Archives For International/Team USA

Eurobasket preview

Xavier Sánchez —  August 25, 2009

FIBA World Basketball Championship - Day 15
Regular readers here at FB&G know Xavier, our friend the professional coach in Barcelona. He was kind enough to throw a few words together for us previewing Eurobasket starting in just a little over a week. I did make some edits around Sasha, who is off that team now, but the points are Xavier’s. —Kurt

On September 7th the FIBA Eurobasket 2009 tournament in Poland starts [link to the schedule]. I was talking to Kurt about it and he asked me which teams were worthy of seeing and I offered myself to write a small piece about it. In this long summer without any basketball, getting some international action will please us basketball junkies.
I’m disappointed that some teams are missing key players but are still pretty interesting to watch. Let’s have a look at what teams are bringing to Poland.


Greece: They have lost 4 players that could perfectly fit in their starting 5, top playmakers Papaloukas and Diamantidis, and frontcourt players Papadopoulus and Tsartsaris, but they still can put a very competitive five on the floor most of the time, lead by star SG the explosive scorer Vassilis Spanoulis. With Papaloukas out the team won’t play that much the high pick&roll, which you Americans might remember from 2006 in Japan. I’m intrigued to see them integrating two young upcoming players: Calathes and Koufos. You both know them, greek players with American education and college experience. I’ve been disappointed by Koufos season in Utah but I believe he’ll eventually flourish. Two years ago, in the U18 Euro tournament he was the MVP followed by Rubio and dominated every single post player, I think he’s gonna do good.

Slovenia: They are missing two players, but will be a big threat without them. One is Nesterovic, if you consider him an important player. The other was Sasha Vujacic, who was trying to play for his national team for the first time, playing in that European style for the first time, and apparently did not blend that well (also, his knee could have been part of the problem). Only scoring PG Lakovic, former NBA Nachbar and post player Matjas Smodis can be considered big names but the rest of players are above average. Slovenia is the country in the world that has more professional basketball players per habitant, it might give you a hint of the passion they have for this sport. It will be interesting to see Suns young PG Goran Dragic and Primoz Brezec who returns to the NBA this year to play for the 76ers.

Spain: This team has lost Calderon this summer and former captain Jimenez but the Spaniards are so deep and talent that anything but gold would be a big failure. Marc Gasol will make us look back at the Pau trade and think it wasn’t that lopsided. Navarro is coming of a ACB MVP season and Rudy Fernandez is nothing but a rising star. Then you also have seasoned veterans and young upcoming talent as Portland draftee Victor Claver (remember I talked about him by draft time), Sergio Llull and the guy Bill Simmons and half of the basketball world is enamored with Ricky Rubio. It’s a delight watching this team play ball and with no USA playing in euros tournament, there’s no way any team can upset them.


Lietuva (Lithuania):
As did Greece, Lithuania has lost too many important players such as Jasikevicius, Macijauskas or Siskauskas. Jasikevicius will be missed, a lot. He’s the heart and soul of the team but he really needed a summer off. The team will present a very interesting frontcourt with Lavrinovic twins and Robertas Javtokas holding the fort and Jasaitis and Kleiza will provide 3 point shooting. At the end, I think the Jasikevicius absence will be too much. If they overcome that loss, they could be in the top level.

Croatia: A very solid team but without flashy names. Pretty consistent and above average. Nikola Vujcic comes back to the national team after 4 years and seeing how Roko Ukic does when he’s getting big minutes might be the big two storylines following this team.

Latvia and Turkey: Both teams are led by NBA stars, Biedrins and Turkoglu, and have interesting core of players around. Maybe Turkoglu has the better sidekick in Ersan Ilyasova, who had a one year stint in The Bucks in 06-07 and spend the last to years in Spain. This year he’s back in a Bucks uniform and will battle for the starting PF position.


Russia: The current Eurobasket champ, only has one of their previous starting five. No Holden, Savrasenko, Kirilenko or Pashutin. Imagine the 2004 Pistons champions losing Billups, Hamilton, Prince and Sheed, well that’s this Russian team. They still have Khryapa and they have recently made an express passport to the American Kelly McCarthy but that’s not enough. Its their time to show the world something good if they want to be considered a team to be feared, but I’m not confident they will.

