Archives For August 2010

USA's Derrick Rose shoots during his team's FIBA Basketball World Championship game against Croatia in Istanbul August 28, 2010.   REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT SPORT BASKETBALL)

After Team USA’s recent win over Brazil, it was hard to remain optimistic about their chances to bring home the gold. The Brazilians were able to expose Team USA during long stretches on both sides of the basketball before dropping a game for the first time in these FIBA World Championships.

Both teams got out to hot starts with Team USA scoring 18 points on 12 possessions in the first 6:40 and Brazil scoring 17 points on 13 possessions in the same time. We expected the US National team to be this efficient on the offensive end with their athleticism, but they’ve been winning their games because of their defensive prowess, and haven’t allowed opposing offenses to be as efficient as the Brazilians were on the whole first quarter and the better part of the second half. The Brazilians – namely Marcelo Huertas – lived in the paint in the first half. Brazil’s first five field goal attempts, all good, were in the paint. Their sixth field goal attempt was a wide-open three pointer after a penetration and kick out. Their next six field goal attempts after the three-pointer were in the paint. Of Brazil’s first 12 field goal attempts, 11 were in the paint, and one made three-pointer because the point guard got in the paint. To end the first quarter, Brazil hit three straight three pointers and Tiago Splitter was found for a wide-open dunk.

Brazil was able to pick Team USA apart for most of the first half, scoring 46 points on 43 possessions, giving them an offensive efficiency rating of 106.97 for the half. Brazil ran a plethora of screen and roll sets and back screens off of the ball, allowing Huertas to run amok the American defense, living in the paint and finishing with six points and five assists in the first half. Huertas’ propensity to get into the paint at will didn’t just propel their offense, but it helped slow down Team USA’s offense. The Brazilians certainly didn’t score on every possession, but a lot of their misses came in the paint, reducing the amount of long rebounds that get Team USA in their coveted transition game. When Brazil did take shots behind the arch, they hit them at a 63 percent clip. Team USA had to play a large portion of the game in the half court.

While Team USA did have some very good stretches of offensive basketball (a 150 Ortg for the starters in the first quarter), they struggled mightily in the second half. Team USA was able to stymie the Brazilian offense by trapping hard on their high screen and roll sets, but weren’t really able to put a good offensive stretch in the second half. Of their 42 second half possessions, 11 ended in turnovers and nine more ended in missed shots around the rim, 20 wasted possessions. Team USA had ball movement problems, recording only eight assists for the game (compared to 15 for Brazil). Kevin Durant was able to score effectively, but the rest of the team struggled for most of the second half – especially the second unit. With at least two reserves on the floor, Team USA had an offensive efficiency rating of 76.92 compared to an offensive efficiency rating of 100 when at least four starters were on the floor (these number aren’t counting an absolutely awful fourth quarter for both teams, which forced me to tweet, “4th Q numbers: 18 pts, 9TOs, 9 missed layups/tips, 10 missed 3s and 10 minutes of Lamar Odom looking lost” – and yes, those were the numbers for both teams combined).

What the Brazil game taught us is that Team USA can be beat by their opponent repeatedly getting into the lane, limiting their time in transition, and shooting a high clip from behind the arch. Brazil played Team USA perfectly in the first half, and went into the break with a 46-43 lead. And as bad as they played in the second half, they were able to turn Team USA over enough to finish the game only one possession away from a victory. The US National team is going to have to move the ball much better than they did against Brazil. There were too many possessions where shots were taken off of one or fewer passes. Also, Team USA’s second unit leaves much to be desired. Russell Westbrook has had shaky confidence entering games, and has had to gain that confidence as the game progressed. Turnover problems start with the point guard, and if Westbrook can’t hold onto the ball, it’s going to continue to be rough for Team USA to keep their play consistent for 40 minutes – which they’re going to need to do when the Worlds begin the elimination rounds. Team USA has today off, but plays again Wednesday against Iran.

Brazil's Tyson Chandler (R) drives past USA's Lamar Odom in the first quarter during their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Istanbul, August 30, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

From Broderick Turner, LA Times: If you are a Lakers fan and you happened to catch USA defeat Brazil, 70-68, Monday in Istanbul in the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) World Championship, you had to see Lamar Odom do what he does best. Odom was so bad one moment and then so good the next moment. It is something Lakers fans have come to expect from Odom. He finished with eight points on four-for-10 shooting, nine rebounds, one assist, one steal and three turnovers in helping USA to a 3-0 record in Group B competition. But it was his play late in the game that was typical Odom.

