Tagged in: basketball

United States men’s basketball downs Cuba in World Cup qualifier

There were some cheers for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before USA Basketball’s match in Cuba on Independence Day.

And then the Americans celebrated the holiday with a big victory.

Xavier Munford scored 24 points and the U.S. defeated Cuba 87-64 on Monday night to close the first round of qualifying for next year’s Basketball World Cup — improving to 31-1 all time versus the island nation.

“It’s emotional to play on the Fourth of July,” said Jim Boylen, who coached the U.S. in all three of the two-game windows in the opening qualifying round. “It’s emotional to be here with this group of guys, with USA across our chests. It’s a big day. Our country is 246 years old today and we’re just thankful for this moment together.”

Munford was 10 for 12 from the floor for the Americans, who got 13 points from Justin Jackson, 12 from John Jenkins — all from 3-point range — and 10 apiece from Will Davis and Langston Galloway.

“It’s July 4th. No better feeling than to get a win tonight,” Munford said.

Jordan Bell concluded with eight rebounds and six assists for the Americans, whose spot in the second round of qualifying was previously secured. They’ll take a 5-1 record into the second round, well on their way to clinching a spot in the World Cup and moving a big step closer toward getting USA Basketball qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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Yoel Cubilla led Cuba (0-6) with 15 points.

The Americans will start the second round of World Cup qualifying on Aug. 25, with the expectation that the first matchup will be versus Uruguay in Las Vegas.

The U.S. will also play Aug. 29, probably on the road and likely against Colombia, though FIBA has yet to confirm that as the matchup.

The two road wins on this trip — the Americans beat Puerto Rico on Friday — puts the U.S. in a prime position to qualify for the World Cup. The roster was primarily composed of G League players, as is always the case for the Americans in World Cup qualifying, and Boylen said this group came together quickly.

“We came together 11 days ago and our team was focused, our guys were great, we worked on the basics, we got better every day and I thought we played the right way,” he said. “The ball moved, we grew together, and we cared for each other.”

The U.S. will be grouped with Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Colombia in the second round. Also grouped from the Americas region will be Venezuela, Argentina, Panama, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Both of those groups will send three teams to the World Cup; the best fourth-place team from either of those groups will also go, with the Americas region sending seven teams to the tournament that will be played in the summer of 2023 in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.

Cuba led 16-14 after the first quarter Monday night. But the Americans scored 14 points in the first 2:19 of the second quarter to take command.

“We lost the first quarter, but I thought the second quarter, we responded,” Boylen said.

A 3-pointer by Jackson opened the second quarter and put the U.S. ahead for good. The lead was 49-32 early in the third — ending what was a 35-16 run by the U.S. — and the Americans remained ahead the rest of the way. “The Cuba team was great,” Munford said.

“They came out with a great effort. They made us work for it. They had strong guys. We played well tonight. We executed, took care of the ball, ran our offense and played USA style of basketball.”

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LeBron James, thrilled to be ‘able to play basketball,’ steers Los Angeles Lakers to victory in return

LeBron James picked things back up right where he left them, continuing his offensive surge with 29 points in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 122-115 overtime victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday following a five-game absence with swelling in his left knee.

“After the first quarter, the knee loosened up a lot more,” James said after accompanying the points with 13 rebounds and 10 assists to notch his 103rd career triple-double. “My mind loosened up a lot more. And I was just able to play basketball. But just excited to be back in the uniform, back on the floor with my guys. Missed them, missed the game. I was happy I was able to make a few plays and help us win a ballgame.”

Los Angeles went 1-4 without him and his return initially didn’t seem to do much to impact that trend as the Knicks led 42-29 after the first quarter. But James, who stated he “didn’t feel that great” during his pregame warmup as he attempted to play a game for the first time in a week and a half, got it going and so did his team, coming back from as many as 21 points, accounting for the franchise’s biggest comeback since December 2015.

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“It’s a hell of a return,” said Anthony Davis who put up 28 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks. “He’s doing LeBron-type things. Expected nothing less from him. Efficient from the field. S—, he did what he’s supposed to do. He helped us, for sure. So, I missed him. He’s a big part of our team with his voice, his leadership, play-making ability. And he came back and showed it.”

