Archives For International/Team USA

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  August 10, 2012

It’s the day after the night of the big news, and I don’t know that there’s anything I can say that hasn’t already been said (although you can be sure that it will be said again, many times over). The arrival of Dwight Howard after a prolonged and sometimes awkward dance, is a major milestone in the Lakers’ timeline. Credit Mitch Kupchak, who swung for the fences this summer in his measured and quiet way, and parked a couple well over the fence. There’s also the matter of the Olympics – Team USA is in the midst of their semi-final, playing against Argentina. If they advance, they’ll play Spain. Do I seem at all distracted?

Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo Sports was the first to break the news yesterday, and updates his report this afternoon.

Brian Kamenetzy at the Land O’Lakers examines why it was so crucial to keep Pau in the fold, during the Dwight trade.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register writes about Mitch Kupchak and the magic of the crystal ball.

C.A. Clark at Silver Screen & Roll, reports that it’s official, and breaks down what we got and what we sent.

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times looks at five ways in which Dwight helps the Lakers. Mark also just reported on Jodie Meeks signing for about $3 million over two years.

Ramneet Singh at Lakers Nation brings us Kobe’s reaction.

Steve McPherson at Hardwood Paroxysm takes a Glengarry Glen Ross look at the Lakers’ newest acquisition.

***

To say that the Laker roster looks to be in good shape, is only saying a little. As fans, we have every right to be happy and unapologetic about our good fortune. Yet, it’s still the middle of a long, hot summer. Training camp is months off, and then come the adjustments and acclimation for a team that will look, and play differently. There will be an 82-game regular season and I for one, don’t expect any romp to the finish line. Darius wrote a nice goodbye to a kid that we all watched grow. And best wishes to Josh McRoberts as well. I always liked his hustle and his attitude. From halftime to the start of the 4th quarter as I write – Durant and Carmelo are bombing away, and USA is opening up their lead. Enjoy the weekend, everyone.

* Okay, I cannot NOT update this, moments after posting. Team USA blows it open and goes for gold Sunday!  Yes!!

– Dave Murphy

With the Olympic Ceremony already happening (we’ll get to watch it at 7 p.m. on NBC if you’re out here in the West Coast), Team USA hoops is right around the corner. Before they take the floor for the first time in this tournament against Tony Parker’s French National team, lets take a look at some of the positives and negatives that I’ve noticed from Team USA on the floor.

The Positives

The Stretch Four
Throughout the five games Team USA played, one of the problems that we consistently saw was a propensity for taking way too many long range shots. The athleticism on this team should call for a lot more penetrating and finishing around the rim and posting up mis-matches. Everyone who has handled the ball around the perimeter has taken at least one ill-advised three pointer. However, two guys were able to somewhat-consistently knock down shots from behind the arc during the course of the five games — Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. During the five games, Durant and Anthony combined to shoot .489 from range while the rest of the team shot .404 (it should be noted that Anthony Davis shot a perfect 1.000 from three, he was one-for-one). Furthermore, a lot of those threes were a direct result of either pick-and-pops or guys penetrating, drawing defenders and kicking out to either Durant or Anthony. Of course, both of them took their fair share of ill-advised threes off the dribble, but Durant and Anthony shooting off the catch have been better than anyone else on Team USA. Also, having those two straddle the perimeter or as the pick man in P&Rs have taken opposing fours away from the rim and opened the lanes for guys like Paul, Williams, Westbrook and LeBron to do what they do best. Truehoop’s Beckley Mason has even gone on to say that Melo can take his role as the four for Team USA.

Small Ball Defense
With a roster featuring only one true center, Coach K has had the liberty (or has been forced to depending on how you look at it) to play around with some unique lineups, seeing both LeBron and Anthony spend some time at the 5. While this is a big cause for concern on the interior with the lack of size, it has allowed all five parts of the defense to move interchangeably through screens. With five athletic guys who can all defend along the perimeter, it has given the defense — in these small lineups — the freedom to switch on nearly everything. Because of this, rotations become shorter, they’re able to use their collective athleticism to jump into passing lanes, and it takes the pressure off of one guy to have to work too much on an offensive player who moves around a lot. In the game against Argentina, Kobe was assigned to Manu Ginobili. With the Argentinians running the Flex offense, Ginobili often started sets in the corner and is run through a series of screens to free him up for open jump shots or cuts through the lane. One on possession in particular, Ginobili ran Kobe to one screen and Anthony picked him up. Ginobili ran Anthony to another screen and Deron Williams picked him up. Ginobili then ran Williams to a screen and LeBron picked him up. Ginobili didn’t touch the ball on that possession and a contested jumpshot was taken. Of course, they’ll try to avoid any match ups in which a point guard is forced to take on a big, but they have the speed along the perimeter to really disrupt what opposing offenses are trying to do with their small ball lineups.

