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Croatia asserts itself among Team USA’s biggest threat in 2020 Olympics

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Team USA was the team to beat in Olympic men’s basketball. Team USA is the team to beat in Olympic men’s basketball. Team USA will be the team to beat in Olympic men’s basketball.

The Americans have won 14 of 18 gold medals in the sport, half the misses coming in controversy – the stolen 1972 finish and a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games. The U.S. has won the last two golds and carries a 23-game winning streak.

The United States’ biggest competition is the field. Play enough games in what becomes a single-elimination tournament, and you’re bound to slip somewhere.

But there are always another nations that presents bigger tests than others. Right now, Spain leads the pack. The Spaniards have won the last two silver medals, looked darned good against top competition in Rio and spooked Team USA more than anyone else.

By the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. could have a new top challenger. Keep an eye on Croatia.

Croatia was narrowly eliminated by Serbia in a quarterfinal yesterday, but the Croatians impressed prior. They beat Spain, Brazil and Lithuania to win Group B. A loss to Nigeria is inexplicable, but it can probably be attributed to another reason I’m so high on Croatia: its youth.

The Croatians – led by Bojan Bogdanovic (27), Dario Saric (22) and Mario Hezonja (20) – are the youngest team to win a game in Rio.

Here’s every team in the 2016 Olympics sorted by average age, weighted by playing time:

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China went 0-5, losing by nearly 30 points per game. It’ll take far more than typical player development for the Chinese to make an impact in Tokyo

Serbia is nearly as young as Croatia, and 21-year-old Nikola Jokic remains underrated. The Serbs aren’t going anywhere, either.

But it’s also about who’s missing. While Serbia is playing without Boban Marjanovic and Nemanja Bjelica, Croatia could add three 2016 draft picks: No. 4 pick Dragan Bender (Suns), No. 23 pick Ante Zizic (Celtics) and No. 32 Ivica Zubac (Lakers).

Of course, Croatia isn’t the only team with talent that didn’t reach Rio.

Australia – which beat Serbia, which beat Croatia – has Ben Simmons, Dante Exum and Thon Maker in the wings. But don’t count on Patty Mills (28), Andrew Bogut (31), Aron Baynes (29), David Anderson (36) and even Matthew Dellavedova (25) to be as good four years from now.

France could reload with Evan Fournier, Ian Mahinmi, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Petr Cornelie and maybe even Joakim Noah. (The Knicks think the 31-year-old Noah will be fine in four years.)

Canada, which didn’t even qualify for the 2016 Olympics, might be able to build a roster full of NBA talent. Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray and Kelly Olynyk look formidable.

But, aside from Team USA, nobody in Tokyo will match Croatia’s Olympic success, youth and incoming talent – at least if all goes to plan. Four years is a long time, and a lot can change between now and 2020.

Still, Croatia entered the 2016 Games looking to be an Olympiad away from seriously threatening for a medal. The Rio results should only lift expectations for Croatia in Tokyo.

Kevin Huerter dunked, then stared down Jimmy Butler (VIDEO)

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Atlanta Hawks rookie Kevin Huerter contributed seven points, five assists, three rebounds, and two steals during his team’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night. He performed reasonably, and he’s often been a double-digit scorer for the Hawks this season.

But for Huerter, the moment of the game came for him on a breakaway dunk attempt with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. In a close game, Taurean Prince was able to poke the ball away from Joel Embiid, leading to Huerter streaking down the floor with the ball.

Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler ran to recover, but couldn’t quite stop Huerter, who threw it through the rack.

That’s when Huerter stared down the wily vet.

Via Twitter:

If Butler is the kind of guy who likes “dogs” then perhaps he has a newfound respect for Huerter these days?

Trae Young beat the Sixers on a game-winning floater, 129-127.

Jeremy Lamb hits 48-foot game-winning shot of the season (VIDEO)

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The Charlotte Hornets are still alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race. As the Hornets took on the Toronto Raptors in Ontario on Sunday, things came down to the wire between the two East rivals.

With less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter, Kawhi Leonard appeared ready to play the hero yet again. Leonard hit a game-winning shot over the Portland Trail Blazers at the beginning of March, and it looked like he had sealed a win out of a time game against the Hornets with just 45 seconds left. With everything tied, 112-112, Leonard scored on a go-ahead 18-foot jumper.