From Mike Truddell, Basket Blog: On Monday, August 23, Kobe Bryant turned 32 years old. In the last 14 of those years, the Lakers’ 6-6 guard has shot, driven and dunked his way to 12th on the NBA’s all-time leading scoring list. That’s certainly an impressive enough feat, but when Bryant turns 33 next year, he may very well have vaulted all the way up to sixth on the ledger simply by producing at or even below his usual – if remarkable – rate. Let’s take a look at how Bryant has put himself in a position to get there: First, rewind the clock by two years, prior to the 2008-09 campaign, when Bryant was 26th on the scoring charts with 21,619 points behind a career average of around 25 points per game, plus an ability to avoid or play through injuries. Kobe was perched (or waiting to strike, rather) just behind Larry Bird (21,791), Gary Payton (21,813) and Clyde Drexler (22,195). During that season he jumped all three, and then splashed nets past Elgin Baylor (23,149), Adrian Dantley (23,177), Robert Parish (23,334) and Charles Barkley (23,757).

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: More than any Laker, Derek Fisher proves beauty remains in the eye of the beholder… and beholders tend to view things through a lens of extremity.  To some, Fisher is feisty, wise and virtuous — a local treasure who knocks down big shots with a frequency surpassed by only Kobe Bryant during his second tour with the Lakers. To others, he’s well past his prime, and sentiment helps fuel his popularity. To them, Fish gets used defensively by every point guard in the league, and clutch as he may be, the old man bricks more than his share of ho-hum shots.

From David Dwork, Peninsula Is Mightier: Something that we should all be expecting and even accepting as a certainty is that there is going to be a ton of Heat-bashing as we get closer to training camp.  This is something that is going to be coming from all angles, regardless of the source.  As basketball becomes relevant again there are going to be more and more stories finding things wrong with the Heat, their roster and the way they went about making that roster. Friday afternoon on ESPN’s ‘Jim Rome is Burning’, a pair of Los Angeles Lakers got the chance to take over the show.  Derek Fisher sat down and interviewed his teammate Kobe Bryant on a bevy of topics, and I bet you can guess what came up pretty quickly.

From Chris Tomasson, NBA Fanhouse: As Brazil’s Leandro Barbosa walked by after Monday’s game, Team USA’s Chauncey Billups patted him on the back and said, “See you next week.” After getting a scare in their first test in the World Championship, the Americans wouldn’t be surprised if they run into Brazil in the medal round. “I think so. I really do,” Billups said of anticipating Brazil will get another crack at Team USA, which escaped with a narrow 70-68 victory at Abdi Ipekci Arena.

From Rob Mahoney, Pro Basketball Talk: Team USA is filled with hyper-athletic and versatile players, but the squad’s greatest strength is not its speed, its leaping ability, or the varied skill sets of its players. Above all else, the Americans’ greatest asset is their depth. While a team like Spain may have as many as eight NBA-caliber players, the American squad is loaded with NBA talent at every position. Even without the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, et al on the roster, Team USA has more talent from top to bottom than any other squad in the tournament. Yet thus far, in games against Team USA’s most skilled opponents, Mike Krzyzewski has turned to a top-heavy rotation heavily dependent on its starters. It’s an understandable tactic for most NBA and NCAA teams, but given how talented this roster is? And more importantly, how roughly congruent every non-Durant talent on the roster happens to be? It’s ludicrous.

From 48 Minutes of Hell: Fair or not, San Antonio Spurs fans have been awaiting the arrival of Tiago Splitter since the team first drafted Luis Scola. Since 2002 (the year Scola was drafted) each FIBA tournament has served as a tease of sorts for Spurs faithful. And with each passing tournament the concept of foreign big man savior grew in its myth. Brazil’s narrow 68-70 loss to Team USA offered a bit of nostalgia for Spurs fans tuning in to see their prized big man. There again were the beautiful offensive sets of Brazilian head coach Ruben Magnano (formerly of Argentina) running roughshod at times through the USA defense. Splitter, however, is not Luis Scola. For one, he is already under contract with the Spurs.  And with the will-he-or-won’t-he-come speculation long since over, today’s game  finally removed some of the mystery surrounding the Brazilian big man.

