Five lessons learned from the FIBA World Cup

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There wasn’t much drama — Team USA went 9-0 in the World Cup, won games by an average of 32 points, and when they turned on the energy pretty much every game felt like the gold medal game rout of Serbia.

What did we learn from all this? Well, aside the USA doesn’t have to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament next year to qualify for the Rio Olympics now? Here are five things I’m taking away from basketball in August and September.

1) The USA’s talent pool remains far deeper, bigger than the rest of the globe. Sure, basketball is a growing international game, with tons of fans in China and the Philippines. In some parts of the world its popularity is second only to soccer/futball. But we still have the best players by far. All the talk before this tournament was about who wasn’t there — and that was before Paul George got injured and Kevin Durant pulled out. Didn’t matter. Not only did we always have the best couple players on the court at every moment, we were rolling NBA All-star caliber players off the bench. No country in the world is close to matching that yet. (Well, maybe Spain, but they blew the chance to test that theory.)

2) Anthony Davis is ready to make the next leap. No doubt Kenneth Faried was the breakout star of the World Cup for the USA (and he earned himself a lot of extra bank). Kyrie Irving was the World Cup MVP and looked like a guy ready to step on the stage next to LeBron James in a couple of weeks. But it was Anthony Davis though the tournament that looked like a guy who is going to make a leap this year — and I mean leap to top five NBA player. At least, maybe third. Mike Krzyzewski put a lot on him and Davis lived up to it — he averaged 12.3 points a game on 54.9 percent shooting, plus he pulled down 6.6 rebounds a game and averaged 2.1 blocks on top of it all. Early in the tournament he was destroying teams and he forced teams to adjust their defense to account for him, which opened up scoring opportunities for James Harden, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the rest on the wings. When the season starts, keep an eye on Davis and the Pelicans.

3) Bulls fans are going to like having Pau Gasol around. The elder Gasol had looked like a guy dropping off the past couple years in Los Angeles, but that was more about Mike D’Antoni’s coaching than anything. Gasol didn’t fit in D’Antoni’s role (as a stretch four) and that led to a lack of energy. Back in his native Spain Gasol was showing off his wide arsenal of shots to score 20 points a game on 63.5 percent shooting. More importantly, he was showing passion for the game again, something D’Antoni sucked out of him. Gasol found his love of the game again and watch out for him in Chicago.

4) Speaking of Bulls fans, Derrick Rose is pretty healthy but still has a ways to go. On the bright side, Derrick Rose was moving well by the end of the World Cup. He played in five games in six days, showing he is healthy. He played some good defense, he showed some signs of a more mature game (like the six assists in the gold medal game against Serbia). But his shot was just off — he hit just 25.4 percent of his attempts all tournament. He struggled to finish inside, his jumper was erratic (he was 1-of-19 from three). Bulls fans need to hope that is just rust. For Bulls fans the good news is Rose shook off some of that rust in Spain rather than in the early games of the season.

5) There were a lot of players from around the globe who were just fun to watch. We focused on Team USA a lot but there other guys from other countries who had big tournaments. Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng looked like a guy ready for more minutes while playing for Senegal. The Nets have themselves a shooter in incoming rookie Bojan Bogdanovic of Croatia, who averaged 21.2 points a game. Don’t confuse him with Bogdan Bogdanovic of Serbia, who looked like he could develop into a player the Phoenix Suns could use in a couple of years if/when he comes over. Jose Barea led the tournament averaging 22 points a game. Andray Blatche averaged 21.2 for the Philippines while still making Blatche-like plays. Goran Dragic was great as expected but it was his unsigned brother Zoran who was catching people’s eyes. Even “Pooh” Jeter (Ukraine) was a blast to watch.

Kevin Durant keeps building up superstar accolades with second All-Star MVP

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CHARLOTTE – When Kevin Durant won All-Star MVP in 2012, he was asked whether he considered himself a star, a label he had resisted.

“I wouldn’t say that just yet,” Durant said. “Hopefully. Hopefully soon I can say that.”

The notion was silly then. Durant had already made two All-NBA first teams and finished second for MVP.

