Associated Press

Jeff Van Gundy has Americans on brink of World Cup berth

2 Comments

ASSOCIATED PRESS β€” The challenge that Jeff Van Gundy accepted 16 months ago was a daunting one: Take a group of G League players, and turn them into a team that would be good enough to earn USA Basketball a spot in next year’s FIBA World Cup.

It was harder than he imagined.

Van Gundy hasn’t had one team for World Cup qualifying – he’s basically had five different teams, the U.S. roster changing so significantly from one round to the next that he’s had to essentially start from scratch every time. He’s made it work, and the U.S. will play at Argentina on Thursday night knowing that the job of clinching that World Cup berth is now finally within reach.

Thursday’s winner will basically be assured a spot in the World Cup. The U.S. and Argentina both have 7-1 records in their six-nation group, and would be three games ahead of the fourth-place team with three games left. The top three teams in the group are guaranteed World Cup berths.

“There’s been a lot of learning as we’ve gone along,” Van Gundy said. “You need to be adaptable in this whole thing. We’ve had a great group of coaches that have helped us and really, it’s the players that are the ones that drive it. Either you come into it for the right reasons or you don’t. This isn’t about putting up numbers. We’re all volunteers.”

He just didn’t think there would be this many volunteers.

Of the 12 players Van Gundy has with him on this trip – the Americans play at Uruguay on Sunday – only three have been part of any of the previous eight qualifying games. He’s now had 46 different players with him at various times during qualifying, and most of them have played in no more than two games to this point.

“I expected more continuity, no question,” Van Gundy said. “Some NBA teams have been incredibly helpful, incredibly helpful, and some not so much. Some agents have been incredibly helpful, and others not so much. Some G League franchises, incredibly helpful, incredibly helpful, others not as committed to the process. You sort of learn who shares your passion for this quest to qualify.”

Stockton Kings guard Reggie Hearn clearly shares that passion. When the U.S. calls, he answers.

Hearn is the most decorated player for the Americans in this process. He’s appeared in a team-high five of the eight games so far, is back with the U.S. for this trip and is embracing his role as the all-knowing veteran.

“I feel like I can somewhat give my knowledge and experience to the guys to kind of back what coach says,” Hearn said. “I can speak from personal experience, and as far as familiarity with Jeff, I feel like I can help things run a little more smoothly because I know what to expect from him and what he calls for us to do as players.”

The U.S. gathered for some practices in Houston before flying to Argentina, and players are aware that two wins on this trip – regardless of any other outcome – would clinch the World Cup berth.

But there hasn’t been a lot of big-picture focus.

“We’re just down here trying to go 2-0,” Hearn said.

U.S. PLANS

The U.S. has used G League players throughout this process because the qualifying schedule – by FIBA design – conflicts with the NBA season. If the Americans reach the World Cup, Gregg Popovich would coach the team and his roster would be filled by NBA stars.

ALREADY CLINCHED

There will be 32 nations in next year’s World Cup. Europe will send 12 teams, the Asia-Oceania and Americas zones will each send seven, and Africa will send five. China automatically got a spot as the tournament host. So far, in addition to the Chinese, six nations have clinched a berth: Tunisia, Nigeria, Germany, Greece, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.

QUALIFIERS FORMAT

This the fifth of six two-game “windows” on the FIBA qualifying calendar for this World Cup, with the final one coming in late February. Many spots will come down to those games, though there are several teams in very good position to clinch their berths in the coming days. They include the U.S., France, Spain, New Zealand, Argentina, Canada, Venezuela and Senegal.

Markelle Fultz’s steal, slam secures Orlando win against Washington (VIDEO)

Associated Press
Leave a comment

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) β€” Markelle Fultz is fitting in nicely with the Orlando Magic.

The former No. 1 overall pick had a career-high 19 points and the deciding defensive play in a 125-121 victory over the Washington Wizards on Sunday night.

Nikola Vucevic had 30 points and 17 rebounds and Evan Fournier added 25 points and nine assists, but the Magic nearly squandered an 18-point fourth quarter lead before Fultz stopped Washington’s rally.

Fultz made all six shots from the field in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers, and finished 8 for 10 from the field. However, it was his defensive play that decided the game.

With Orlando leading 119-116, Fultz stole a pass and was fouled as he dunked the ball with 36.1 seconds left. His free throw finished the 3-point play and gave Orlando a six-point cushion that stood up for the team’s fourth win in its last five games.

“That was definitely fun,” said Fultz, who was drafted No. 1 by Philadelphia 76ers in 2017 before being traded to Orlando midway through last season. “You live for moments like that when the game is on the line and you’re out competing to see what everybody is made of. I love it that I got a chance to make a big-time play and I finished it off.”