From Gregg Doyel, CBS Sports: Lamar Odom missed two point-blank layups, which is what he does. Chauncey Billups made like Allen Iverson and shot every time he touched the ball, which he doesn’t do. This was the fourth quarter of the United States’ game Monday against Brazil in group play of the FIBA World Championships, and there I was, growling at the television. There I was — furious. Furious at Odom for being the same knucklehead for the USA in Turkey that he is for the Lakers in Los Angeles. Furious at Billups, on the team for his veteran leadership, jacking up shot after shot while one of the most talented pure scorers in the world, teammate Kevin Durant, went ignored on the wing. Furious at Andre Iguodala for saving the ball under the rim to the other team for an easy Brazil basket. Furious at U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski for playing these numbskulls.

From Brian Mahoney, Yahoo! Sports: Derrick Rose thought it was going in. So did Leandro Barbosa, who shot it. Instead, Brazil’s attempt to tie at the buzzer fell out, and the United States remained unbeaten, though no longer unchallenged. A world championship won’t come easily for this young team—if it comes at all—so the Americans believe their 70-68 victory over Brazil on Monday will help them in the later rounds. “Sometimes family that goes through adversity gets a little better,” center Lamar Odom said. “It’s a game we probably needed. Probably a good tuneup, especially going into the medal rounds, trying to finish up this tournament.”

From John Schuhmann, At the Abdi Ipekci Arena on Monday, Brazil confirmed the thought that it would be the U.S. National Team’s toughest competition in pool play at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. The U.S. confirmed as well that the road to gold would not be an easy one, despite their exhibition play success. Flaws were exposed. Lessons were learned. Character was tested. And when Leandro Barbosa’s spinning attempt under the basket bounced off the rim at the buzzer, the U.S. had escaped with a 70-68 victory. With pool play games against Iran and Tunisia left, the Americans have essentially wrapped up the top spot in Group B and a top seed in the 16-team, single-elimination tournament that begins Saturday.

From David Friedman, 20 Second Timeout: The FIBA World Championship begins on August 28. This competition rarely receives much publicity in the United States but for many basketball-minded nations it is very important, equal to–if not even greater than–the Olympics in terms of prestige; American kids who play basketball dream of winning an NBA championship but kids in other countries dream of leading their homeland to the FIBA World Championship title. The significance of this year’s FIBA World Championship for Team USA is that the winner receives an automatic bid for the 2012 Olympics (Team USA captured the 2008 Olympic gold medal but the previous Olympic champion is not guaranteed a spot in the next Olympic games); if Team USA does not win the FIBA World Championship then the United States will have to qualify for the Olympics by playing in the 2011 FIBA Americas tournament and that could be a dicey proposition if the NBA endures a strike/lockout: during the 1998 lockout, the U.S. fielded a team of non-NBA players that worked very hard but only managed to win a bronze medal in the 1998 FIBA World Championship (after the lockout ended, Gary Payton, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Tim Hardaway led Team USA to a 10-0 sweep in the 1999 FIBA Americas Tournament to qualify for the 2000 Olympics).

From Jenny Carlson, If you want to know how big a star Kevin Durant has become, search his name on Twitter. The Thunder swingman had the Internet’s popular social-networking site buzzing after he led Team USA to another victory at the FIBA World Championships. He’d scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He’d almost single-handedly held off Brazil’s upset bid. Durant was being talked about not only by folks from across the United States but also by people from around the world. There were 140-character comments in Spanish, Turkish, Italian and Portuguese.

Jan. 22, 2010 - New York, China - (100123) -- NEW YORK, Jan. 23, 2010 (Xinhua) -- Kobe Bryant (R) of Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball during the NBA basketball game against New York Knicks in New York, the United States, Jan. 22, 2010. Lakers won 115-105.. (Xinhua/Shen Hong.

In this post, we continue our look at Kobe Bryant and how his commitment to fundamentals has helped make him the player that he is today.

In our previous posts, we’ve discussed how Kobe’s use of fundamentals help shape his game and greatly contribute to his offensive success.  We’ve shown how footwork plays a major role in his ability to create space and shots.  And we’ve also shown how Kobe creates scoring opportunities by building one move off of another and basing it all off his ability to shoot his jumper from the outside.  In our latest installment, we show the next progression of creating shots by combining the threat of his jumper, tremendous footwork, and innovation.

