Who wins Gold? Breaking down Men’s Olympic basketball tournament

0 Comments

Historically, Olympic gold in men’s basketball has been as American as a cheeseburger with a side of tater tots.

Team USA has dominated Olympic men’s basketball in a dynastic way seen in few sports, having won the gold medal 15 times since the sport was added in 1936. Every other country has combined to win gold four times (including the 1980 USA boycott year).

In Tokyo, the Americans are once again heavy gold medal favorites, but the rest of the world is catching up — there are 37 NBA players in the games outside of Team USA — and the margin for error is much smaller. Can this American team led by Kevin Durant and Damian Lillardwhich did not exactly dominate its exhibition games — continue the trend?

Here is a breakdown of the Men’s Olympic Basketball Tournament.

Gold Medal Favorite

United States

Despite the stumbles on the way here — and the loss of Bradley Beal due to the coronavirus — this is still the most talented and deepest team in the tournament. Kevin Durant almost single-handedly beat the Bucks and looked like the best player on the planet, and now he takes on the international stage with Damian Lillard as his running mate. The roster is loaded with All-Stars such as Jayson Tatum and Zach LaVine on the wing, Bam Adebayo at center, and scorers like Jerami Grant or stoppers like Draymond Green off the bench. How much the three guys who just played in the Finals — Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday — will help against France in the opener remains to be seen (they landed in Tokyo less than 24 hours before that game), but by the medal round they will be part of the rotation.

The USA team we saw in the second half against Spain — one that uses its athleticism advantage, pressures on defense then runs on turnovers and misses, one that moves the ball in the halfcourt — wins gold. However, if the USA relaxes too much on defense or devolves into hero ball on offense, teams in this tournament can beat them. Will the Americans play as a team after just being thrown together less than a month ago? That’s the challenge for Gregg Popovich and staff.

A good test for Team USA right out of the gate against France (their toughest game in Group A). The winner of that game controls the group.

Teams expecting a medal (maybe gold)

Australia

They finished fourth in Rio, then fourth at the World Cup, and they expect to medal here. The Aussies don’t fear Team USA, who they beat in their last two meetings, including in an exhibition game in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. NBA veteran Patty Mills morphs into an NBA Jam player with the ball on fire during international games, and the roster has plenty of talent with Joe Ingles, Matisse Thybulle, Aron Baynes, Dante Exum, and former NBA guard Matthew Dellavedova. These guys have played together as a core for years and work well off each other, and the team plays a smart game. It’s a good bet they medal, and if Team USA stumbles this is the team that could be golden.

Spain

The golden generation of Spanish basketball has gotten old — Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, and Sergio Llull are all in their mid-30s, the young guy is Ricky Rubio at 30 — but they won the World Cup in 2019, and no team has pushed team USA harder on the international stage. The USA overwhelmed Spain in a Las Vegas exhibition, but this is a team that is more than the sum of its parts and can beat an unfocused American squad or just about anybody else in this tournament.

Slovenia

Any team led by Luka Doncic on it is a threat (he is the one guy outside Durant and Lillard who could stake a claim as the best player at the Tokyo Games). Around him is a solid roster that includes Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar and Zoran Dragic, Goran’s brother. Doncic posted a triple-double against Lithuania to qualify Slovenia for the games, and if he is hot in a short tournament the Slovenians can hang with anybody.

Teams who can get hot and win a medal

France

They knocked the USA out of the World Cup in 2019, and they have a deep roster led by three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (who can be even more physical and a force in the international game). Also on the roster is Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, Frank Ntlikina, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Vincent Poirier. Their defense will be good, the team has played together for years, and if the shots fall they are absolutely a medal threat.

Nigeria

They upset Team USA in Las Vegas, and this team has plenty of NBA talent on the roster: Josh Okogie, Gabe Vincent, Precious Achiuwa, KZ Okpala, Jahlil Okafor, Chimezie Metu, Ekpe Udoh, and more. They may not be stars, but this team is deep with quality talent that plays well together, and NBA veteran Mike Brown coaches them. After beating the Americans, the Nigerians looked much less impressive in other Las Vegas exhibitions, but this team could get on a run and be a medal threat. They need to beat Italy in the group stage to advance.

Italy

They won a qualifying tournament to get to Tokyo and then added Danilo Gallinari to the roster, giving them a new top scorer. They also have Nicolo Melli on the roster. This team is loaded with quality international players who could be a threat, but it will be tough to get out of a group with Australia and Nigeria.

Feisty teams not lasting long

Germany

With free agent to be Dennis Schroder staying home, the Germans are led by Mo Wagner and Isaac Bonga. This is a tall team that is not a pushover, but they lack the top-end athletes and backcourt to be a real threat.

Argentina

The golden generation has aged out, except for Luis Scola, who is this team’s best player at age 41. They also have Denvers’ Facundo Campazzo, but this team showed in Las Vegas it was a step behind the medal teams like the USA and Spain.