James extended his streak of scoring 25-plus points to 19 games, the second longest streak of that nature of his 19-year career.

He played 39 minutes and 55 seconds on Saturday, which Lakers coach Frank Vogel admitted was more than he wanted to play the 37-year old in his first game back.

“He’s incredible,” Vogel said. “I guess the time off served him well. We didn’t want to play him 39 minutes and obviously the overtime impacted that, but just played a great basketball game. His defensive competitive spirit and IQ is everything to us and the way he scores the basketball in all ways and the way he sets up teammates it’s just, it’s rare and he was special tonight. Just a great performance.”

While James was out, one of his professional athlete peers, Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, retired after 22 seasons in the NFL.

“I personally was just so in shock when I saw it … as a guy who’s kind of been my motivation factor over the last few years, seeing what he’s able to do at his age and always kind of being a leader of a team and even at his age people still gravitate towards him and gravitate towards his energy and how he prepares and things of that nature,” James said. “So, a small piece of me definitely left when Brady decided to retire, that’s for sure.”

James has one more season on his deal with the Lakers, that will take him through 20 seasons in the NBA.

Even at this stage of his career, there’s no disputing his importance to the Lakers. He was a plus-12 in the minutes he appeared on the court, and he played all but one minute and 29 seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime to close things out.

“I mean obviously the computer — his ability to process and read offensively, it’s something that’s always missed,” Vogel said. “You miss him on both ends, but I would say in this situation, late game, that’s where you miss him the most.”

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Pau Gasol, two-time NBA champion, announces retirement from basketball

Pau Gasol revealed his retirement from basketball Tuesday, ending a career that lasted more than two decades and earned him two NBA titles and a world championship gold with Spain’s national team.

The 41-year-old had already announced his farewell from international basketball in August after Spain lost to the United States in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Games, which marked his fifth Olympics.

Gasol had been with Spanish club Barcelona since February. His career had stalled before that because a stress fracture in his left foot that lingered and kept him from playing for nearly two years.

“I’m going to retire from professional basketball,” Gasol said. “It’s a difficult decision after so many years, but it’s a decision that I really thought over.”

The retirement announcement was made in an event at an opera house in Barcelona attended by former teammates and family members, including Pau Gasol’s wife, his young daughter and his brother Marc.

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Gasol acquired two NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, in 2009 and 2010, playing a vital role in the back-to-back championships.

“Pau Gasol brought hope and talent to the Lakers,” former coach Phil Jackson said in a statement to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “The effect was immediate. His game put LA back into championship contention. He was also a gentleman and generous hero.”

Gasol averaged 17.0 points and 9.2 rebounds in 1,226 regular-season games with five NBA teams, including the Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks. He was the No. 3 pick in the 2001 NBA draft, being selected by Atlanta and traded to Memphis.

Gasol last played in the NBA with the Bucks in 2019.

He signed with the Portland Trail Blazers that year but never got to play.

Gasol won a world championship title with Spain in 2006, in addition to European titles in 2009, 2011 and 2015.

He helped Spain win Olympic silver medals in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London, as well as a bronze in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. Gasol recently won an election to represent athletes for the next seven years with the International Olympic Committee.

He joined an IOC membership list drawn variously from European and Middle East royal families, international sports bodies, business leaders and 12 athletes elected by their peers.

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

Team USA will face Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba in the first round of qualifying for the 2023 Basketball World Cup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Team USA falls to France at Tokyo Games for first Olympic men’s basketball loss since 2004

Team USA’s invincibility in men’s basketball is long gone, and the journey to a fourth successive gold medal is already fraught with adversity.

France gut-punched the Americans with a brilliant finish for an 83-76 triumph to open the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday. It snapped a 25-game Olympic winning streak dating back to 2004 for Team USA.

The final blow came when Evan Fournier drilled a 3-pointer with a minute to play to give the French the lead for good, completing their comeback after the U.S. had an eight-point lead with four minutes to play. It was the biggest of his 28 points in one of the finest games he has played in his career.