I think we can all agree that Kobe is one of the most tactical basketball players around.  We’ve all heard the story of Kobe picking up Tim Duncan’s bank shot while practicing during with the Spurs’ big man during the 2004 All-Star weekend or how he spent last summer with Hakeem learning some of the Dream’s epic post moves.  So, thinking and playing in a tactical manner is nothing new for #24 as he’s always looking to add to his game and if you’re going to steal you do it from the best.  However, one aspect of Kobe’s game that has helped him reach the pinnacle of the sport is his innovation; his ability to think outside of the box and dream up moves that he can turn into real life actions on the court.

And I don’t think any move that we’ve seen Kobe make exemplifies this more than his pump-fake/reverse pivot move that he’s adopted in recent years.  In the video below, Kobe walks us through this move and shows us all exactly how to execute it.

There are two points that I take from Kobe’s explanation in the above clip.  First is how he’s able to find ways to counteract even the best defenders’ adjustments.  Kobe speaks about how some defenders have found ways to contest shots by not leaving their feet and instead body him in order to stop him from stepping through the defender in a typical manner.  However as Kobe shows in the clip, he’s now found a way to still get by that defender (without a dribble, mind you) by pivoting away from the defender and still creating space.  The second thing that sticks out to me is that Kobe’s always (at least partially) focusing on the second defender.  We’ve mentioned this before, but you don’t become an elite scorer in the NBA if you aren’t able to beat the second level of the defense.  Whether it’s a perimeter player like Kobe or a post player like Gasol, beating the second defender is crucial to offensive success and Kobe shows us again that this is never really off his mind.

What’s most impressive about this move, though, is how Kobe is able to find counters almost instantly and escape what could be considered a vulnerable offensive position and turn it into a viable scoring chance.  You can’t really tell in the clip because Kobe’s going about half speed and the entire clip is set up in a way where the movement is accentuated to make a point, but when you see this move live it’s quite impressive because the entire thing happens in a matter of seconds.  In the clip below, you see how Kobe was able to execute this move against the Knicks on the night that he went for 61 in Madison Square Garden.

And in the clip below, you can see that even against a bigger defender (Kenyon Martin, in this case) Kobe is able to create enough space to generate a good look at the hoop while concentrating through the slight body bump that Martin delivers when he tries to contest the shot.

Again, this move is great because it builds on the rest of Kobe’s arsenal.  Every defender knows that even at his advanced age that Kobe has a good enough first step to drive.  Defenders also know that Kobe is one of the best jump shooters in the league – especially off the dribble.  So Kobe now has established that he can drive effectively and shoot in both spot up and off the dribble situations, essentially leaving the defense in a very difficult position.  However, even when bottled up, Kobe has developed enough counters to escape and create good looks for himself or his teammates.

June 17, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02208476 Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (R) holds up the MVP trophy as teammate Derek Fisher holds up the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after defeating the Boston Celtics in game seven of the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 17 June 2010. The Lakers defeated the Celtics 83-79 to win their 16th championships.

From Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel: Amid all this Miami Heat chatter, why exactly isn’t anyone talking about the Los Angeles Lakers flirting with history? Phil Jackson’s team, after all, plays in the Western Conference. And he already has coached one 72-win team. No, this is not a bandwagon of choice, at least not this offseason, what with LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade in South Florida. But the West simply isn’t what it used to be. And now the Denver Nuggets appear to be in fire-sale mode with Carmelo Anthony, which also could mean a selloff of Chauncey Billups. Each could be headed East.

From Chris Tomasson, NBA Fanhouse: Team USA gets its first real test Monday. But it might not be as much of one as originally thought. A week after losing NBA big man Nene for the World Championship due to a leg injury, Brazil officials don’t know yet whether they will have another NBA big man available in Anderson Varejao, who suffered a sprained ankle in an Aug. 18 exhibition game. He has missed the first two games of the Worlds. “I don’t know if I’m going to play,” Varejao told FanHouse on Sunday. “But I am feeling better, though.” The Cleveland big man could be pivotal to Brazil’s chances of pulling an upset in the game that almost certainly will decide Group B. The teams are tied for first at 2-0. “It is very important,” Brazil center Tiago Splitter, who recently signed with San Antonio, said of having Varejao in an attempt to defeat the Americans. “I think Anderson is a guy who knows them very well. He is extra energy on the court, and we hope he’s OK and he can play.”

From Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: The FIBA World Championships started on Saturday, and one of the major themes from the first day of games was the importance of post position for offensive players.  There were two performances that illustrated this point very well.  They were Ante Tomic’s game against the United States and Yi’s game against Greece. Good Position Before The Catch Getting good position in the post before the catch makes everything easier for the player posting his man up.  Getting closer to the basket before even getting the ball, limits the amount of moves a post player needs to make.  Also, it allows for an easier attempt because the post player is closer to the basket.

From Dime Magazine: Derek Fisher was the fill-in host on Jim Rome’s ESPN talk show yesterday. (This is why guys want to play in places like L.A. and New York. Sure, the network could’ve flown in a personality like Mo Williams or Aaron Brooks, but Fisher is right down the street.) Among the studio guests for 1-on-1 interviews with Fish were Brandon Jennings and Kobe Bryant. While Jennings used the spot as ad space for his new Under Armour kicks, Kobe talked about championships and legacies … Kind of funny to see Fisher all suited and booted while Kobe was rocking shorts and a track jacket. Kobe said Doc Rivers‘ recent comment that Boston’s starting five hadn’t yet lost a series to L.A.’s starting five was “wrong” and “not accurate” because in the ‘08 Finals, L.A. didn’t have Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza. Kobe said he’s happy for LeBron because LeBron seems happy with his decision.

From Basketbawful: For the last year or so, I’ve been promising to make a list of the worst (read that: least deserving) NBA champions. That list begins today, and it starts with the 2000s. Which leads us to Mr. Glen Rice. Rice was a three-time All-Star who made two All-NBA Teams (the Second Team in 1996-97 and the Third Team in 1997-98) and actually finished fifth in MVP voting in 1997 (behind Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Grant Hill and Tim Hardaway). And the dude could flat out shoot. During his 15-year career, Rice hit 40 percent of his threes (which ranks 27th in league history) and he led the league in three-point percentage in 1996-97 (47 percent). It’s no wonder Jerry West thought Rice was the final piece of the championship puzzle for his Los Angeles Lakers, who already featured the best big man in the game (Shaq) and the best up-and-coming two guard (Kobe Bryant). West figured that Rice’s outside shooting would be the perfect compliment to Shaq’s inside play and Bryant’s cutting/slashing/attack-the-basket game.

From Greg Steele, Wages of Wins: Last year the Houston Rockets went 42-40, finishing in the unenviable position of being the final team to pick in the lottery section of the draft (and playing well enough to be the best team not to make the playoffs). Their absence from the playoffs was primarily due to the loss of Yao Ming to injury, which prevented him from playing a single minute during the season. The Ming story, though, was not the only interesting story-line in Houston.  The Rockets also made a splash by completing a three-team trade with Sacramento and New York, dumping the expiring contract of oft-injured shooting guard Tracy McGrady. In what follows, I will offer what I hope to be a conservative estimate of how the Rockets should perform next season, based mostly on their performance last season and their recent injury history.  This review will examine each position on the team, listing not only the players I think the team will employ, but also the number of wins each position can be expected to produce.

From Pete Thamel, NY Times: Mike Krzyzewski joked on Sunday that as a younger coach he might have thrown a chair in the locker room at halftime of the United States’ game against Slovenia. The Americans bumbled through nearly seven minutes of the second quarter without a field goal, giving the heavily pro-Slovenia crowd — like a chanting, green version of the one at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium — a dollop of hope. In the end, the United States pulled away and won its second game of pool play easily, 99-77, behind 22 points by Kevin Durant. There were no chairs thrown at the Abdi Ipekçi Arena, but Krzyzewski asked a Turkish reporter, “Do you know my reputation?”

USA team pose for a photograph before their FIBA Basketball World Championship game against Croatia in Istanbul August 28, 2010.   REUTERS/Murad Sezer (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT SPORT BASKETBALL)

Team USA has looked very good in their two games against Croatia and Slovenia thus far. Below are a few links on Team USA’s performance up to this point and a little on the rest of the competition.