The Negatives

Zone Offense
The biggest hole in Team USA’s game is their inability to show any consistency attacking zone defenses. Starting late in the 2nd quarter, Argentina really just packed the paint and allowed the Americans to fire away from the perimeter, keeping Argentina in a game that they were down early. There was very little gap penetration, and all ball rotations were just along the perimeter. Yes, shots opened up, but it was the shots the Argentines wanted Team USA to take. Against Spain, things didn’t look any better against zone defenses. The score doesn’t really coincide with how much Team USA struggled with getting shots around the rim against Spain’s zone because they hit 13-three pointers as a team. The reality is that they shot 54 percent from three against man-to-man and only 25 percent against the zone (numbers per ESPN Stats and Information’s Ryan Fieldman). LeBron has been the best at busting zones, especially when he’s able to catch the ball near the free throw line and either attack or facilitate, but even he has been prone to just taking perimeter jumpers like the rest of the team. We should expect to see many more zones against this Team USA, and I’d like to see them counter with gap penetration and jumpers only after the ball has touched the paint. Putting pressure on the defense by attacking the rim is the easiest way to get teams out of the zone, and if they’re going to try to shoot themselves out of zone defenses, Coach K might want to have both Melo and Durant on the floor simultaneously.

Protecting the Rim
Earlier, I noted how well Team USA has defended teams around the perimeter, stopping them from getting into their sets and forcing contested jump shots and turnovers. On the flip side, they’ve been susceptible to back cuts and hard rolls in P&R sets, especially when Tyson Chandler is on the bench. Case in point is Serge Ibaka’s personal 10-point run early in the game against Spain. Chandler got in early foul trouble and Ibaka scored on a series of P&Rs and back cuts. When the defense wasn’t able to keep the ball on the perimeter, Ibaka had a field day with being guarded by Durant/Anthony/James in the paint. Furthermore, perimeter defenders were repeatedly beat back door in games against Brazil, Spain and Argentina. I remember at least two times where Kobe himself was beat back door by Ginobili in the Argentina game. These things are less of a problem with Tyson Chandler holding down the fort, but with only five fouls allowed in international play, Coach K will really have to watch his minutes should he get in any early foul trouble.

That said, Team USA are the clear favorites to take home the gold as their positives far outweigh their negatives — but their close calls against Brazil and Argentina show that this team is beatable under the right circumstances. Their opening game against France is at 2:30 p.m. local time, which would make it 6:30 a.m. PST, if it did that right (feel free to correct in the comments if necessary).

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  July 27, 2012

The 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony is tonight, with NBC kicking off coverage via various tape delay configurations, at 7:30 pm for both EST and PST, and 6:30 pm for CST. Plus a plethora of video updates, podcasts and the like from ESPN and Yahoo and others, as well as live streaming feeds for all events via NBC online, except for the opening and closing ceremonies. Are we all clear now? Or, to make things simpler, USA Men’s Basketball squares off against France, Sunday night.

In other news, the seismic chart representing Dwight Howard trade activity is currently registering at low levels, at random intervals. Which is fine by me, I’m fairly bored by it at this point. Which is not to say that I won’t avail us all of timely D-12 linkage until it, whatever “it” is, either bleeds out completely or becomes something real. Ready?

Brian Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, reveals that Mitch Kupchak is still interested in activity that he can’t by rule actually discuss.

Ben Bolch at the L.A. Times takes a look at the newly released NBA schedule.

Janis Carr at the OC Register offers up Steve Nash’s latest video parody.

An editorial by C.A. Clark at Silver Screen and Roll, about Dwight and the possible winds of change.

