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FIBA World Cup Day 1 wrap up: Serbia impresses, Puerto Rico wins dramatically

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SHANGHAI (AP) — Serbia’s push toward unseating the U.S. as World Cup champion is off and running.

Bogdan Bogdanovic made his first four 3-point attempts to help his team take control early on, All-NBA center Nikola Jokic didn’t even start and the Serbians still had plenty on the way to easing past Angola 105-59 on Saturday in the first game of the World Cup.

“We played a great game from the beginning until the end,” Serbia forward Nikola Milutinov said. “We were tough. We were strong. Mentally we were ready.”

Bogdanovic scored 24 points on 8 for 10 shooting for Serbia (1-0 in Group D), which lost gold-medal games to the U.S. at the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The lead was 50-32 at the half, and Serbia — which has made clear that it came to this World Cup believing it can win gold — opened the third quarter on a 15-2 burst to turn the game into a runaway.

“It’s a good start,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said. “But it’s just the start. It’s a long way. We know how to get to where we want to be. We just have to stay humble, stay focused.”

Jokic and Milutinov each had 14 for the winners, and Boban Marjanovic added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Jokic was 3 for 3 from 3-point range, and Serbia went 13 for 20 from long range.

Carlos Morais scored 15 for Angola, which was outrebounded 41-19 and shot only 36%. Leonel Paulo scored 10 for Angola. Take the combined 10 for 18 shooting by Morais and Paulo away, and the rest of the Angolan lineup shot 11 for 41 — 27%.

“We didn’t play the style of play consistently enough to have a chance to compete with them,” said Angola coach Will Voigt, a native of Cabot, Vermont.

Angola center Yanick Moreira was less diplomatic.

“We got … kicked. That’s it,” Moreira said. “I’m sorry about my language, but I don’t want to embarrass my country. When you come to the World Cup, you’ve got to be ready to play.”

Serbia used 11 of its 12 players by the end of the first quarter. The only Serbian who didn’t play was Nemanja Bjelica, sidelined with what Djordjevic said was knee inflammation caused by a cyst. Bjelica will be re-evaluated on Sunday.

PUERTO RICO 83, IRAN 81

At Guangzhou, David Huertas scored 32 points, Javier Mojica’s bank shot with 0.7 seconds left was the winner and Puerto Rico prevailed despite being down by 17 with 7:55 remaining.

Gary Browne scored 12 for Puerto Rico in a Group C opener.

Hamed Haddadi and Behnam Yakhchalidehkordi each scored 22 for Iran.

Huertas tied the game with a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left, then made another 3 with 16.1 ticks remaining for a 3-point lead. Haddadi made a deep 3-pointer from the right wing with 4.4 seconds left, but Mojica took an inbounds pass on the ensuing Puerto Rico possession and connected from the left side of the lane for the deciding points.

POLAND 80, VENEZUELA 69

At Beijing, Poland got its first World Cup win in 52 years.

Michal Sokolowski scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and Poland — back in the World Cup for the first time since 1967 — topped Venezuela in a Group A opener. Mateusz Ponitka scored 15 for the winners, and Poland finished with five players in double figures.

“We played to our identity, really good team basketball,” Poland coach Mike Taylor said.

Pedro Chourio scored 15 for Venezuela.

RUSSIA 82, NIGERIA 77

At Wuhan, Russia rallied in the final minutes to hold off Nigeria and get what may be a key win in Group B.

Mikhail Kulagin led the Russians with 16 points. Nigeria had six players in double figures, led by 18 from Josh Okogie. His 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter put Nigeria up 71-63, but the Russians ended the game on a 19-6 run.

CHINA 70, IVORY COAST 55

At Beijing, in a game tied at the half, China ran away in the final two quarters to open its home World Cup with a win.

Yi Jianlian scored 19 points, Guo Ailun had 17 and Zhou Qi added 12 for the Chinese, who shot 53% and held Ivory Coast to 29% shooting. Guy Landry Edi led Ivory Coast with 10 points.

ITALY 108, PHILIPPINES 62

At Foshan, Italy opened the game on a 37-8 run and never looked back behind 17 points apiece from Luigi Datome and Amedeo Della Valle. Danilo Gallinari added 16 for Italy.

Andray Blatche had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Philippines, and Jaymar Perez scored 15 as well.

SPAIN 101, TUNISIA 62

At Guangzhou, Spain led 42-39 at the half before outscoring Tunisia 59-23 after intermission.

Ricky Rubio scored 17 points and Sergio Llull 16 for Spain, which finished with six players in double figures. Salah Mejri led Tunisia with 15 points.

ARGENTINA 95, SOUTH KOREA 69

At Wuhan, Nicolas Laprovittola scored 17 points and Luis Scola had 15 as Argentina cruised in its opener. Guna Ra was dominant in defeat, finishing with 31 points and 15 rebounds for South Korea.

Watch James Harden scores 49 points, lead Rockets past Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Undermanned and playing for the second consecutive night, the Houston Rockets still had plenty of reason to be confident.

“I would think it would give you confidence,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You’re playing with a bazooka out there.”

A bazooka named James Harden.

Harden unloaded Saturday night, scoring 49 points on a whopping 41 shots from the field to lead the short-handed Rockets to their seventh straight victory, 125-105 over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

With Russell Westbrook resting and several key contributors injured, the Rockets needed Harden to shoulder an even bigger scoring load than usual. The 41 attempts are the most in his career, and the most in the NBA this season, surpassing the 37 Golden State’s D'Angelo Russell took in an overtime loss Nov. 8 in the same building in Minnesota.