Israel: They have a couple interesting players worth of seeing: SG Yotam Halperim, a very skilled scorer and Lior Eliyahu, that has been teasing with the idea of going to the NBA for some years. It’s a shame Omri Casspi isn’t playing this year but he’s decided to devote him to his new team the Kings.

Serbia: Outside of Nenad Krstic, Popovic (26) and Kecman (33), every single player is under 24. Milicic, after ripping the Italian referees in 07 Eurobasket [ video] will never play again for its NT, Stojakovic, Jaric, Vujanic and Radmanovic are too old for this and the sensational scorer Rakocevic finished this season injured so he decided to have a summer off. This team will show up the future of the country and I can tell you its pretty bright.


Without Dirk and Kaman, who is a no show. What the hell, even with them the team is a no show! I hope Dirkmania brings Germany some basketball fever.

Great Britain has very little talent. Well, there is the NBA’s Azubuike, Deng and Gordon, but none of them are playing. It might only be worth watching new Rocket Pops Mensah-Bonsu jumping up and down and one of many Blazers draftees Freeland.

Magic fans will be rooting for the home team, Poland, as the polish hammer is playing for them. But that’s all what you’ll see, Marcin Gortat. And if they are lucky, they may also have flashes of Maciej Lampe, former NBA who did not much in the states.

And as for Macedonia, I have very few things to say other than they have a couple of American guys with Macedonian passport, Massey and Washington that can play some ball and that a “macedonia” is a dessert consisting of a salad of different fruits cut in small pieces with its juice pretty common in Spain.

The qualifying tournament hasn’t finished yet so we don’t know which team will get the final berth, once I know it I’ll give Kurt some new information.
Let me know if any of you plans on catching any action and if you are interested we could discuss some of it.
– Xavier Sánchez.

Pete Newell: Basketball Royalty

Gatinho —  November 17, 2008

The Guru, The Godfather, The Teacher…

A hall-of-famer who coached teams to an NIT championship, NCAA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal, Pete Newell’s impact on the game we all love should come out of the shadows now that he has passed away.

His first success would come coaching the USF Dons when he would lead them to an NIT championship, then the decider of the National Champion, in 1949. He would have another successful run at Michigan State before moving on to the University of California.

At Cal he would do something that alone could be reason enough to honor him; he beat John Wooden’s UCLA teams. It was Newell who would hand Wooden some of his only 2nd place finishes from 1956-1960 in the then Pacific Coast Conference. He would end his successful tenure with an NCAA title that had his team beating powerhouse Oscar Robertson and his Cincinnati team in the semifinals, followed up by a one point victory over Jerry West and his West Virginia Mountaineers.

Newell would retire from coaching abruptly at the age of 44 after leading West, Robertson, Jerry Lucas, and Walt Bellamy to an Olympic Gold medal in Rome in 1960. A squad that was the original dream team and proved as much by averaging 101 points a game and having four players average in double figures.

He would become the Lakers GM in 1972, and it was his close friendship with Milwaukee GM Wayne Embry that would be instrumental in the Lakers landing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Newell would guide the Lakers through the 70’s and place them in the capable hands of Bill Sharman once Sharman’s coaching career ended.

As Laker GM he would begin the most enduring part of his legacy, tutoring players in footwork. And that tutoring would center around the post.

Newell would draft Kermit Washington, most notorious for almost killing Rudy Tomjanovich with a punch in an in game fight. Washington had played as a center at American University and Newell was looking to make him a power forward due to his 6’7″ height. Newell spent the summer teaching Washington post moves and face up moves, joined by then UCLA star Kiki Vandeweghe.

This would be the genesis of Pete Newell’s Big Man Camp. Which would be attended by a number of NBA and college players, including an 18-year-old Andrew Bynum, and would be centered around the intricacies of proper footwork to enable a post player to move efficiently and be able to counter the defense with a myriad of moves in the pivot.