Leonard then blocked Kemba Walker‘s shot attempt with 32 seconds to go, giving the Raptors real hope to win the game. Toronto was unable to score on the ensuing possession, and it came down to a final shot attempt for Charlotte.

On a sideline out of bounds, Jeremy Lamb had just 3.1 seconds to get off what was undoubtedly the game winner of this 2018-19 NBA season.

Via Twitter:

The Hornets are now in 10th place, two games back of the Miami Heat for the eighth seed in the western conference with just nine games to go in the regular season.

Charlotte hasn’t been eliminated just yet, thanks in large part to Lamb’s incredible play.

Pau Gasol says Chris Wallace joked about being traded for brother Marc

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The Pau Gasol trade shaped the face of the NBA as the first decade of the new millennium ended. It made the Los Angeles Lakers relevant again, and gave Kobe Bryant a solid second running mate to push him to another two championships in 2009 and 2010.

Gasol was famously traded in a package that included the rights to his younger brother Marc Gasol, who became a star for the Memphis Grizzlies before being traded to the Toronto Raptors this past winter.

Big trades involving superstars like the Gasol often come with the benefit of advanced knowledge by the player or their agent, and with some communication between them. But according to Gasol, the first person to tell him about the trade was newly-minted Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, who had joined the team before the 2007 NBA Draft.

Speaking on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast, Gasol said that Wallace tried to make light of the situation by pointing out the irony of being traded for his own brother.

Via the Woj Pod:

I walk in and the first thing he tells me is, ‘Pau please, come in, sit down. You just got traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.’

I’m like, ‘Sorry, what?’

I couldn’t take it in. What are you talking about? At that point I was not expecting to be traded at all.

[Wallace said], ‘You got traded for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, a second round pick, and the funniest of all, your brother Marc.’

I’m like, what? Is this a joke, [he’s] trying to be funnier and funnier? At that time I couldn’t process what he was saying, I’m like, is this really happening? Why is he making a joke out of it when I’ve be here for six-and-a-half years, [Wallace] basically just got there, and now I’m traded.

Obviously I got more excited as the minutes went by, but it was crazy and it was Chris that told me. Obviously it was one of the greatest moments of my career just because …. at first it was hard to to process being treated and moving away from the team that you’ve given so much to (and in the other way around) but then I walk into a situation that would allow me to to win. Which is what exactly what I wanted, what I craved, and to play with one of the greatest players in Kobe and to be coached by Phil Jackson.

It is one of the great NBA narratives that both brothers were swapped for one another, and that each had continued success at a level in the NBA that not many siblings have experienced in their lives.

Perhaps he didn’t know why Wallace was joking about the trade at the time, but obviously Gasol knows that it worked out OK for him in any case.

Report: Jason Kidd holding off on Cal job until Lakers decide on Luke Walton

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The Los Angeles Lakers could be headed toward a departure with their head coach in Luke Walton. The Lakers will miss the playoffs yet again, this time coming up short despite adding LeBron James over the summer.

James has reportedly wanted Walton out for some time, and when the season ends many are expecting to see the two sides part ways. The list of potential coaching candidates for Los Angeles appear to be a group of also-rans, potential LeBron favorites who no self-respecting basketball decision-maker would want in charge of a championship-hopeful franchise.

One of those potential head coaching candidates is Jason Kidd, who was fired by the Milwaukee Bucks in January of 2018. We have seen rumors of Kidd being on the list of candidates for the Lakers job for some time, but now it appears that Kidd is basing his decision-making on the availability of the Los Angeles job.

Via Twitter:

Kidd holding out on making an employment decision until the Lakers decide what to do with Walton makes sense. That L.A. would be interested in Kidd to lead their group is another thing altogether.

Talent is a salve that has often pushed teams passed their failings, and this offseason for the Lakers will be a big-time test of that medicine. Los Angeles is not a well-run franchise, and the fact that they have expected anything different from their results speaks to the dissonance between their ability to make basketball decisions outside of branding.

But if they can add one or two big stars in free agency this summer, they might have enough talent on the roster to overcome the inherent issues with having LeBron run the team by proxy. It’s hard to have any faith in the Lakers to make the right decision at this juncture, and considering Kidd for the most important head coaching position in the NBA is par for the course.