Ramneet Singh at Lakers Nation rekindles the Jodie Meeks rumors.

Jordan Conn at Grantland, writes about the summer league and the last hopes of redemption.

Eric Freeman at Yahoo’s Fourth Place Medal reports on Kobe Bryant’s weight loss for the Olympics.

This is normally where I place the back end of the wraparound bumper, with some sort of pithy basketball commentary. I got nothing but a headache, and I’m hungry for lunch. Tonight though, the temperature will drop a bit, the TV will warm up, and I’ll watch the opening ceremonies. Once again, they’ll stretch on too long and once again, I’ll get caught up in the excitement and the rite of passage these games always seem to symbolize. Enjoy the weekend everyone, I know I will.

– Dave Murphy

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  July 13, 2012

The ink on Steve Nash’s contract has had time to dry, and talk has turned to systematic issues. Yesterday, Darius used a Henry Abbott article as an entry point in the conversation about Nash’s offensive modus operandi, and how to find the balance. The topic will be revisited many times, in many ways. We’re now officially into the Nash era, and if you missed his presser on Wednesday, take some time to watch. In a word, it was impressive.

Andy Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, offers the purple and gold butterfly effect, a chronicling of the many twists and fortuitous turns that it took to put Nash in a Lakers uniform.

Yesterday, Kobe Bryant tossed out an off the cuff assertion that the 2012 USA Team, could pull out a win against the Dream Team. In its essence, it’s one of life’s most common observations, that one could beat another. Yet in this heightened snapshot age, the comment went instantly viral. Here’s a take from Dan Devine at Yahoo’s Fourth Place Medal, incorporating the one and only Barkley.

Alex Dewey at Gothic Ginobili, takes a hilarious look at a Mike Brown plan of action for newcomer Nash – the Circle Offense.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register, brings the Nash conversation back to earth, and the idea of reaching a point in life where priorities change and realities crystallize.

Mike Trudell at the NBA.com Lakers blog, has an in-depth look at how Mitch Kupchak was able to bring Steve Nash into the fold.

The saga of Dwight continues, with Houston gaining momentum. Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo, has the story.

An AP report covers the U.S. Team’s win against the Dominican Republic, Durant’s 24 points, Blake Griffin’s injury, and a great, extended video of Kyrie Irving trash-talking Kobe.

On the subject of Kobe and the Olympics, this SB Nation article by Andrew Sharp, is well worth the read.

Apart from the home run sweepstakes, there’s still a lot of small pieces of the Lakers puzzle that need to be put together. Royce Young at Eye on Basketball writes about Grant Hill who turns 40 this year, and is looking at the Lakers, Thunder, and Heat.

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times Lakers Now, profiles Jordie Meeks, the 76ers free agent shooting guard.

Suki Thind at Lakers Nation asks if Antawn Jamison would be a good fit for the Lakers.

And finally, Tim Gossett from the terrific Eight Points, Nine Seconds blog, has an article about our old friend Brian Shaw, a leading candidate for head coaching positions in both Orlando and Portland.

***

Summers are often a slow time of the year. Not so this one – summer league is upon us and it’s time to get a look at rookies, hopefuls, and the eternal chasers of the dream. The Olympics are also around the corner, always a momentous occasion, filled with personal stories of triumph over adversity. From free agency to fall training camp, there’s a palpable energy in the air. And for Lakers fans, anticipation for a season and a team that promises to be very different, thanks to the arrival of a 38 year-old soccer enthuiast from British Columbia.

– Dave Murphy

Yesterday, Jack McCallum’s highly anticipated book “Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles And The Greatest Team Of All Time Conquered The World And Changed The Game Of Basketball Forever” was released for purchase (you can get a copy here). A few of us here at FB&G were able to get an advanced copy of the book to review and, well, we loved it. What follows is our email conversation about the book…

Darius Soriano: First things first, what did you guys think of the book?