From Matt Haubs, The Painted Area: Um, so, yeah, about that pick of Spain to win the gold medal…. Just one day into the 2010 FIBA World Championship, the landscape looks mighty different as the United States efficiently dismantled a decent Croatia team 106-78, while Spain was shocked 72-66 by a French squad which was assumed to be merely decent as well. It may sound funny, but to me, the most impressive thing about the United States’ performance was that they forced only 12 Croatia turnovers and scored just 19 fast-break points. This wasn’t a game in which the U.S. overwhelmed the opponent by running them out of the building – performances which we’ve frequently seen vs. lesser opponents, and which can be difficult to sustain against better teams (as Kevin Pelton astutely pointed out on Basketball Prospectus).

From Mookie, A Stern Warning: The World Championships are pumping along just nicely, with the second day of action now under way. Day one in Kayseri saw a mixed bag of results. Firstly the Aussies gave their fans near heart-attacks with their last gasp win over lowly-ranked Jordan. Andrew Vlahov was in the stands to cheer the Boomers on. Defence was the main deficiency for the Aussies as they let the Jordanians waltz in for numerous uncontested baskets. The only Aussie performances of note came from David Andersen and Aleks Maric. In fact, Maric’s performance was so dominant that I had German girls in my hotel asking what NBA team he played for. He was the cog inside that the boomers definitely needed with Andrew Bogut’s absence. Meanwhile, Patty Mills didn’t show enough on either end to justify my usual man-love for him.

From Chris Tomasson, NBA Fanhouse: Not that he’s a candidate yet to replace Phil Jackson, but Lamar Odom let it be known Friday what he hopes one day to do. “That’s why I’ll be a great coach,” said the Lakers and Team USA stalwart about what his versatility will mean when his playing days are over. Odom, you see, has played every position on the basketball court, a claim not many can make. So perhaps it’s no surprise Odom, who is mostly a power forward during his day job with the Lakers, has emerged as the starting center for the Americans, who open the FIBA World Championship here Saturday against Croatia.

From Chris Tomasson, NBA Fanhouse: There’s a debate between Stephen Curry and Eric Gordon as to who is the best shooter on Team USA. The only thing they can agree upon is if they played H-O-R-S-E, it would last a very long time. “I got to say I am (the better shooter), and he’s going to say he is,” said Curry, a Golden State guard. “Of course, I think I’d like to be at the end of the day (the better shooter),” said Gordon, a Clippers guard. One could spend many a fortnight debating the subject. But let’s put it this way: On Saturday, Gordon definitely was the superior marksman. Gordon scored a team-high 16 points, including shooting 4-of-6 from three-point range, as the Americans defeated Croatia 106-78 at Abdi Ipekci Arena in their 2010 FIBA World Championship opener.

From Chris Tomasson, NBA Fanhouse: The NBA scoring champion was acting as if he wanted to be an assists leader. But that’s not Kevin Durant‘s game. So after a practice 2 ½ weeks ago during a training camp in New York, Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski pulled over his star forward. “In practice, I was passing too much, passing up open shots and trying to find an open man,” Durant recalled. “Coach pulled me to the side and just told me to be who I am, score the basketball. That’s one of my greatest attributes, as a scorer, and he just told me to go out there and play like I play in Oklahoma City. Be aggressive and also find the open man as well.”

From Brian Mahoney, Playing a rare early game, the United States had stalled after a quick start, and a double-digit lead was down to five as halftime approached. Then, every time the Americans needed them, Kevin Durant seemed to get on the scoreboard and Kevin Love was on the backboard. Durant scored 22 points, Love added 10 points and 11 rebounds in a gritty 13 minutes off the bench, and the Americans beat Slovenia 99-77 on Sunday in an opening-round game. “They did a great job of fighting, getting stops and making plays, and we know that we can’t go out here and blow every team out,” Durant said. “We had to make this a grind game and we did that, and a good job of keeping our composure.”

From Matt Lawyue, SLAM Online: So that was easy. Yesterday’s demolishing of Croatia (106-78) sent a loud message throughout the basketball universe (particularly contrasting against Spain’s unexpected loss) that Team USA should not be underestimated. Despite all the chatter about being too small, too young and too inexperienced, the American’s put on a well-rounded offensive display. Overall they shot 55.4 percent from the field, while going 12-30 beyond the arc. After a tight first quarter, where the Croatian’s pounded the ball inside for close buckets, Kevin Durant lead the charge in the second quarter where USA outscored Croatia 26-6. “I think we did a great job of talking in the second quarter,” Durant says. “Guys put pressure on the defense. It was a great team win. If you look at the scoreboard, everybody had a bucket, everybody contributed. It was a good win for us.”