He longed for coaches at all levels to get back to teaching: “If a player knows why he’s doing something, he’s more likely to do it naturally.” And he co-authored books with Bobby Knight that would become gospel for many. But more importantly he would begin a basketball family tree that would include Knight, Jerry Tarkanian, and the inventor of the Triangle himself Tex Winter.

Tex’s senior year in high school in Huntington Park he would be manager of the Loyola freshman team, coached, or rather taught, by none other than Pete.

Peter Francis “Pete” Newell
b. August 3, 1915 – d. November 17, 2008


Gold Medal Game Time

Kurt —  August 23, 2008

Here’s my prediction — not only is the USA going to win the gold in Beijing, it will win it in London in 2012, too.

I’ll explain the second prediction first. One thing has been pretty clear in these Olympics and said by Kelly Dwyer among others — the USA is the best NBA-style team in this Olympics by a mile. It’s not a gap that other countries are going to close completely in the next four years.

And in four years (actually in two), the international game is going to look more like the NBA game.

The 3-point line will move from 20 feet, 6.1 inches to 22 feet, 1.7 inches. The NBA line is 23-9…..FIBA also will reconfigure the three-second area to match the NBA shape, going from a trapezoid to a rectangle.

FIBA is also throwing in a charge circle under the basket, as in the NBA. These rule changes favor the NBA players. For example now Dwight Howard can post deeper on the low block, and what player in the world can move him off that? All those changes will move the game toward more of an NBA style — there still will be no defensive three seconds and other key differences, but it will be more in the comfort zone of the NBA players.

Combine that with the larger three-year commitment and other things used as a structure this time around, and the USA will win the gold in London.

And they will win in Beijing too. Spain may be the most NBA-like team outside th USA in this tournament (although I expect they will break that mold some in the Gold Medal game) and as was said earlier, the USA is by far the best NBA-style team in this tournament.

Much like the Argentina game, I think for the USA to lose they would have to take the game off. Spain has a lot of talent, but not enough to withstand a focused USA team at both ends of the court. The USA has to be focused on defense and use ball pressure and stick with men at the three-point line. They have to be focused on offense and take advantage of good ball movement against a zone defense, not over-dribble and go into isolation then launch threes (Spain prefers a man-to-man but will play zone much more because Argentina had some success with it). They have to play through what will be a physical Spanish side. But they can do all that, and they have advantages. Rubio may be one of the best 17-year-old players I’ve ever seen, but he still makes 17-year-old mistakes when pressured and the USA bench should be able to run on those. The USA is a very deep team and that will wear Spain down.

As way of evidence, look at the raw +/- numbers for the Olympics and you see something interesting — no USA players in the negative. Also, whether adjusted or straight up, the two guys doing the best with plus-minus are the first two guys off the bench — Wade and Bosh. The USA brings guys off the bench that would be a team’s main weapon anywhere else.

There is no way the USA is not focused for the Gold Medal game. So there is no way they lose. And I don’t see them losing in major international play for a while now.

By the way, I’ll be up and commenting during the game (probably not a live blog, unless there is a lot of interest, but there are ones all over the Web tonight). Come by and share your thoughts.

USA vs. Argentina, and the Semis

Kurt —  August 21, 2008

I think my premise here is pretty simple:

Argentina may well give the USA their toughest test to date, but I don’t think Argentina can beat the USA unless the Americans help out.

A few thoughts to flesh that out. Argentina will try to slow the game down (the USA is at 81 possessions per game, fastest in the Olympics, while Argentina is at 69, the slowest) and because they have ball handlers like Manu that will not be coughing the ball up a lot they should be able to limit turnovers. That said they will give up some — sometimes against teams that bring high pressure and tempo it takes a while to adjust. The USA does that, with starters and off the bench. I think at some point in the first half the pressure is going to get to Argentina, maybe some subs, and the USA will go on a fast 10-0 run or so. Argentina will have to play catch-up from there, but I don’t think they can do it.