Phillip Barnett: Off top, it was just an absolutely fantastic read. I’m a bit younger than both of you, so I really only got to watch the tail end of the career of most of these guys (I was only five in the Summer of ’92). For me, I can only rely on ESPN Classic games and accounts like Jack McCallum’s “Dream Team” book to get a feel for how much this team meant to the game of basketball. That said, I think the best thing about this book is the format in which it was written. Instead of a long, drawn out chronological tale about how the Dream Team came about and how dominant they were, the book is broken down into 40-someting smaller chapters that allowed McCallum to tell a lot of the back stories that went into building this team and gave him the freedom to do a lot of character building — which isn’t always the case in non-fiction narratives. “Dream Team” reads more like a novel than it does a historical account of a hoops team, and it allows for younger guys like myself to learn a bit more about the individuals on the team, the relationships built and even some of the animosity between guys who were and were not on the Dream Team. Furthermore, the book takes a few “Where are they now” glances at some of the players with six interludes throughout the book which provide for some interesting — and some would even say juicy — nuggets in which the players didn’t hold back on their feelings on others on the team. In one of the interludes, Clyde Drexler suggested that Magic was getting the “benefit of the doubt” because people “kept expecting him to die” following his AIDS announcement and went on to suggest that there was nothing that Jordan could do that he could not. It was really those kind of anecdotes, and the more fun ones like Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing’s unexpected friendship, that kept me turning pages. Were there any back stories in particular that you two found more interesting than others?

J.M. Poulard: After reading multiple books on superstars who also happened to play on the Dream Team (Bird, Magic and Jordan), it always felt as though the 1992 Olympics served more as a footnote in their illustrious careers as opposed to one of its bigger events.

After reading “Dream Team”, that sentiment has been rendered null and void. McCallum covers all bases in order to give readers a detailed depiction of the team. Whether it’s the decision to finally allow NBA players to compete in the Olympics or the reasons that prevented the team from staying in the Olympic village; the author goes to great lengths for all to understand what actually transpired.

If there is one back story that struck me more than any, it’s the dynamic between Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.

Both were icons at the time and continue to be even today and the book captures that perfectly.

Magic had always exhibited a seemingly unparalleled ability to communicate with people — whether it’s teammates, opponents, coaches, media or fans — thanks in large part to his smile, charm and willingness to voice his opinions.

Michael on the other hand was known as a leader that practiced hard, led by example and chastised teammates whenever they failed him.

And yet in Barcelona, their personalities blended together as Magic serving as the team’s voice while Jordan was its motor and its heart. McCallum relates this perfectly and gives us the lenses to view the two leading alpha males on a team composed of such individuals.

It’s worth noting that “Dream Team” perfectly captures the pulse of the team through interviews and tales that were shared with Jack McCallum almost 20 years after the team won the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics.

Darius: I couldn’t agree more about MaCallum’s approach to the book. By giving readers the backstories to the players and then providing fascinating tidbits of information about the dynamics between them in the lead up to and throughout the Olympics, he gives readers an insider’s perspective that takes you along for the ride.

And, I also completely agree about how the Magic/MJ dynamic proved captivating. Having just met in the Finals a year prior to the formation of the team, it was clear that there was both a healthy respect and rivalry still at play between the teams’ two top names. In fact, I think Magic’s portrayal in the book is one of the more interesting aspects touched on.

McCallum did an excellent job of giving the reader so many sides of a very complex man within the context of this extraordinary team. Not only was there the Drexler interlude that touched on Magic’s HIV, but there was also how his disease served as a backdrop for Magic’s hands on approach to leadership and how it (seemingly) drove him to prove that he was still at the top of his game (and thus still one of the team’s best players) after not competing in the league since that Finals loss to Jordan (outside the 1992 All-star game).

On the other side, though, was the respect that Magic had amongst his peers, how his mates saw him as a genuine leader – and mouthpiece – for the team, and how his past accomplishments (remember, at that point Magic had 5 championships to his name whereas Jordan only had 2 while Bird had 3) gave him some bragging rights within the group. All of this combined to create a complex character that could rub his teammates the wrong way and inspire respect.

Besides the stuff on Magic, though, there were so many other parts of the book that stood out to me. The Bird/Ewing friendship, the Isaiah Thomas exclusion, the narrative surrounding how the NBA got involved in the Olympic process, and the behind the scenes descriptions of the now infamous practices and scrimmages were all so great.

What about for you guys? Was there one story in particular that stuck with you?