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  August 28, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (R) holds the MVP trophy as Derek Fisher holds the Larry O'Brien championship trophy after the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Los Angeles, California June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

We kick off the first day of the FIBA World Championships with some fast break thoughts.

*Competitive basketball (where teams are actually trying to win something meaningful) returns today with the start of the FIBA World Championships in Turkey.  There are loads of good previews for this tourney all over the web so if you’re looking for the skinny on each of the teams, you don’t have to go searching too hard.  Over at Pro Basketball Talk, there’s a good preview of Team USA’s group and if you visit the NBA Facts and Rumors blog at CBS sports, you’ll find a comprehensive preview of the entire tourney that includes non NBA players to watch and sleeper teams.

*And speaking of the Worlds, if you’re looking for some insight into Team USA’s opponent today, go read Chris Sheridan’s post at TrueHoop where he gets a brief breakdown from Tony Ronzone on the former European power. (h/t to Kurt at PBT)

*One last point on the Worlds – most hoops junkies are interested in this event because it’s real basketball after a summer of free agency, trades, and talks of next year’s looming CBA negotiations.  Or, there’s always the patriotic angle where nationalism rules and you root for your home country (whatever country that may be).  But, this event is also where your favorite team may have a player or two on the squad and you want to see how those guys perform.  On that note, Rob Mahoney has a very good read on where the Worlds and OKC intersect that is worth your time.  And from a Lakers’ perspective, I know I’ll be watching Lamar Odom quite closely.  As I’ve said before, I think his game is built for FIBA as his versatility from the front court allows him to do whatever the team needs on both offense and defense.  Over at FanHouse, a closer look is taken at LO and how playing some Center for the U.S. team is just another thing that the do it all big man is taking on.

*In case you didn’t know, yesterday Derek Fisher filled in as host for Jim Rome on his t.v. show “Rome is Burning”.  Fish was his normal classy and dapper self and handled himself well, I thought.  Fish interviewed Bucks PG Brandon Jennings, got in some basketball talk with former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley, and spoke to some guy named “Kobe” for over 8 and a half minutes (way to hog the camera time #24).  Some interesting quotes came out of that interview (we’ll get to those in a minute), but for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking that even though Kobe had his guard down speaking to one of his closest friends and teammates, he’s still very media savvy and knows that whatever he says (even when speaking to a friend in a joking environment) can get framed and twisted in churn of media regurgitation.

However, Kobe did say some interesting things nonetheless.  His most played comment will probably be him comparing the teaming of the Heat’s new triumvirate to my favorite cartoon of all time.  My only question is who is the Blue Lion?  My vote goes to Bosh, but Mike Miller may be a candidate too.  Another interesting thing that Kobe said was that while he can never say never, he’s 99.9% sure that he’ll retire a Laker.  Over at PBT, Matt Moore tells us that it’s actually kind of rare for great players to stay with the same team for their entire career.  And when you think about it, he’s right.  Sure Magic and Bird did. West and Baylor did too.  As did Stockton and the “Admiral” David Robinson.  But who else?

*Finally, in case you did miss Fish grilling Kobe (sorry, I haven’t eaten breakfast yet) here’s the entire interview.  Enjoy.

Friday Chat

Darius Soriano —  August 27, 2010

Jun. 03, 2010 - Los Angeles, CAILFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02186122 Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol of Spain (L) takes a shot over Boston Celtics center Rasheed Wallace (R) during the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers 102-89 win of the NBA Playoffs game one at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA 03 June 2010. The Los Angeles Lakers lead the best of seven series 1-0.

From Erickson Beco, Spanish National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar Pau Gasol has been in the business for quite some time now. He may not be the typical NBA power forward as what characterizes the previous crop of the league’s stars (and largely, maybe, owing to the European brand of play where big men literally play with grace and finesse), but his efficient and effective play is definitely a delightful answer in ever coach’s dream. What is remarkable with the 7-footer Gasol is the continuous development in almost all aspects of his game despite playing alongside one of the sport’s icons today by the name of Kobe Bryant.