Czech Republic

Tomas Satoransky was brilliant in the qualifying tournaments and led the Czech Republic to an upset of Canada to reach the tournament. This is a team of solid, professional international players, but it will be tough to beat France (or the USA) to get out of Group A.

Teams that should make sure to enjoy Japan during their short stay

Japan

The hosts have a hero in the Wizards’ Rui Hachimura, who is a huge star in his native country. Japan also has Yuta Watanabe on the roster, but they don’t have the depth of talent to hang in this tournament (although they did upset France in a warm-up exhibition game, so maybe this ranking is too low).

Iran

They were the top team from Asia at the World Cup, so they qualified for the Olympics, but that was a pretty low bar. Former NBA player Hamed Haddadi, now 36, is on the roster, as is former Seton Hall player Aaron Geramipoor, but this team will have trouble keeping games close in group play (they are in Group A with the USA, France, and the Czech Republic).

Curry drains 7 3-pointers, Nets start homestand with win over Blazers

0 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 31 points, Seth Curry added a season-high 29 off the bench and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 111-94 on Sunday.

Curry was 7 for 10 on 3-pointers and had his highest point total with the Nets and the most by a Brooklyn reserve this season.

“I’ve always felt like if I get good shots I’m going to make them at a high clip,” Curry said. “Our offense was flowing pretty well. Guys found me open early on to start the game and I felt pretty good, aggressive.”

Kyrie Irving added 22 points for the Nets. Ben Simmons took just three shots but had 12 rebounds and eight assists.

“Ben did a great job of getting downhill,” Curry said. “He’s a great passer (and) he knows how to find me out there on the floor.”

Jerami Grant scored 29 points for Portland. Jusuf Nurkic had 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Anfernee Simons added 15 points and Justice Winslow had 14.

The Nets have won four of their last six games, while the Trail Blazers, who are playing without Damian Lillard, have dropped five of six.

“Tough little stretch that we’re in right now,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “It is what it is. Every team goes through it.”

Brooklyn made 52.6% of its shots from the field overall, and 42.9% from 3-point range, in the second matchup between the teams in 10 days.

“It’s a make-or-miss league,” Durant said. “It’s about baskets.”

With the Nets leading by four entering the fourth, Curry scored Brooklyn’s first eight points of the quarter. Royce O'Neale‘s free throw gave the Nets a 93-87 lead and following a Portland turnover, Curry made a 3 that extended the advantage to nine.

Nurkic sandwiched a hook shot and free throw around two free throws by Irving to cut Brooklyn’s lead to 98-90. However, after a timeout, Durant hit a 3 to push the lead to 101-90.

Brooklyn led 58-57 at halftime, and 84-80 after the third quarter.

T.J. Warren targets Dec. 2 for return to court for Brooklyn Nets

2022-2023 Brooklyn Nets Media Day
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

T.J. Warren was a breakout star in the bubble, averaging 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers.

Warren has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

The Nets signed him this season hoping he could get healthy and provide some depth off the bench at the four. We’re about to find out if that can happen on Dec. 2, with Warren targeting his return then Toronto, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Nets have not confirmed this timeline. However, coach Jacque Vaughn has recently talked up Warren’s workouts and hinted that a return is getting close.

A healthy Warren could be a big boost for a Nets team looking for more of a spark off the bench.

 

LeBron becomes oldest player with 39 points, 11 boards, seven 3-pointers (he’s also the youngest)

0 Comments

The first question after LeBron James put up 21 and 8 to help the Lakers beat the Spurs Friday night was whether he would play in the back-to-back Saturday. He had just missed five games with a groin strain, after all.

Not only did LeBron play Saturday, he had a historic night.

LeBron had 39 points, 11 rebounds, and shot 7-of-12 from 3 — making him the oldest player in the history of the NBA with a 35+, 10+ with seven 3-pointer game.

The youngest player ever to put up that stat line? Also one LeBron James.

The 39 points were also the second most points ever scored by a player in his 20th NBA season, trailing only Kobe Bryant gunning his way to 60 in his final game.

The Lakers got the second straight win over the Spurs on Saturday behind LeBron, 143-138, a game more likely to be remembered for Zach Collins getting ejected for a foul that left Russell Westbrook bloody. The Lakers have won three straight and 5-of-6 but have done it against a very soft part of the schedule (three of the wins were over the tanking Spurs). Los Angeles beat the teams in front of it and started to show signs of life this season, but now they have to carry that over into a stretch against better teams, beginning Monday against the Pacers.

Watch Deandre Ayton put up 29 points, 21 rebounds, lead Suns past Jazz 113-112

0 Comments

PHOENIX — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.

On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Ayton notched season highs with 29 points and 21 rebounds, Devin Booker added 27 points and the Phoenix Suns held on for a hard-fought 113-112 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton’s scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.

“I don’t know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. “I should have been over there.”

Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker’s miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.

“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s just good to see the work pay off. It’s good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.

“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”

Curiously, the Jazz didn’t foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn’t unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.

“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.

Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.

Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.

“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You’ve got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity – learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”

The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz. Collin Sexton added 20 while Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.