Phillip: Not to completely overdo the Magic aspect, but he really was one of the keys, not only in this book, but really in getting this whole team together. McCallum — and the Dream Team documentary a few months ago to some extent — spoke about how no one really thought the NBA’s brightest stars would buy into playing for the Olympic team. It was Magic who enthusiastically signed on first and helped push some of the other key guys (Bird and Jordan, namely) to join on as well. McCallum described Magic’s and Jordan’s leadership roles metaphorically when he said, “Magic was the Sun and Jordan was the North Star,” and there was a lot of truth to that. Like Darius noted, Magic was the vocal leader of the team and took on a lot of duties to make sure the  — how do you say this — general ideology of who this team was revolved around him. There were anecdotes about Magic taking number 15 so his name would be called last and him holding the flag when the team was introduced for the first time. But as much as the team revolved around him in almost every aspect off the court, Jordan was the unquestioned leader on the court as the team seeked his direction once the ball was in the air. I found that dynamic fascinating.

I also ate up everything on Barkley. Even though I really only remember his career as a Houston Rocket, he’s always been my favorite NBA player after Eddie Jones. I continue to save a special place in my heart for undersized forwards who can rebound the ball, but Chuck was one of those special, once in a lifetime kind of athletes. He often seemed overweight, but got off the ground so easily, was deceptively quick in the open court and was nearly unstoppable when he got a head of steam going toward the basket. Then you get to couple that generational talent with one of the most unique personalities the league has ever seen and you’ve got yourself one of the most memorable ball players ever. McCallum has a few Barkley anecdotes that really stuck out — one of them being that Larry Bird said he was a student of Barkley’s game and even added a few of his tricks to his own repertoire. The fact that such a talent almost missed out on the Dream Team is hard to wrap your head around. But the fact that his talent generally overrode his off the court antics speaks volumes just to how great he was.

Darius: Ah, good old Chuck. He definitely was one of the choice “characters” in this book.

The anecdote about Barkley that stood out the most to me had nothing to do with his escapades on the town in Barcelona, how his selection came about, or even is rivalry with Malone. It was how often it was hinted at that he was one of the most dominating forces on the team. I can’t recall how many times it occurred but multiple times coaches and teammates said that if the Dream Team ever needed a basket they could just “throw the ball to Charles”. Considering that team had Jordan on it, I thought that was the highest compliment that could be paid to him and his skill level at the time of the competition. He was an explosive force of nature that could play an all court game. I’m convinced we’ll see countless players of Jordan’s “type” (athletic wing players) before we ever see another player that’s like Barkley.

J.M.: Not too get too much away from the book, but I recall watching the Dream Team when I was younger and Barkley was by far one of the most athletically gifted players on the court at all times.

There were times it seemed as though he could breeze by guards on a fast break and his size was problematic for everyone.

For those only accustomed to Barkley through his TNT gig, McCallum does a great job of bringing us back to his playing days. Indeed, the Chuckster was a lethal weapon — fun fact, he led the team in scoring — that no one had an answer for.

It’s clear from the details of the book that Barkley always knew he was a great player, but showcasing his talent with the Dream Team gave him some validation that perhaps few remember today.

With that said, one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the non-story of David Robinson. I have long theorized that the Admiral should have been one of the greatest players ever but he seemed to lack something.

McCallum provides some terrific insight into the player, but more importantly the man; and although it gives the readers a greater of appreciation of Robinson as an individual; one cannot help but feel cheated about the Spurs center.

For all of the criticism thrown at Shaquille O’Neal for not putting more into basketball, Robinson not only deserves the same amount throw his way, but perhaps more.

As great as he was as a center, he never had the edge needed to carry his team to the promised land and put the fear into the hearts of his opponents. And to his credit, Robinson is perfectly at ease with who he is and shows no sign of remorse whatsoever about how his career unfolded. Nonetheless, the question “what if” still looms…

Darius: I think we could go on and on with anecdotes and insights gleaned from this book. McCallum simply did a fantastic job of giving the reader so much information in an easy to consume format. At this point though, I’d rather not give away too much more and just suggest that everyone go out and buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Over in Lithuania, at the EuroBasket Tournament, Pau Gasol is rolling. He’s playing efficient basketball and again showing why he’s considered one of the best players in the world. In Friday’s Spanish drubbing of Serbia, Pau was the leading scorer with 26 points in only 23 minutes of action, missing only 4 combined field goals and free throws (going 8-10 and 7-9 respectively), while grabbing 8 rebounds, dishing 3 assists, blocking 2 shots, and committing only a single turnover. Needless to say, this is the Gasol we’ve grown to love and appreciate in his Laker career.