Despite logging in with impressive performances for seven seasons at the FedEx Forum, Gasol was a relative unknown, but all that changed with the trade, which was  the biggest move in NBA history until Lebron James’ move to the Heat this year.
Gasol, who was brought in to fill the void left by Shaquille O’ Neal’s move to the Miami
Heat, guided the Lakers to the NBA Finals in 2008 — which they lost to Boston Celtics — and helped them add two more championships, to their already swollen overall tally of 15, in 2009 and 2010.
“That was a very big move for my career,” said the 30-year-old Gasol, who was in Mumbai on Wednesday to conduct an NBA Clinic. “The move got me the championship rings. We worked really hard and it was an amalgamation of a brilliant bunch of things that made us this good,”

From Bangalore, Deccan Herald: Despite logging in with impressive performances for seven seasons at the FedEx Forum, Gasol was a relative unknown, but all that changed with the trade, which was  the biggest move in NBA history until Lebron James’ move to the Heat this year. Gasol, who was brought in to fill the void left by Shaquille O’ Neal’s move to the Miami  Heat, guided the Lakers to the NBA Finals in 2008 — which they lost to Boston Celtics — and helped them add two more championships, to their already swollen overall tally of 15, in 2009 and 2010. “That was a very big move for my career,” said the 30-year-old Gasol, who was in Mumbai on Wednesday to conduct an NBA Clinic. “The move got me the championship rings. We worked really hard and it was an amalgamation of a brilliant bunch of things that made us this good.”

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: Big men don’t get more versatile than this guy. He’s bad at absolutely nothing, and top gear in just about everything. Scores with either hand on either block. Dominates from the high post. Nails cutters, sets screens and finishes off the good or bad pass. He can play defense now, he’s worked his way into becoming a fierce rebounder and his brain is bigger than our brains are. Even with Tim Duncan’s history, his smarts, his ability and his formidable all-around play, there isn’t a power forward in this league that I think can help me win more than Pau Gasol. He just does things too excellently too often to overlook.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: When Artest signed with the Lakers before last season, some were concerned the team took a step backwards, trading the youth, potential, and non-craziness of Trevor Ariza for the older, um… eccentric Ron Ron. Would he play his role? Would he be a distraction? Would he snap at some inopportune moment, putting the crazy back in Crazy Pills? In order, yes, no, and no. Not that the year was devoid of Artestian color. There were haircuts, a smorgasbord of Tweets, the Great Christmas Night Fall, interviews on national television conducted without pants, and more. It was capped with, quite simply, the greatest press conference ever. (I’m still trying to figure out how to make “Acknowledge me!” my ringtone.) It’s not like the guy suddenly became boring- he is and will likely remain a gift to the local media- but anyone waiting for him to rip the team apart was disappointed.

From Shaun Powell, The physics-inspired theory that says what goes up must come down applies to everything except two gravity-challenged items: weight gain and those retired Celtics jerseys hanging in the rafters. Even Shaquille O’Neal, a devoted follower of Aristotle, would agree to this philosophy. We won’t make any jokes about his heft; he can be quite sensitive about that. But with regard to his new team, the Celtics, Shaq has already discovered a change in uniform number will be in order, because of circumstances. He can’t wear his usual 33, which was Larry Bird’s number. He can’t go for 32, his choice in Miami and Phoenix, because it’s held in honor of Kevin McHale. And he can’t wear the 34 he wore in Los Angeles, because that belongs to the Truth, Paul Pierce. All of this talk about jersey numbers raises an interesting debate: Will Shaq, surely one of the top five centers of all time, ever have his jersey number retired? And if so, by whom?

From Chuck Schilken, LA Times: The Celtics may have a slight lead over the Lakers in NBA championships, 17-16, but which of the two storied franchises would win if their all-time best players and coaches squared off? According to the Bleacher Report, it’s the Lakers. After comparing each team’s all-time best players (at their peak), position by position, and doing the same with the coaches, the site gave the Lakers a 4-2 advantage. The Lakers edge the Celtics at center (“Shaq playing at his peak level would be the most dominant force. Boston would have no one that could effectively stop him one-on-one”), shooting guard (“Behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Jerry West are the best shooting guards in the league’s history”), point guard (“A great aspect of the Lakers’ backcourt is its versatility.