Argentina can score (their offensive rating through six games is 121 [points per 100 possessions], not bad but well behind the USA’s 129.1). They have good offensive talent, starting with Manu (Kobe on Manu is going to be fun to watch), but Delfino looked very good last game and they are a deep team (no, they are not, really). One thing the South Americans will have to do to win is hit threes — teams are shooting just 28.6% from three against the USA, to beat them you are going to have to shoot 40% or so.

But to win Argentina will need help — meaning the USA would have to be cold, particularly from the outside. The South Americans will have a hard time playing catch up on the USA, Argentina’s defense is not good enough to get a series of stops to make a counter run (they give up 107 points per 100 possessions, worst of the four teams left, compared to the USA’s 95).

That is to say, Argentina’s defense isn’t good enough unless the USA helps out. At times in the half court the USA just goes too much isolation and not enough ball movement (Kobe is one of the worst offenders). They get away with it because, well, Kobe and Wade and LeBron are very tough to stop in isolation. But Argentina has good defenders in Manu and Delfino, with Scola and Fabricio Oberto inside to help. If the USA’s offense stalls, if they shoot jumpers (especially early in the clock) and miss, it plays into Argentina’s hands. What will be key for the USA is less iso and more ball movement to get the ball into good position.

The thing to really watch is the tempo — if the USA gets turnovers and runs well, it could be another blowout. More likely, Argentina will keep it close for a while, but once the USA puts together one run Argentina will just not be able to catch up. I don’t think this version of team USA is going to help out opponents like past versions — they have been so focused on defense they will slow the Argentineans, and Argentina cannot slow them.

I’ll post some links to other previews here, starting with Basketball Prospectus. Now Fanhouse is in (from the amazing Ziller). Ball Don’t Lie links to a bunch of previews.

And one more link worth checking out — comparing Usain Bolt to Magic Johnson in a meaningful way.

UPDATE: My worst-case scenario held sway for about the first 15-minutes of the game, but in the third quarter in particular the USA’s defense took over, and that was the difference. KD emphasized the defense and Kobe’s role in his great roundup.

Craig W. said the same thing in the comments:

All the flash and dash was the reason we lost those other basketball games this last decade. The people who win these things play in the trenches and stop the other people. Players the world over can score. It is defense and how you transition both ways that wins championships – FIBA or NBA. Kobe takes the best scorer on the other team and all people talk about is how Lebron and Wade dominated the scoring. What they dominated is the defense – then they scored.

Next up, Argentina. A very good team where pace will be the key, but we’ll get to that down the line. Today we enjoy a good win.


Laugh if you want, but I think the Australia — and the following game if it is Argentina — are going to be a bigger test to the Americans than another match up with Spain. Australia may be the team most capable of the “Greece game” that beats the United States.

The reason is that Australia brings to the table a couple of the things that will slow the US.

First is what Patrick Mills brings — a point guard that the USA must respect and may not succumb to the pressure defense. So far in this tournament the USA has forced turnovers on 23% of opponent possessions, that has led to those fast-break baskets they thrive on. If Mills can again handle the pressure — which needs to come from Paul and not Kidd for much of the game — it will be one thing to slow the game.

And slowing the game will be key. The USA has averaged 81 possessions a game so far in the round-robin play, Australia is at 73 (Argentina, by the way, is at 69). If the Aussies get back on defense, if they don’t turn the ball over, that will be the first big step. The USA just needs to run — after makes and misses.

And the USA needs to force misses. Australia’s hybrid-Princeton offense is very effective — the USA has an offensive rating in the Olympics 126 (points per 100 possessions), but Australia is second at 125.1. They are deliberate but they can score, both on the back cuts that have killed the USA in the past and from three. The USA must be focused in its half-court defense, watch the cuts and close out on shooters.

That will mean Dwight Howard with a lot of one-on-one time with Andrew Bogut. Howard should be able to hold his own but he cannot get in foul trouble. While Bosh has been great Bogut may be able to be physical with him on the block on offense.