But more than the numbers and his overall stellar production, it’s the role in which he’s being asked to play while still producing these statistics that has me encouraged. Simply put, Gasol is being asked to be the man for his home country and he’s delivering in spades.

Gasol is notorious for being one of the game’s most unselfish players and often adapts his game to try and play within the team concept. Even when he speaks out to the press about wanting the ball more it’s nearly always within the context of wanting more touches rather than wanting more shots. When expanding on this idea he’s always speaking within the terms of how to best utilize not just himself, but the rest of his teammates in order to produce the best results. Some view this as a passive-aggressive way of complaining about his teammates (cough, cough Kobe) but I’ve always taken these statements at face value and to mean that he wants everyone (including himself) more involved while not putting anyone above the team’s success.

However, when playing for his home country, Pau is taking on a different role than the highly skilled #2 to Kobe’s #1. He’s being asked to do more; he’s being asked to be the focal point of his team’s success. It’s no coincidence that Spain lost its only game this tournament when Pau sat out nursing a sore ankle or that Spain pulled away from Germany in the 2nd half of their match up when Gasol asserted himself on offense and raised his game. Pau is thriving as the driving force behind his team’s success. If you’re a Laker fan, this is a great development and the biggest reason to be encouraged about Pau bouncing back when the NBA season resumes.

You see, Gasol may be the number 2 behind Kobe, but his value to the Lakers’ success is equal to that of #24. In the Lakers’ recent championship seasons Gasol has come up huge and it’s that level of contribution that will lead to another chance to claim the Larry O’Brien trophy next season. Of course there will need to be a balance to his game as he will be returning to a roster that not only has Kobe, but other talented teammates that deserve the ball and opportunities to help the team. But it’s undeniable that Pau will also need to channel that part of his game that puts him up front as a focal point of the team for the Lakers to win it all as they did in 2009 and 2010. And in order to achieve that level of individual play, Gasol also has to embrace his role as a co-conspirator to Kobe, not a guy that stands behind him.

And make no mistake, Pau is getting that chance as Spain’s leading man this summer. The fact that he’s embracing it and succeeding  is why I’m feeling good about Pau Gasol. And why you should be too.

I didn’t get a chance to catch this game live, so I watched the replay on ESPN3.com while I was at work and documented Pau’s progress during the game. As the title suggests, Pau finished with 29 points and (an unofficial) six rebounds. This is broken down by quarter with each note ending with how many points and rebounds he had when I made said notes.

1st Quarter

– Pau wins opening tip. Sprints to the right block to post up, Marc Gasol travels on his way to the basket. 0 points, 0 rebounds.

– Can’t tell whether or not Pau’s first shot is a long two or a three pointer. It’s a miss either way. On Spain’s next possession, Pau gets the ball in the paint on an out-of-bounds play from the baseline and gets fouled. Makes both free throws. 2 points, 0 rebounds.

– Pau’s 1st rebound of the game comes after a Rudy Fernandez miss. He misses the put-back, but another Spanish ORB leads to Juan Carlos Navarro getting into the paint and finding Pau, who is fouled again. Pau misses the front end, but makes the second. 3 points, 1 rebound.

– Pau gets the ball in the post for the first time about three minutes in the game. After a couple dribbles, he kicked it out to Jose Calderon for a three-point attempt. After the miss, Pau grabs his second offensive rebound and puts it in with is left while being fouled. Basket counts, free throw made. 6 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau’s second look in the post ends with a lefty hook in the lane. He’s been very patient in the paint thus far. 8 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau’s 1st defensive laps comes with about five minutes left to play in the quarter. Poland’s Lukasz Koszarek drove the lane toward Pau who failed to step over and help, allowing a wide-open layup (cue Dallas series memories). 8 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau gets the ball on the left block for the first time. Again, he’s very patient. With his back to the basket, he looks over his left shoulder for available cutters. With no one open, he takes one dribble and makes an awfully decisive move to drop step with his right foot and finish with the left hand off the glass. Fantastic footwork, great patience and he finished while being fouled for the second time. So far, Pau has not been double-teamed. At the 4:45 mark, Spain has 13 points, Pau has 11 of them. 11 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau takes his first break with about 3:30 left in the first. Very solid first quarter.