“It was a collective effort,” Harden said. “We’ve got six, seven guys out. So it could have been an easy game, where we just chalked it up and got ready for next game. We wanted to come here and win this game, and we showed it.”

Harden made 16 of the 41 shots, going 8 for 22 from 3-point range. He was 9 of 11 on free throws.

“He scored (49) on 41 shots,” Timberwolves forward Robert Covington said. “That’s what we want. But it’s just the other guys hurt us. We followed the game plan with him.”

Ben McLemore scored 20 points. Undrafted rookie Chris Clemons scored a career-high 19 off the bench for the Rockets, who broke open the game with a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter. Austin Rivers also scored 19 points.

 

Paul George’s 37 in home debut lead Clippers past Hawks 150-101 (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paul George scored 37 points in his Clippers home debut, Lou Williams added 25, and Los Angeles led all the way in routing the Atlanta Hawks 150-101 on Saturday night.

The anticipated first game with George and Kawhi Leonard in the lineup together didn’t happen when Leonard sat out with a left knee contusion.

But the Clippers didn’t need both of their new superstars on a night when George tied his career high with six 3-pointers and made all 11 of his free throws in the team’s biggest blowout of the young season.

George was clearly having fun in the fourth when he stole the ball, dribbled down and tossed it off the glass, setting up Montrezl Harrell for a two-handed dunk that ignited the crowd and pushed the Clippers’ lead to 36 points.

George sat down for good with 9:58 remaining in the game, having done all his damage playing 20 minutes.

Two nights after scoring 33 in his debut at New Orleans, George had it going from the start. He scored 15 of the Clippers’ first 22 points in a six-minute span. They led by 17 and shot 59 percent in the opening quarter.

George is the first player in franchise history to score 30-plus points in his first two games with the team.

The Hawks scored 11 straight points to close within four early in the second quarter, the closest they would come the rest of the game. The Clippers answered with an 18-6 run, fueled by George’s nine points, to go back up by 17 again.

George had 25 points at halftime when the Clippers led 74-62, shooting 52% and making all 16 of their free throws.

Leonard also sat out on Thursday when George made his Clippers debut in a loss to the Pelicans.

George missed the season’s first 11 games while completing rehab from offseason shoulder surgery.

“I would love them to play every game and be out there,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before the game. “We knew early on this would be a tough go.”

Trae Young had 20 points for the Hawks, who dropped their second in a row. They trailed by 52 points in the fourth.

The Clippers dominated in nearly every category, with their bench outscoring the Hawks’ reserves 81-35. Los Angeles made 17 3-pointers and hit 33 of 35 free throws.

 

Gregg Popovich gets ejected, Tim Duncan takes over coaching, Spurs still fall to Trail Blazers

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Tim Duncan was back in charge in San Antonio and the Spurs were flourishing under his leadership again.

Duncan was directing players on defensive assignments, encouraging them and providing needed leadership. But in the end, he couldn’t provide the same late-game heroics from the bench that he long did on the court.

CJ McCollum scored 32 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Spurs 121-116 on Saturday night to spoil Duncan’s first shot at coaching following Gregg Popovich’s ejection.

Duncan took over just 13 games into his first season as an assistant coach. Popovich was ejected after walking onto the court to berate official Jason Goldenberg over a non-call. Popovich calmly walked off the court following his first ejection of the season (you can see it in the video above).

On Twitter, this led to a debate as people tried to figure out who took over as coach. Assistant Coach Becky Hammon ran one time out, but it was Duncan — the assistant coach assigned to scout Portland on the staff — who was the main man. Duncan, Hammon and Will Hardy coached by committee, but it was Duncan calling the plays and screaming out instruction.

“It was cool,” Spurs guard Bryn Forbes said. “It didn’t really feel like a huge difference. I think he did a good job. He took control. He helped lead us to a big lead.”

Popovich was asked if he considered having Becky Hammon take over to make history as the first woman to lead an NBA team.

“I’m not here to make history,” Popovich said.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 13 rebounds but the Spurs lost their fifth straight and fell to 5-8.

Damian Lillard added 22 points and Hassan Whiteside had 21 points for Portland (5-8), which rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to snap a four-game skid in San Antonio.

“We’ve blown leads before, so we kind of know what to expect,” McCollum said. “Once you do it, you’ve got to stay grounded, focus on the little stuff.”

Before the game, Popovich said coaching could only go so far and it was up to each player to take responsibility for his own mistakes and performance during this losing streak. Popovich put that responsibility squarely on the Spurs when he was ejected early in the third quarter.

McCollum had 23 of his points in the first half.

Bryn Forbes added 17 points and DeRozan and Rudy Gay added 16 apiece.

 

Jamal Crawford finds it “baffling” no team has called to sign him yet

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Iman Shumpert got his call from the Brooklyn Nets.

Carmelo Anthony got his call from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Jamal Crawford is still waiting for his call, and he’s confused why it hasn’t yet come. From Shaun Powell of NBA.com.

“I know I can play,” Crawford told NBA.com, “and I would think my reputation is still solid. It’s baffling to me…

“Physically, I feel better than I did last season,” he said. “I’m able to get my body together. My skill set is sharp. I feel that I’m good. My mindset is be patient and hopefully something good comes about it. I’ll be ready for the opportunity.”

Like Anthony, Crawford needs the right role, but he can help teams.

He’s not young at age 39 but, in the right situation, he could help a team get buckets off the bench. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year has slowed in recent years, and his defense is a bigger concern to front offices, but the man still averaged 7.9 points per game last season off the bench and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last season (including a 51-point game against Dallas). 

Some team is going to give Crawford a chance. Probably. Until then, he is staying ready, waiting for the phone to ring.