USA draws Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico for Basketball World Cup qualifying

2019 FIBA World Cup - Serbia v USA
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USA Basketball will face Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba in the first round of qualifying for the 2023 Basketball World Cup.

The Americans, who won a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal in Tokyo but finished only seventh at the most recent Basketball World Cup two years ago, found out their qualifying opponents Tuesday when the draw was held at FIBA headquarters in Mies, Switzerland.

It will also be the first major tournament for USA Basketball with Grant Hill as managing director. Hill is succeeding Jerry Colangelo in that role. Colangelo oversaw each of the last four Olympics for the U.S., helping assemble teams that won gold medals each time.

The U.S. has won the World Cup five times, most recently in 2014.

There are 80 teams in the qualifying rounds. It begins with a double round-robin; all teams in the various groups for the first round will play the other three teams in their group twice. First-round games will be played during three different windows — Nov. 20-30, Feb. 21-March 1 and June 27-July 5.

Second-round games begin in August 2022 and run through February 2023. The next World Cup — to be hosted by the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia — takes place from Aug. 25 through Sept. 10, 2023.

Defending World Cup champion Spain, trying to become one of the 12 European qualifiers for the tournament, opens with games against Ukraine, Georgia and North Macedonia in the opening round.

As hosts, the Philippines and Japan are already in the 32-team World Cup field. The other 30 spots will be decided through qualifying. Indonesia does not get an automatic spot as a host country.

AMERICAS REGION

The region has 16 teams in qualifying, in four different four-team first-round groups, with 12 of those nations making the second round. From there, the field will be pared to the seven World Cup qualifiers; the first-, second- and third-place finisher in both second-round groups will make the World Cup, along with the best fourth-place team.

In Group A, Argentina — which, barring a change of his mind, will be without Luis Scola for a major international tournament for the first time in more than two decades — faces Venezuela, Panama and Paraguay in the first round.

Group B includes Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia and Chile. Group C has Canada, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Bahamas. And in Group D, it’s the U.S., Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba.

EUROPE REGION

The same qualifying rules apply in Europe, with four-team groups assembled for the first round. But the field is double the size of other regions, with 32 teams playing for what will become 12 World Cup spots.

As in the other regions, the top three finishers in each first-round group will advance to the second round, which in Europe’s case will trim the 32 teams down to 24. Those 24 nations will be placed in one of four six-team second-round groups, and the top three finishers in each of those groups will make the World Cup.

In Group A, Serbia, Latvia, Belgium and Slovakia will play. Group B has Greece, Turkey, Britain and Belarus. Group C has Olympic semifinalist Slovenia along with Croatia, Finland, Sweden. In Group D, it’ll be Germany, Poland, Israel and Estonia.

Group E is led by Olympic silver medalist France, which will meet Montenegro, Hungary and Portugal. Group F has Lithuania, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Group G is the Spain-Ukraine-Georgia-North Macedonia group, and Group H will see Italy, Russia, the Netherlands and Iceland facing off.

AFRICA REGION

There are 16 teams vying for what will be five World Cup spots. They were broken down into four four-team groups for the first round, and the top three finishers in those groups will move on to the second round.

Group A has Nigeria, Mali, Uganda and Cape Verde. In Group B, it’s Tunisia, Cameroon, South Sudan and Rwanda. Group C has Angola, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic and Guinea. And in Group D, it’s Senegal, Egypt, Congo and Kenya.

ASIA REGION

Another 16 teams are still in the mix for eight World Cup spots, with the Philippines and Japan — as host nations — already securing two of those, but they will also take part in the qualifying anyway. The third World Cup host, Indonesia, must still qualify for the World Cup and did not get an automatic entry.

The top three teams from each first-round group move into the second round. Once there, the top three teams will make the World Cup, with the Philippines and Japan excluded from that count.

In Group A, it’ll be New Zealand, South Korea, the Philippines and India. Group B — which shapes up as one of the most competitive first-round groups in the entire qualifying tournament — features Olympic bronze medalist Australia, China, Japan and Taiwan. Group C has Jordan, Lebanon, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. In Group D, it’s Iran, Kazakhstan, Syria and Bahrain.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.