It was followed by an amazing possession in which the Americans managed to get five shots off and missed them all. The final three were wide-open 3-point attempts by Zach LaVine, Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday.

“I got to lead the team because I know these guys,” Fournier said. “It’s a hell of a win. Our country is going to be extremely proud. But it’s just one game, to be honest.”

If there was a moment in this match that best encapsulated the situation between these two teams, it came at the end, when the French calmly shook the Americans’ hands and left the floor with the same business-as-usual demeanor Fournier displayed. Two years ago at the World Cup in China, France celebrated wildly after defeating a much-less-talented Team USA.

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“There’s nothing to be surprised about,” Team USA coach Gregg Popovich said before launching into what has become his go-to statement after losses.

“When you lose a game, you’re not surprised. You’re disappointed, but I don’t understand the word surprised. That sort of disses the French team, so to speak, as if we’re supposed to beat them by 30 or something. That’s a hell of a team.”

The French won the bronze at that World Cup, but their talent does not compare to that of the Americans.

And it does not explain how a U.S. team built for scoring and shooting went an unexplainable four and a half minutes without a basket down the stretch.

Fatigue was a factor. Three players didn’t get to the team hotel until 1 a.m. on gameday, an unusual set of circumstances. But one of them, Jrue Holiday, was masterful in the fourth quarter as he scored 12 of his 18 points and contributed several other energy plays to help the U.S. build a lead.

The Americans then had a host of stars to lean on such as Durant, Jayson Tatum and Damian Lillard. But they failed as the French ran an execution clinic.

Popovich seemed annoyed by media questions about the upset, as has been his custom. He has overseen losses in five of the past eight games he has coached for the national team dating back to 2019. There were some who admitted the loss was a disappointment, however.

“I think we have a history of dominance and maybe not always blowing people out, but we have a history of winning. And it’s not often that you see Team USA go out there and lose, especially to start,” stated Lillard, who shot just 3-of-10 and had two critical turnovers late in the game.

Popovich said he’d been thinking about this rematch for two years and daily since the game was drawn in February. But he never figured out how to slow down Fournier as he repeatedly got free for open looks on the perimeter. Even Holiday, who was brilliant in the NBA Finals, helping the Bucks clinch the title Tuesday, couldn’t stem the tide.

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‘Nervous’ Kevin Durant shines in return from injury, calls Brooklyn Nets debut ‘good step’

After a year and a half of Achilles rehabilitation, Kevin Durant returned to the basketball court for the first time on Sunday for the Brooklyn Nets’ preseason game versus the Washington Wizards.

“I was anxious, nervous,” Durant stated afterward. “I visualized this moment for so long — nine, 10 months of thinking about how it would be, this next phase of my career. I felt like I was chomping at the bit, especially once COVID hit because I didn’t see a future — when the season was going to start in the future. I was going through it.

“So to go through this felt solid.”

The first points in the game came from an authoritative Durant dunk. He followed that with an assist to DeAndre Jordan for a dunk.

The Nets went on to defeat the Wizards 119-114. Durant concluded shooting 5-of-12 from the field with 15 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 24 minutes of play. “It felt great, you know, to be back in a routine and get back on the floor and feel like a player again,” he said. “I didn’t think I played great. I felt I had some solid moments.”

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One of them was when he drew a charge on Washington’s Rui Hachimura early in the game.

“I definitely am feeling it right now,” Durant said with a laugh. “It’s good to get back in the flow of things, and it definitely gives me some confidence. … It’s a good step, and I am trying to build on it.”

Before the match, first-year head coach Steve Nash said he hoped to play both Durant and Kyrie Irving “north of 20 minutes” in each of Brooklyn’s two preseason games.

“When you have that type of injury,” Nash said of Durant after the game, “it is kind of remarkable he’s at the level he’s at.

“It’s amazing. This is an injury that very few people have conquered, so to speak. … It’s beautiful to see him back on the basketball court. I think the world missed him — I certainly did.”