Orlando needed it to withstand a couple of fourth-quarter rallies by Washington and its 3-point shooting team. The Wizards made 10 of 15 3-pointers in the final period and scored 44 points, but couldn’t play enough defense to overtake Orlando.

Bradley Beal scored 34 points and had eight assists for Washington, which absorbed its fourth loss in five games. The Wizards got 21 points from C.J. Miles and 15 from Davis Bertans.

“We are 10 games in (to the season) now so we have to dial back the amount of excuses we have,” Beal said. “We compete hard enough to win every game. We are top five on offense, so we know that’s not the problem. We just have to get stops.”

 

Sixers rout Cavaliers 114-95 behind 12-of-14 shooting night from Tobias Harris

Leave a comment

CLEVELAND (AP) β€” Tobias Harris scored 27 points, Joel Embiid had 14 and the Philadelphia 76ers routed the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-95 on Sunday.

Cleveland nearly pulled off an upset in Philadelphia on Tuesday before falling 98-97, but the 76ers ended quickly ended any hope of a repeat.

Philadelphia went ahead midway through the first quarter and steadily built the lead, shooting 67% in the half. The lead reached 75-44 early in the third quarter.

Harris was 12 of 14 from the field, missing only one of 12 2-point attempts. Ben Simmons had 10 points and 11 assists, and the 76ers had six players score in double figures.

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love took a hard fall after being flattened by Furkan Korkmaz while shooting in the lane in the first quarter. Love got up after being on the floor for a couple of moments and gave the thumbs-up sign to the crowd, remaining in the game.

Love scored 12 points in 25 minutes. Collin Sexton had 17 points for Cleveland, which has lost three straight and opened a stretch of five games in seven days.

The Cavaliers were ahead of the 76ers by five points late in Tuesday’s game, but couldn’t hold the lead. Love missed an open 3-pointer on the final possession.

Philadelphia shredded Cleveland’s defense this time with 33 assists on 46 baskets. The 76ers followed an 11-0 run with a 14-3 spurt to take a 60-31 lead on Harris’ dunk with four minutes to play in the second quarter.

Philadelphia had dropped five of seven going into the game, including consecutive losses in Orlando and Oklahoma City, but finished its road trip on a high note.

Marcus Smart’s potential game-winner sits on rim, rolls off, gives Kings win

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
2 Comments

Boston came in on a 10-game winning streak where they had played well on both ends of the court, but they also got some lucky rolls of the basketball.

Not Sunday.

With Boston down one, Marcus Smart put up a floater as time expired in Sacramento, it looked like the shot would fall, and…

Give the Kings credit, at a rough start they have gone 5-2 in November, and that despite injuries to Marvin Bagley Jr. and De'Aaron Fox. Buddy Hield had 35 points to lead the Kings, including going 7-of-12 from three.

The Celtics had a balanced attack with six players in double figures, but their offense was not as sharp as it has been. This was the first game it looked like they missed Gordon Hayward, who is out with a fractured hand.

Report: Last summer the Lakers, among others, were hoping Suns would buy out Aron Baynes

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
1 Comment

Aron Baynes has been critical to the Suns racing out to a 7-4 start with the fourth-best net rating in the NBA. When Deandre Ayton was suspended for 25 games (after testing positive for a diuretic, a banned substance), Baynes has stepped up and been exactly what the Suns needed. He is scoring 15 points per game, shooting 46.5 percent from three (which is opening up the floor for guys like Devin Booker), and providing a big body defensive presence in the paint.

You can see why the Lakers and other teams were hoping Baynes would hit the market this summer. From Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Suns center Aron Baynes has emerged as a cornerstone piece for Phoenix early this season, supplying defense, leadership and, yes, shot-making. Phoenix acquired Baynes on draft night, and in the weeks to come contenders such as the Lakers hoped Baynes would reach a buyout with the Suns to hit the open market, sources said. Suns general manager James Jones and new head coach Monty Williams wanted Baynes β€” and are now receiving the rewards for the offseason move. Through 11 games, Baynes is averaging 15 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 46.8 percent 3-point shooting (two 3s made per game). Baynes will enter free agency next July, and as one team executive said, β€œHe is positioning himself for well over $10 million per year.”

Smart move by Phoenix’s management to hold on to Baynes as an Ayton insurance policy (one they ended up needing). Plus, when trying to change a team’s culture (as Jones and Williams are working to do in Phoenix), you can’t have enough hardworking professionals in the locker room. Baynes brings that.

The Lakers thought they would have DeMarcus Cousins in the paint, but he tore his ACL over the summer. The tag team of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee has worked surprisingly well for Los Angeles to start the season.

In what will be a down free-agent market next summer, Baynes is going to be in demand. His payday is coming.