But that All-Star MVP started to change how Durant presented himself. He made another All-NBA first team, again finished second for MVP and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals that season.

“In 2012, I started to feel like I started to hit that elite level,” Durant said. “All that stuff in one year was pretty exciting to me.”

The hits have kept rolling since.

Durant has added an MVP, two titles and two Finals MVPs. Tonight, he claimed another All-Star MVP. The Warriors star scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting to lead LeBron James‘ team to a 178-164 win.

“I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess,” Durant said.

That’s seven years between his All-Star MVPs. Few players sustain that elite level – starring among stars – so long. Only LeBron James (12 years), Michael Jordan (10 years), Kobe Bryant (nine years), Oscar Robertson (eight years) have gone so long between their first and last All-Star MVPs.

Durant, 30, appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Of course, the impending question: Where? Durant can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and this weekend included plenty of speculation.

Tonight’s game gave Knicks fans reason to fanaticize. New York’s presumed targets with its double-max cap space, Durant and Kyrie Irving showed strong chemistry. Half Durant’s baskets were assisted by Irving, who sent five of his six assists to Durant (the other an alley-oop to former teammate LeBron).

Asked which of his All-Star teammates he best meshed with, Durant refused to name one.

“You don’t really have to do too much when you’re playing with so many great players,” Durant said. “You can do what you’re just best at.”

Team LeBron starts playing defense first, comes from 20 down to win All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Team LeBron started to care.

Down 20 at one point early in the third, Team LeBron came out of a mid-quarter timeout with a different energy. The “bench” guys on the court started defending with the kind of relative intensity usually reserved for the final minutes of this exhibition (when it’s close), the players on the bench were standing and cheering like it was a playoff game, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal started knocking down everything, and the game just shifted. It culminated when Damian Lillard tied the game up with a 35-foot three.

Team LeBron kept up the momentum, owned the fourth as Durant went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and Team LeBron got the win 178-164.

“It was our second unit that came in — Dame, Klay, Brad Beal, LaMarcus, Ben Simmons, KAT,” LeBron said after the game about what turned the momentum. “They came in and just changed the whole complexion of the game. We got stops, and, obviously, Dame and Klay caught fire from beyond the arc, and that allowed us to get back in the game.”

Durant was named MVP, a clear choice with his second-half play in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George showed anyone that hasn’t seen him this season how well he’s playing — MVP conversation level — on his way to 20.

This All-Star Game opened with the level of defensive intensity we have come to expect in All-Star Games. Which is to say none.

Well, except when Stephen Curry was guarding Klay Thompson.

The one guy who was intense from the start was Antetokounmpo, who scored the first six points for Team Giannis. He didn’t slow down on his way to 20 first-half points, plus he had one of the game’s great highlights on a bounce pass alley-oop from Curry.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Buck hot to start, Khris Middleton entered the game midway through the first quarter and drained three shots from beyond the arc in a row. In the first nine minutes of the game, the Bucks were beating Team LeBron 28-27.

The favorite crowd moment of the first half was when future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki walked on the court and splashed a couple of threes.

Dwyane Wade was the other Commissioner addition to the game, which means for one last time we got Wade throwing the alley-oop to LeBron.

Curry struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth, but he still got to rub it in Thompson’s face a little.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

Team Giannis was in control most of the first half and was up 13 (95-82) at the half, not that 13 points is much of a deficit in the All-Star Game. Not when one team started to care.

Stephen Curry gets four-point play after Klay Thompson foul, Curry does some taunting

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry is enjoying going against Klay Thompson. Maybe a little too much.

In the first half, Curry was matched up on his Warriors’ backcourt mate and enjoyed that Thompson missed the shot.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tight, Curry drained the contested three and drew the and-1 on Thompson — and did a little taunting.

That’s some All-Star fun.

Stephen Curry bounces alley-oop way above rim, Giannis Antetokounmpo slams it down (video)

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CHARLOTTE – Stephen Curry bounced this so high!

I suppose it helps that Giannis Antetokounmpo has such ridiculous reach.