2nd Quarter

– Pau re-enters game at around the 7:10 mark. 11 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau receives a great entry pass from JCN and what appears to be an open lane to the basket. Instead of taking the layup, Pau passes the ball immediately, which results in his first turnover of the contest. 11 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau was fouled away from the ball while trying to come off a screen to get to the weak side block. With Poland in the penalty, Pau gets to put in two more free throws. 13 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau records his most interesting basket of the game as he brings the ball out to the perimeter with no numbers on the fast break. He gives the defender a few crossover dribbles before starting to back him down from 15-feet in. Then he picks up his dribble, gives the defender the drop step with is right again, reverses it, then goes back toward the basket to finish while he’s fouled. He misses the subsequent free throw. 15 points, 2 rebounds.

– Spain goes into the half with a 44-31 lead largely due to the efforts of Pau and Juan Carlos Navarro (11 points). Pau also finished the half with two blocks on the defensive end of the floor, where he did some nice things. Spain’s defensive philosophy revolves around getting ball handlers to the sidelines and keeping them out of the paint. For the most part, Pau is doing his job, showing on the high P&Rs, and keeping penetration at a minimum. However, I don’t recall one defensive rebound from Pau, just the two offensive boards from the first quarter. It would be nice to see him get a little more active on the glass in the second half.

3rd Quarter

– Poland goes to a zone defense to start out the second half. Pau catches the ball at the left pinch post (where he’s spent a lot of time in the Triangle), and attempts a touch pass to Marc Gasol who is on the left block. The pass is high and goes through Marc’s hands. This is Pau’s 2nd turnover by my unofficial count, both from quick passes. Considering Poland is in a zone, this might be an opportunity for Pau to take advantage of some backside rebounding. 15 points, 2 rebounds.

– Right on cue, Pau picks up his 3rd offensive rebound on Spain’s next possession. It was a long one on the back side after a Navarro three pointer. Looks as if Pau is going to be working solely in the high post as long as Poland is in a zone. Pau hasn’t even taken a step closer than 15-feet in these two possessions. 15 points, 3 rebounds.

– On the same possession, Pau gets a 2nd offensive rebound that just happened to fall into his lap right next to the basket. He puts it in immediately for the easy deuce. 17 points, 4 rebounds. Still no defensive rebounds.

4th Quarter

– Pau left about midway through the 3rd quarter with Spain holding a comfortable lead. He comes out to start the fourth with Spain only leading by nine. 17 points, 4 rebounds.

– Pau gets the ball on the left block. He turns, faces up and knocks down a smooth 12-footer. 19 points, 4 rebounds.

– Pau spots up and knocks down a three pointer. The announcers say that he has 20 points, but I have him at 22. I don’t know where I added an extra three points, or why they’re behind two, but I’m hoping to figure this out before the game ends.  22 points, 4 rebounds.

– Pau grabs his first defensive rebound that I can remember with just under eight minutes left to play in the game. 22 points, 5 rebounds.

– Pau gets the ball in the low post with an extremely undersized defender guarding him. The announcers wonder why Pau doesn’t take the ball to the basket instead of kicking it out to Rubio who ends up traveling. Pau, however, makes the right decision. There were two defenders waiting to double once Pau made his move, depending on which direction he decided to go. Even though the results don’t agree, Pau made the right decision here.

– After Poland gets the deficit down to five points, Spain goes right to Gasol, who gets fouled. He knocks down both free throws with 3:30 left to play in the game. 24 points, 5 rebounds. (In case you’re wondering, my score now matches with what the broadcast has.)

– With only a six point lead, Poland’s Thomas Kelati drives right by Pau to cut the lead to four. Another horrible display of help defense, this time in a much worse situation. Pau grabbed a defensive rebound on an earlier possession. 24 points, 6 rebounds.

