatic cases. So, everyone in the outside world should wear a mask to reduce the spread.

On the other hand, NBA players – like Davis – can reasonably know they don’t have coronavirus. The NBA’s program of daily testing and no close contact with anyone outside the bubble is designed to ensure a coronavirus-free bubble. That’s why five-on-five basketball games – an otherwise dangerous activity – can be played safely.

However, masks between games are an extra layer of protection. What if a player – intentionally or not – comes into too close of contact with someone outside the bubble who has coronavirus? Masks would limit the spread of coronavirus within the bubble.

All coronavirus precautions should be measured through a cost-benefit lens. Wearing an intact mask can be unpleasant, and it’s somewhat superfluous for NBA players inside the bubble. But the health of everyone inside the bubble plus all the money at stake makes it an easy call.

Wear the mask, and wear it correctly.