Despite all that, to lose I think the USA would have to go cold from the outside, and Australia hasn’t defended well. They have let teams shoot 60.4% (eFG%) and have a defensive rating of 110 (sixth in the games). Once again, the USA should be able to score, either in the half court or on the run.

But Australia will be the biggest test for the USA yet, and we are now in the one-and-done phase. Argentina in the next round could do the same thing (slow pace, good outside shooters, a defense as good or better than Spain’s).

Play focused, play like they have and the USA wins. But take a night off and……

By the way, I think Lithuania and Spain should move on, but the Greece/Argentina game could be interesting.

Vacation And Other Thoughts

Kurt —  August 18, 2008

I just got back from a vacation that included Chicago and the Detroit suburbs, and first things first, thanks to Reed for the breakdowns, Darius for his game thoughts, Gatinho for his history and game thoughts, and Nomuskles for filling that live-blog Jones we all had. This site never misses a beat with them around.

So, here are my pent-up thoughts on a whole range of issues.

• Chicago is an amazing and fun place, and hats off to a city willing to invest so much in fantastic public art like at Millennium Park. Those are the kind of things that really make a city. Of course, ask my kids what the best part was and they say pizza.

• We should get into the Lakers news. A couple weeks ago we were talking about “Tractor” Traylor and others as the possible back up big at the end of the bench next season, but it appears Josh Powell will get that role.

It’s a nice pick-up, one that fits with the team Mitch Kupchak has built in that he is a player whose skills fit what the Lakers do and need. Powell has good energy and is scrappy, and that shows mostly on the boards (he grabbed 15.6% of available rebounds last year with the Clippers, that’s the same percentage as Odom). He scores mostly at the basket but has a nice midrange jumper, although was a little slow to use it last year, and he sets a very good pick away from the basket. If he can do those things with the Lakers he will get some decent minutes.

Why take my word for it, look at what the brilliant Kevin at Clipper Blog said about Powell last season:

Josh Powell continues to show that he’s a serviceable frontcourt bench guy who can give you a quality screen up high.

I’d like to offer another endorsement of Josh Powell as a bona fide useful NBA piece. Back at NC State, he was an extremely active frontcourt player on both ends with more quickness than your average power forward. “Energy player” is a often a euphemism for a guy who is neither a small nor a power forward and I was initially skeptical that Powell could find a place on the floor except in those rare instances when a Boris Diaw-type is playing the 4, but his post defense has been solid. In addition, he’s improving in help situations with each passing week. Offensively, his mid-range game is what I remember from his ACC days – instinctive and with a better touch than you’d think.

• In Chicago we came across a few good jazz street musicians. I just love that in an urban setting. I wish LA had more of them.

• I only caught one Team USA Game while on vacation — USA vs. Spain, But that told me plenty. I’m not going to add on to the superlatives already seen at this site and summed up so well by KD. The USA put on a great performance.

But I will say that the USA still can be beat. And with the one and done games coming up (starting with Australia, it appears, who gave the USA fits in a tune up playing without Bogut) the USA cannot lose its focus. For the USA to lose, a few things have to happen:

1) The opposing team cannot turn the ball over. I think one of the most misused stats in basketball is “points off turnovers” (it bugs me how much Joel Meyers loves it) but in the case of team USA it is telling. You cannot give them easy baskets. They are unstoppable in the open court.
2) The opposing team has to shoot a high percentage, making the USA take the ball out not rebound and run. Bottom line with this and the first note, the opponent will have to slow the game pace down, and they have to get back on defense.
3) The USA has to be cold from three in the halfcourt. If they are hitting like they did against Spain, there is just no way to stop the scoring machine.
4) Score on the USA with back cuts and ball movement.

It may be hard to do all that in the face of the USA’s ball-pressure defense, and the USA is going to have to help the cause with an off night, but it’s not impossible. When they play again for the gold I think Spain will be able to deal better with the USA’s pressure, with turnovers down. But I doubt that will be enough.

• I watched that game on the Canadian Broadcasting Company feed (you get that in the Detroit area) and it was a pleasure to hear a game broadcast without all the hyping of stars that happens on ESPN and ABC.