Irving, who hasn’t played since February after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, finished with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field.

Irving, who played for 18 minutes, declined to speak to reporters after the game, continuing to break the league’s media rules despite his being fined $25,000 on Friday for not speaking to reporters.

During the Nets’ weeklong training camp, Durant was not ready to make any proclamations about how much he would resemble his pre-Achilles injury self before actually playing in a game. After one preseason game, Durant stated he still isn’t ready to make any declarations.

“I want to play at the highest level of basketball — the highest intensity of basketball, and that’s not in the preseason,” Durant said. “I want to play at an elite level late into the season, playoffs. That’s when I want to play my best basketball, so I’m working toward that point.”

Since the game ended, Durant said he has been fielding texts and phone calls from friends, colleagues and acquaintances asking how he is feeling.

“I can’t wait ’til that’s over with so I can get back into the swing of things and just feel like one of the guys again,” Durant said. “So it was a good first step.”

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Heat aim to close out Celtics in Game 5

The Miami Heat can earn their first appearance in the NBA Finals since 2014 when they duel the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.

The fifth-seeded Heat inched closer to a shot at their fourth NBA title by holding off the third-seeded Celtics 112-109 on Wednesday night for a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.

Miami, which gained championships as the East’s second and first seed in 2012 and 2013, respectively, is trying to become the first team seeded fifth or lower to reach the NBA Finals since the eighth-seeded New York Knicks lost to San Antonio in 1999.

The last team seeded fifth or lower to win an NBA title was Houston in 1995, when it beat Orlando as the West’s No. 6 seed. Miami has never lost a playoff series in which it led 3-1. The Heat held such an advantage over top-seeded Milwaukee in the Eastern semifinals, then needed just one more game to eliminate the Bucks.

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The last time the Celtics found themselves in a 3-1 hole was last season versus the Bucks in the Eastern semis.

Milwaukee closed out the best-of-seven in the next game.

Boston hasn’t rallied to win a series after trailing 3-1 since defeating the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Finals in 1981. The Celtics went on to beat Houston in the NBA Finals that campaign.

One of the Heat’s concerns in the wake of Wednesday’s victory was the condition of center Bam Adebayo’s sore left wrist. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra reported Thursday that his big man was fine as he attempted to treat his club’s workout session on the eve of a potential NBA Finals-clincher as just another day.

“We stuck with our routine,” Spoelstra noted. “Everybody got the treatment, rest. Today is another day for rest and recovery. Everybody knows what to expect for (Game 5).” Game 6, if necessary, is arranged for Sunday afternoon.

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Kevin Durant among four Nets players to test positive for covid-19

Kevin Durant, the DMV’s contemporary basketball legend, tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after coming back from a trip to San Francisco with his new team the Brooklyn Nets.  Durant, who remains sidelined after rupturing his achilles tendon in the 2019 NBA Finals while playing for the Golden State Warriors, was one of four Nets players who reportedly have contracted the virus.

“Everyone be careful, take care of yourself and quarantine,” the Prince George’s County native said to the sports website The Athletic. He said that he is feeling fine and not showing any symptoms. “We’re going to get through this.”

According to various reports, Brooklyn hired an outside firm to handle its testing, but the organization hasn’t released the names of the players. However, the Nets said in a statement on Tuesday that only one of the four players showed symptoms of the virus. but they are being kept isolated while receiving medical attention from team physicians. 

Four players represent one third of the team’s roster who have been infected.

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“All players and members of the Nets travel party are being asked to remain isolated, closely monitor their health and maintain constant communication with team medical staff,” the Nets said in a statement.

“The health of our players and staff is of the highest priority to the organization and the team is doing everything within its power to ensure that those affected receive the best care possible.”

Durant, 31, signed a four-year deal that could pay him $164 million in Brooklyn after spending the last three years with the Warriors. While playing in the Bay Area he led Golden State to straight championships and they seemed poised for a third until he was lost for good in game six of the 2019 championship series.

