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Five teams with a shot to beat Team USA in FIBA World Cup

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The road to the FIBA World Cup title still goes through the USA.

Not literally, the tournament in China tipped off today and will be played there through Sept. 15. But the USA is still the team to beat, the heavy favorite. Westgate Sports Book in Las Vegas has the United States at -175 to win the whole thing. Even with all the headlines here focused on who is not playing and the lack of star power, the USA still has the deepest pool of talent on the planet to draw from. This is still a very good team.

But they are vulnerable, to use the word of USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo. Maybe to only a handful of teams, but that is more than in years past.

Who are those handful of teams that could knock off Team USA? Here are the top five.

SERBIA

Led by Nikola Jokic, and with Bogdan Bogdanovic on the wing, Serbia has been the second-best team in the world for at least five years now. They picked up silver medals at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics. The Serbians are talented, deep, experienced, and they have the chemistry of a team that has been playing together for years, which is why the oddsmakers have them at just 2-1 to win it all. Milos Teodosic is sitting this one out and they will miss his playmaking, but Jokic’s passing will keep the offense moving. There are questions about the Serbian defense, but this team has the best shot at knocking off Team USA — and getting revenge for those silver medals.

GREECE

Why is Greece a threat to beat the USA and win it all? Two words: Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the first time in a long time, the best player in an international tournament will not be an American. The NBA MVP has some good talent around him, such as former NBA player Nick Calathes (a quality point guard who can set up the Greek shooters), but in the end it’s all about Antetokounmpo. Every team that faces Greece has to ask, “who do we have who can slow him?” Team USA does not have a good answer to that question.

SPAIN

No team epitomizes the chemistry of a group that has played together for years — in the case of some members of the Spanish team, decades — than Spain. After the USA beat them in an exhibition a couple of weeks ago, Donovan Mitchell marveled at how Spain did not call plays at the end of the game, but rather would just point or even nod and every player knew what to do next. They also have talent — Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Hernangomez, Willy Hernangomez, Sergio Llull, and more. This team is older and — with some key players sitting this one out — lacks athleticism, but they are still a threat on the international stage.

FRANCE

They are anchored in the paint by the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, which would make matchups against Antetokounmpo and the Greeks or Kemba Walker/Mitchell and the Americans interesting. France also has talent on the perimeter such as Evan Fournier and Frank Ntilikina. This should be a stout defensive team that will struggle a little to score, but they are sleepers to win the whole thing.

AUSTRALIA

They have already beaten the Americans once. Granted, that was in their home country in front of 52,000 rabid fans on a night Patty Mills got red hot, but still they did it.

And three years ago in the Olympics, the Australians pushed the USA, losing by 10 to a stacked American squad that needed a late-game burst from Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony to pull away a little. There is talent on the roster including Joe Ingles and Andrew Bogut, but the Boomers are considered a longshot to win it all. That said, we know they are capable of beating Team USA.

Shaq donates a year’s rent to a paralyzed Atlanta boy

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ATLANTA (AP) — Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal has donated a year’s rent in a new home to an Atlanta woman whose 12-year-old son was paralyzed in a shooting at a football game.

O’Neal tells WXIA-TV  that Isaiah Payton’s family had been living in a one-bedroom apartment that wasn’t accessible for people with disabilities.

“It’s just sad. It could have been any one of us,” Shaq told the Atlanta station. “It could have been my son. It could’ve been your cousin. She was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her two boys, so we found her a house in a nice area.”

Now they have a home in a good neighborhood. He says he’s helping furnish the home and will pay its rent for the next year.

Isaiah was shot through the spine in August after a football scrimmage between two high schools. Sixteen-year-old Damean Spear also was wounded and treated for minor injuries. Isaiah’s mother, Allison Woods, has said relearning how to care for Isaiah meant she had to leave her job, adding financial stress to her emotional turmoil.

Jazz reportedly extend contract of coach Quin Snyder, locking him down well into future

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Quin Snyder has evolved into one of the best coaches in the NBA (and my pick to win Coach of the Year this season). He’s built a development program and system in Utah that has turned Rudy Gobert into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donovan Mitchell into the face of a franchise, and Joe Ingles into a guy other teams covet. His players like and respect Snyder, and he has worked well with the front office of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.

So the Jazz are locking him up with a contract extension beyond the two seasons remaining on his deal. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has agreed to a long-term contract extension, league sources tell ESPN. Snyder had two years left on his deal, and a new contract extends multiple years beyond that term, sources said.

After upgrading the team’s talent base over the summer, locking Snyder into an extension had been a top organizational priority.

Jazz fans should be ecstatic about this.

Snyder has built a system team in Utah, one that moves the ball beautifully on offense, and that has been tough to defend in the regular season, with the Jazz winning 50 games last season. Utah has made it to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, but when the level of play made that leap a lot of the system gets taken away by good defenses, and the Utah offense became Donovan Mitchell against the world. It didn’t work, Mitchell (still just 22) wasn’t fully ready and there was not enough shooting around him.

This past summer, the Jazz added Mike Conley at point guard and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing, two excellent shooters who also can create off the dribble. Expectations are high in Utah.

Whatever happens, Snyder is their coach now for a long time.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he learned from Kawhi Leonard: “He was calm”

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Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.

Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.

Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.

“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make.  That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.

If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.

Domantas Sabonis on trade rumors: ‘I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now’

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The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?

That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.

If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.

The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.

Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.

There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.

That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.