• Ricky Rubio is just 17? He was Spain’s best PG by a mile, and dealt better with the USA’s pressure than Calderon. He’s got some flash but just kept making the right plays.

• China loves them some Kobe-a! Jones on the NBA breaks it down.

• It’s a ways away, but we’re starting to gear up for the season, and one way to do some review and look ahead is to check out an interview I did with Empty The Bench that covers a lot of ground.

• If you haven’t seen this yet, the account of how one woman became a Lakers fan is a fun read.

• If you go to Chicago, it’s not all that cheap ($30), but the boat architectural tour up the river is a must. Thanks to Matt from Blog-A-Bull for that suggestion.

Some quick hit notes about what’s going on recently in the Olympics and the NBA in general…

*Team USA ran away with it’s third consecutive game with a 92-69 bashing of Greece.  From the recap, this was obviously a meaningful game for the Americans.  Out of all the recent failings of Team USA in international competition, none has stung more than the defeat they suffered at the hands of the Greeks in the World Championships in 2006.  With that extra motivation, Team USA used its pressure defense and athleticism to take down the Greeks in another rout for the U.S. in its quest for Gold.  Today’s highlight play (SportsCenter’s Top 10 play for sure) was a D-Wade steal and perfectly thrown lob to Kobe for a tremendous two handed slam all while Wade was falling out of bounds.  If you haven’t seen it yet, believe me, you’ll get plenty of chances later today. (Update: here it is.  Hat tip to Awful Announcing via Ball Don’t Lie.)

*Speaking of Wade, Flash is back.  (Besides Bosh) Wade has been the pleasant suprise of Team USA.  I was one person who, before this tournament started, questioned Wade and how he would fit in with this team and whether his game would translate well to the FIBA style of play.  I thought of an inconsistent long range jumpshot and wondered how he would create for himself against the zones that Team USA was likely to face.  Color me dumb.  Wade’s first step and strength has been the difference in him getting whatever he wants on offense, be it scoring or creating for others.  Wade has been fantasic as a playmaker (5 assists in 20 minutes against Greece) and has wreaked havoc in the passing lanes (6! steals in this game) and in finishing on the break (he’s obviously not alone there, though).

*As for our favorite son, Kobe, he finally had a more efficient offensive game.  Kobe had 18 pts. on 7-14 shooting and finally found some range on his jumper, going 2-5 from deep.  There have been questions about Kobe’s offense…if the shorter 3 point arc is messing him up, if his hand is injured, if he’s tired, or if the magnitude of playing in the Olympics (remember it’s his first time in FIBA play on this grand a stage) has him a little too excited.  Maybe it’s all of the above.  I happen to think he’s just a little out of rhythm and that his offense will come.  I also think that his “doberman” mentality on defense has made his offensive game less efficient.  He’s treating every defensive possesion like it’s the final possesion in the game and working like a mad man.  Sometimes working that hard on D makes your O suffer.  But, he had a decent game today, so maybe he’s turning the corner.

*Other Olympic notes:  Pau Gasol has played well for Spain.  He’s been shooting a good percentage from the field and had an excellent showing against the host country, China, with 29 pts., 8 reb., and 3 blocks.  Our other favorite Sun, Mr. Yue has played well.  His exploits against Team USA have been covered, but he also had a nice outing against Angola.  Sun had 11 points on 4-4 shooting (including 2-2 on threes) while also registering 2 assists and 2 steals in 29 minutes.

*On to the Association…In case you haven’t heard, Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala re-upped with their respective teams.  Iggy definitely got the better of the two deals, and as the better player (IMO) I think that should be the case.  As for Smith, Memphis GM Chris Wallace should get another high-five from a rival GM as he gave the Hawks an easy out by signing J-Smooth to a very fair market contract offer-sheet, and thus easily allowing the Hawks to match.  Even with ownership issues abound in the ATL, matching that deal was easy as pie.  Also making news of late is the 3 team trade that landed Lebron a new running-mate in PG Mo Williams.  Without getting too much into the details of the deal (but if you want a strong oppinion, check out Hollinger’s), I think the Cavs did well to get another guy who can handle the ball and score some points.  Williams may not be a classic PG, but he can handle the ball, run an offense, and he can score the ball, thus allowing Lebron a little more rest on offense.