The 10-time NBA all star led them on two title runs and was named NBA Finals MVP twice. He hasn’t played this campaign while rehabilitating an Achilles tendon injury suffered during their loss to the Toronto Raptors.

The final team the Nets faced before the season was forced into its hiatus were the Los Angeles Lakers ,who have been tested Wednesday. Lakers officials announced via Twitter after testing the team will be imposing a 14-day self quarantine.

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Rick Pitino hired as Greece´s national team coach

Rick Pitino is back in the coaching world after settling to take over as head coach of Greece’s national team. 

This marks Pitino’s first head-coaching gig since he turned down an offer to return to Panathinaikos in June. He went 10-9 and made the playoffs before being swept 3-0 by Real Madrid in his lone season with the team. 

The 67-year-old American coached Greek club Panathinaikos last season and guided the team to victory in the country’s cup competition before returning to the United States. He persists popular among Greek fans despite his outspoken criticism of smoking and rowdy behavior by spectators at games.

Pitino has served as head coach of the Puerto Rican national team in 2015 for the FIBA Americas Championships. That squad progressed to the second round in the tournament but was unable to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. 

Per Dionysis Aravantinos of EuroHoops.net, Thanasis Skourtopoulos will remain as Greece’s head coach for the EuroBasket tournament in February with Pitino taking over for the pre-Olympic tournament in the summer as the country attempts to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

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Taking over the Greek squad could give Pitino an opportunity to coach reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who most recently played for his home country this summer in the FIBA World Cup.

The Greek basketball federation said Friday that Pitino will be formally presented on Monday, when details of his agreement will be announced.

”Really honored to be coaching the Greek National team,” Pitino wrote on Twitter. ”Have a lot of work and preparation ahead but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo both play for Greece and the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Greeks narrowly missed out on reaching the quarterfinals at the World Cup in China in September. Pitino spent much of his career jumping between the college ranks and the NBA, coaching the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks as well as Kentucky and Louisville.

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Toronto Raptors vs Orlando Magic

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The road trip continues tonight as the Raptors (5-0) take on the Magic (1-4) at Amway Center in Orlando. Toronto is coming off impressive back-to-back wins out West over the Mavs and Thunder to enter tonight’s contest as one of two undefeated teams left in the league, alongside the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. Orlando’s record is deceiving, having played some good basketball and lost two games in overtime to top-ranked teams in the Rockets and Thunder.

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Despite moving to 5-0 for the first time with Wednesday’s 103-98 win at Oklahoma City, Casey is trying to keep Toronto even keel after back-to-back Atlantic Division titles led to first-round playoff defeats.

The Raptors will try to continue their success at both ends, averaging an Eastern Conference-best 106.0 points while allowing 95.6. They’ve also held their last three opponents to a combined 25.9 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.

Toronto will certainly have to keep an eye on Evan Fournier in this meeting. A night after putting up a career-high 30 points in a 103-94 win at New Orleans, he had 29 and helped limit James Harden to 6-of-22 shooting in Wednesday’s 119-114 overtime loss at Houston.

Fournier, who averaged a career-high 12.0 points last season, is scoring a team-high 20.6. He’s made 55.4 percent from the field and 9 of 21 from 3-point range in his last three. Fournier has played well in his past five games against the Raptors, averaging 17.8 points.

Probable starters

Toronto: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola, Jonas Valanciunas.

Orlando: Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier, Dewayne Dedmon.

Key matchup:Evan Fournier vs. Kyle Lowry/Cory Joseph.

Need to know:

  • The Raptors are off to their best start to a season but still have a ways to go to equal their biggest winning streak. They ran off nine straight in 2001-02
  • Nikola Vucevicwon’t play on Friday night. The team’s centre is out with a bone bruise on his right knee. Dewane Dedmon is expected to start in his place
  • Orlando is 1-4 but has fallen in a pair of very tight games this season. The Magic went to double OT with Oklahoma City on Oct. 30 and took the Rockets to overtime on Wednesday. They are losing their games by an average of 3.5 points
  • Mississauga’sAndrew Nicholson, now in his fourth year as a pro with the Magic, has seen action in one game this season.

 

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