Mexico beats Argentina, Canada has top seed in FIBA Americas

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Gustavo Ayon scored 16 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter and Mexico overcame a 15-point deficit to hand Argentina its first loss of the Olympic qualifier, 95-83 on Wednesday night in the last game of the second round.

Ayon also grabbed 14 rebounds, while Jorge Gutierrez scored 23 points and Francisco Cruz added 21 for the Mexicans. They earned the No. 2 seed and will face Argentina again Friday night in the FIBA Americas semifinals.

Earlier, Canada beat the Dominican Republic 120-103 to finish first and will play Venezuela in the other semifinal.

The winners will get the two Americas’ berths into the 2016 Olympics. The losers will play in the 2016 FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament.

Mexico is trying to qualify for its first Olympics since Montreal in 1976.

Luis Scola scored 26 points and Andres Nocioni added 21 for Argentina.

Canada won its seventh straight game as Cory Joseph scored 17 points to lead a balanced attack.

Anthony Bennett and Nik Stauskas each scored 14 points for a Canadian team that features nine NBA players and is one of the favorites to earn one of the berths in Rio.

“We did the job in a tough day because we played an emotional game last night,” said Canada coach Jay Triano, whose team beat Mexico on Tuesday night. “The legs were tired and we needed to turn it around quickly against a team that plays unconventional basketball. I’m happy with the win and we have 48 hours to prepare for the big game.”

Canada is trying to qualify for its first Olympic games since Sydney in 2000.

Venezuela qualified for the semifinal round with a 75-62 victory over Panama.

John Cox scored 21 points and Heissler Guillent came off the bench to add 13 for the Venezuelans, who are trying to qualify for their first Olympics since Barcelona in 1992.

Venezuela was a surprise because it came to the tournament without three of its best players: Greivis Vasquez of the Milwaukee Bucks, Luis Bethelmy and Gregory Echenique.

“No one saw us as guests to the dance of the final four, but we are there and we earned it,” said Venezuela coach Nestor Garcia. “Everybody thinks that we are a team that’s one step below the other three and we are going to use that to our advantage because we have everything to win and nothing to lose.”

Also Wednesday, J.J. Barea scored 19 points, Renaldo Balkman added 17 and Puerto Rico got an 80-69 victory over Uruguay to finish fifth and clinch a spot in the 2016 FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament, to be played July 4-10.

“The first half was the best defensive effort that I have seen in a long time. I’m really proud with this group,” Puerto Rico coach Rick Pitino said. “We came in here limping, but we will play next summer with a healthy team and we will try to make it to Rio.”

Sacramento Kings turning former arena into coronavirus surge hospital

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If you’re old enough, you might remember Arco Arena as the home of the Sacramento Kings when they were a playoff team. Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojaković, and company pushed the Shaq/Kobe Lakers to seven games in 2002 and won huge playoff games in the arena. Arco was where Jason Williams was dropping dimes without looking, and arena which later became known as the Sleep Train Arena, Power Balance Pavilion, and eventually the current Natomas Arena.

Now, it’s about to be a coronavirus surge hospital.

The Kings are making the arena available and it will house about 360 beds, the team announced on Friday. The team also is donating $250,000 to support area community organizations providing services to families in need in the area, plus donating 100,000 medical masks to state and local health agencies.

“On behalf of the entire Kings family, our hearts are with all who have been affected by this pandemic,” said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé in a statement. “California always leads the nation and the world, and we applaud Governor [Gavin] Newsom’s strong and decisive leadership to keep Californians healthy and safe during this crisis…

“Our community has always come first, and that is more important now than ever,” Ranadivé continued. “The Kings are proud to help by providing additional space to accommodate a predicted surge in patients. We are also donating masks to help keep people healthy, and critical resources to area organizations that are addressing food insecurity and other issues as a result of the coronavirus. I have always been in awe of the resilience and ingenuity of the American people and firmly believe that together, we will defeat this invisible enemy.”

The Kings moved to the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento in 2015 and since then their former home and practice arena has mostly sat vacant. The Kings’ G-League team practices there at times, but like the rest of basketball they find their season suspended.

Hopefully, this arena helps save some lives in the California capital. That would be the most important thing ever to happen in the building.

WNBA postpones season

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban backed off his belief that the NBA could resume in May.

It’s just already clear, amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’ll be unsafe to hold professional basketball games that soon.

WNBA release:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15.  While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees.

Many top female players – including Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Wiese, who tested positive for coronavirus – play overseas during the WNBA offseason. That frequency of travel makes it even riskier for WNBA teams to gather any time soon.

The WNBA will still hold its draft April 17, conducting proceedings virtually. That could provide lessons to the NBA as it determines how to handle its draft.

Joel Embiid, 76ers owners pledging $1.3M for fighting coronavirus

76ers owner Josh Harris and Joel Embiid
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Joel Embiid just showed up 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer by pledging to pay team employees who were set to have their pay cut. Amid widespread backlash, the 76ers backtracked on their salary-reduction plan.

Now – with a portion of Embiid’s coronavirus-related donation unallocated and Harris and Blitzer looking to change the narrative around them – those three are working together.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer are contributing a combined $1.3 million to Penn Medicine, establishing a funding campaign for COVID-19 antibody testing of frontline healthcare workers.

According to a Penn Medicine press release, “The pledge from Embiid, Harris and Blitzer will provide a much-needed boost for efforts to quickly identify health care workers who may have immunity to the new virus.”

This is great.

Some Utah Jazz employees laid off as part of cutback across owner’s businesses

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The Philadephia 76ers came in early, trying to force 20 percent cutbacks in salaries across the franchise’s staff. That lasted less than 24 hours before the backlash hit, the net worth of the team’s primary owner, Joshua Harris, was trending on Twitter, and the decision was reversed.

That stopped other owners from making a similar move or laying employees off for a while, but not long after the top 100 earners at the NBA League office — including Commissioner Adam Silver — were given a 20 percent pay reduction. The worsening economic crisis caused by the coronavirus shutdown of the United States is pushing NBA owners to act.

On Friday, the Utah Jazz — owned by the Larry H. Miller Group, which in total has more 80 different companies under its umbrella — sent this message to Adrian Wojnarowski ESPN:

“Due to the impact on our customer-facing businesses from this unprecedented pandemic, the (Miller Group) …. unfortunately had to make difficult decisions to reduce a small percentage of our workforce. Over the past several weeks, we have worked to manage and reduce costs, including executive compensation, and have reached a point where we have had to say farewell to a limited number of our valued employees.

“We have connected with our associates with outplacement services and aligned them with employers who have immediate hiring needs. We remain focused on helping our communities stay healthy.”

Reports out of Utah say these are layoffs that hit a lot of people and could be permanent.

It’s not fair, but little is fair right now. As noted, this is not just a layoff of some Jazz employees but also people at other businesses across the Larry H. Miller company.

Expect other NBA owners to follow suit soon, too. Not all, but some. Like owners of businesses of all sizes, they have been both hit hard in the short term and see a looming recession beyond the coronavirus. They will be looking to save money.