*One final Olympics note:  Big props to Michael Phelps.  I am a Phelps Phan and will be rooting him on tonight in his quest for more shiny neck ware.

(UPDATE: As Paydawg mentioned in the comments, the Lakers have agreed to terms with former Clipper, Josh Powell.)


The new 08-09 NBA schedules are out, including the Lakers.

My thoughts at first glance — the Lakers should get off to a fast start. With the depth of the West there just are few if any “gimmes” but the front end of the schedule is fairly friendly. First, 10 of the first 15 games are home games (and one road game is at Staples against the Clips). While that stretch of games includes a couple against Dallas and one against Detroit, it is not a murderer’s row.

Overall 27 of the first 46 are at home.

The big road trips and some of the toughest games come in late January when a six-game east game road trip that includes Boston and Cleveland among others. Then there is March, which includes most of a seven-game road trip and where for just over a month the Lakers have 12 road games and just five at home. Among those road games are some trips through Texas (which is never easy)

Bottom line, there are going to be some periods in the middle of the season and nearing the end when wins will be harder to come by and the Lakers record will likely flatten out a little. So they need to fatten up early, gain some momentum that can carry them through the season.

The good news is the final few games in April include ones we think should be winnable, which will matter trying to jockey for playoff seeding. In a deep West, there likely will be a team in the bottom half of the bracket you want to avoid (Portland?).

The Lakers open the season Oct. 28 against said Portland Trailblazers in a TNT game at Staples (what to start taking bets now if it starts on time?). The next night the Lakers get their first back-to-back of the year, taking on the Clippers (on ESPN).

Christmas day, the Lakers at least get to be at home this year but they are playing — against the Celtics. Tip-off is at 2 p.m. First comment by an announcer that this game is going to be different than last year’s finals should be at 2:01.

Overall, the Lakers have 24 national television games (that would be 29% of their games). Not sure what the NBA TV schedule is yet, but a few more may land there. The rest will be available on regional broadcasts (Fox Sports West and Fox Sports Prime Ticket).

A couple other links worth checking out:

Hoops Addict is doing the Floor Burn Tournament — a breakdown of the guys around the league who are not the stars but do the dirty work to help a team to win. Asked to nominate a Laker I said Sasha Vujacic (Kobe may actually be the best floor-burn guy on the Lakers but we’re talking non-star). In the first round, Sasha is up against Nick Fazekas of the Clips (and winning so far). Go vote for the man — I’d say he’s a better three-point shooter than anyone you can vote for come November, but then I saw that Obama clip. (Can we sign him for the vet’s minimum? It’s more than he would make as President.)

Really interesting Kobe Bryant interview at youtube, one where he talks about life growing up (hat tip to True Hoop)

For those of you jonesing to play GM this summer there is a new fantasy league set up that is governed by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement — you can’t just sign every free agent you want. It’s run by and you may want to check it out.

On a different note, I wrote in the last thing I did on Team USA that they were doing well against the zone. And, at that point, they had been, even against Lithuania they showed a lot potential with some ball movement and getting the ball inside to bust a zone. But against the matchup zone of Russia and against Australia they regressed. They went isolation and didn’t get the ball to a big flashing through the paint. The outside shooting went cold. These are correctable things, the kind of things that these players know how to do. Having an off night shooting in a “friendly” is no big deal. But the team cannot get into bad habits then flip the switch come the quarterfinals. It almost looks like that is what is happening. Coach K. needs to snap that out of them before things matter in the quarterfinals.

Finally, this is my last post for a couple weeks, as I am off on vacation (Chicago and visiting some cousins-in-law outside Detroit). The posts will keep coming around here, however, from some of your favorite sources. There will be plenty of international and other ball to talk about. Talk to you all mid-August.