– On the ensuing possession, Pau catches the ball at the three point line, straight away. He dribbles a few times between his legs while moving toward the basket. He’s fouled and heads to the free throw line. He misses the front end, makes the second. 25 points, 6 rebounds.

– After Poland cut the lead to three, Spain went right back to Pau who made himself big on the inside. Caught the ball and finished in the paint while being fouled. He knocked down the free throw. 28 points, 6 rebounds.

Pau would go on to knock down one more free throw with just a few seconds left on the clock. Overall, Pau had a great showing in Spain’s opening EuroBasket game. The thing that stuck out the most was Pau’s ability to finish with contact in the paint. Spain looked to him on possessions when a basket was crucial, and he delivered more often than he didn’t. I’d like to see Pau attack the glass more and play better help defense as this tournament goes on. There aren’t too many negative things you can say about a guy who finishes with 29 points and an unofficial six rebounds.

Everyone loves some home cooking, right?

Well, if you don’t, Pau Gasol certainly does. While he may not be playing in his native Spain, he is putting on his national colors to compete in EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania to help his home country qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. And in Spain’s first contest leading up to the tourney, it was Pau that led the way in helping his team down France in yesterday’s “friendly” match up. From the game report:

Spain reminded France they are a very different team when Pau Gasol is in the line-up. Gasol, the EuroBasket 2009 MVP and the player the French couldn’t stop in the teams’ Quarter-Final showdown two years ago that Spain won 86-66, had a game-high 19 points to lead his country to a 77-53 romp over Les Bleus in Almeria on Tuesday. Playing alongside his brother Marc as twin towers in the starting five, the elder Gasol dominated. He skipped last year’s FIBA World Championship to take a well deserved break but has returned to the national side and looked as good as ever as Spain won their first friendly of the summer.

After the game, I asked Sebastian Pruiti of the fantastic NBA Playbook to send over his thoughts on the Lakers’ Gasol from the match with France and he obliged. Below are his brief thoughts:

Gasol looked really confident in his jumper.  He started out playing away from the rim with Ibaka and his brother sharing the inside duties.  As soon as he caught it, if he was open, it was going up.  (He) knocked down two threes in the 1st quarter and a long two with his foot on the line. He was also running the floor well, getting ahead and getting the ball and finishing.  Had 3 or 4 fast break buckets where he beat either Turiaf or Noah down the court just with his speed. As always he was comfortable in the post, drawing fouls and getting the rest of his points from there.

All in all, it was a very solid performance, where Pau Gasol looked extremely comfortable, and that is before you consider how uncomfortable he looked in the post-season with the Lakers. I don’t know if it is the fact he’s like the elder statesmen with that team or if the freedom with the Spanish team is helping, but he looks a hell of a lot better, like the Gasol who started the year with the Lakers (though slightly more outside oriented with Spain).

Based off these observations, it’s very encouraging to hear that Pau is back to playing well against solid competition. Noah and Turiaf are both NBA quality bigs (with Noah being one of the better defensive bigs in the game) and it speaks well about Pau that he was able to run the floor well (check out this clip of him changing ends well and then finishing off a sweet dish from his brother) while also being assertive on offense.

One tidbit that is particularly noteworthy is that Pau was decisive with his offense and looking to score with little thought about what he should do once he made the catch. One area in which Pau struggled towards the end of the season and into the playoffs was his decision making, often seeming unsure of what he wanted to do with the ball after he’d receive a pass. Too often he would hold the ball only to get himself into a position where he wasn’t getting a good shot or end up making a pass with little accomplished towards progressing the team’s offense. The fact that Pau was looking for his shot – be it a jumper, in the post, or when running the floor – and not over-thinking possessions is a good indicator that he’s mentally in a good place on the court.

Whether this trend continues into the actual tournament remains to be seen but these early returns are exactly what I’d like to see from Pau this summer. Be it fatigue (mental or physical) or some other issue, Pau clearly was not the same player in the recent playoffs as he’d shown during the rest of his tenure with the Lakers. If Pau can use his time in Europe to find his groove and come back as the confident player that many hailed as the most complete big man in the game, all of the fixes we’re discussing with this team become less important. Pau Gasol is that good a player and can make that type of an impact when at his best. Here’s hoping we see more of that Pau for the rest of the summer and into the season.