Eurobasket ’13 Update

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EuroBasket_2013_logoIn case you missed it, Mexico won the Tournament of the Americas.

Yes, Mexico, which hadn’t qualified for a World Championship Cup in 40 years. Gustavo Ayon of the Atlanta Hawks was the tournament MVP.

What does this have to do with Eurobasket ’13?

Only the fact that you never know what is going to happen in a FIBA tournament, as witnessed by what we are currently seeing in Slovenia.

Eurobasket ’13 Group D Preview

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Group D

Likely To Advance

Greece flag1. Greece

Greece is another squad showing up without some of their best players but still remain a contender for the gold. Even without pick-and-roll master Dimitris Diamantitis, Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes, Nuggets center Kosta Koufos and Maccabi Tel Aviv center “Sofo” Schortsanitis, the Greeks are poised to compete for their first medal since 2009.

Italian coach Andrea Trinchieri, who recently moved from Cantu to Unics Kazan in Russia, will have no shortage of weapons throughout this campaign. Back-to-back Euroleague champion Vassilis Spanoulis will be leading the Greek squad with his aggressive scoring nature and immensely high basketball IQ. Spanoulis will be backed up by fellow Olympiacos guard Kostas Sloukas, who has been one of the Euroleague’s rising stars since he was brought over from Aris Thessaloniki.Spanoulis

On the wing will be a pair of former Knicks draft picks in Georgios Printezis and Kostas Papanikolau, both of whom bring a lot of toughness and clutch shooting to the floor at the 3 and 4 positions. Add in the tough defense of American forward Michail Bramos and the scoring ability of veteran Nikos Zisis and this team has a large variety of options.

Antonis Fotsis will once again represent the Greek squad as he prepares for his return to the Greek league with Panathiakos this season. One of the top Greek players of this generation, he was a valuable member of the 2006 team that embarrassed Team USA in the World Championships.

While the Greek team won’t be as beefy in the middle as they are accustomed, center Yannis Bourousis, who had a brief stint with the Mavs, will provide a big presence in the middle, for what will certainly be one of the top defenses in the tournament.

While the Greek team may not be bringing their fully loaded roster to Slovenia, the Greeks are known for being one of the most physical and aggressive groups, and they should be more than able to bully their way toward a medal.

Flag_of_Turkey.svg2. Turkey

There will be big expectations for the Turks this summer to regain the glory of their 2010 silver medal at the World Championships. Led by soon to be ex-Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu, the Turkish squad has quite a few weapons that should make them very dangerous, assuming Turkoglu’s uncertain contract situation does not become a distraction.

Omer Asik is coming off a breakout year for the Rockets, and he should be one of the most important players in the tournament. With Dwight Howard coming into town, Asik will possibly be playing with ulterior motives, trying to audition to other teams considering trading for him to be their starting center. Asik is unhappy with the possibility of becoming Dwight’s backup, and he will need to block out his personal situation for the betterment of the team for Turkey to succeed. He will be backed up and sometimes play alongside former NBA big man Semih Erden, who also is trying to prove he deserves another crack at the league. Together they should be one of the more formidable center combinations in this competition. Hedo-Turkoglu

Last, but certainly not least, is Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova has made big progress since returning to the Bucks from Europe, and has the opportunity to take command of the leadership role of the Turkish team moving forward. With the Bucks making wholesale changes this summer, a significant tick in his production could be the difference between the Bucks being relevant, or playing for ping-pong balls once the New Year arrives.

With a talented roster, Turkey should have no problem advancing to the second round of this tournament, but with a lot of uncertainty surrounding some of their main players professional situations, it may be difficult for them to maintain the focus required to earn a World Cup berth, yet alone a medal.

Flag_of_Italy.svg3. Italy

Not having won a medal since winning a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics, Italy will need to overcome a lot of obstacles to prevent a 10-year medal drought. With NBA starts Andrea Bargnani, Danillo Gallinari and Angelo Gigli missing this year, the Italians will need to find production and leadership elsewhere to be competitive.

A transformed Marco Belinelli will be the leader, after having a breakout performance with the Bulls this past postseason before moving to the Spurs this summer. Belinelli is an outstanding shooter who has significantly elevated his overall game with his newfound confidence, and he could very likely use this tournament to start his campaign to be Popovich’s starting shooting guard on opening night.150px-Marco_Belinelli

Joining Belinelli will be Detroit Pistons signee Luigi Datome, a stretch forward who played out of his mind on his way to the Italian Series A MVP this past season. In the frontcourt, Datome will be joined by Alessandro Gentile, a 20 year old wing prospect who will be a likely draft pick in 2014.

In the backcourt will be a pair of Americans in former Indiana Pacers guard Travis Diener, who just recently got his Italian passport, and former USC and current Siena guard Daniel Hackett. The duo should form a very strong backcourt, capable of leading Italy to the next stage.

Without Gallo or Bargnani, several players will need to take big steps forward for Italy to qualify for the World Cup. Fortunately, Italian fans have reason to be optimistic with so many players that are right on the cusp of taking the next step in their career. It may not be likely for this to be the year that the Italians turn it around, but it appears things are going in the right direction for their program.

Headin’ Home Early

Russia flag4. Russia

With the absence of American coach David Blatt, Andrei Kirilenko, Sergey Mozgov and Victor Khryapa, the Russians’ run of success is very much in danger. In the friendly matches, they did not seem to play with the chemistry shown during their successful run that saw them win the 2007 Eurobasket, and take medals home in 2011 and in the 2012 Olympics.

Timberwolves guard Alexy Shved will be relied on to get buckets as the leader of the Russian squad. He quickly has emerged from a young weapon to a leader for this squad, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the change in his role.Alexey Shved

The  X-Factor for the Russians will be Cavs draft pick Sergey Karasev, a super scoring young wing who has limitless potential. If he can immediately provide top level performances in this tournament, Russia has a solid chance at advancing. However, as it stands now they appear to be on the outside looking in.

Flag_of_Sweden.svg5. Sweden

After a 10-year absence from the Eurobasket, Sweden makes their return with 2 NBA players in tow. With Detroit Pistons vet Jonas Jerebko ringing his jack of all trades game, Sweden should be interesting to watch despite not standing much of a chance at advancing in this tournament.Jerebko-Sweden

Even more interesting to watch will be Bobcats second year forward Jeffery Taylor, who showed great improvement at the summer league this season. Bringing the toughness he gained at Vanderbilt, Taylor has improved his all-around game and could use this experience as a way to take the next step in his NBA career.

Flag_of_Finland.svg6. Finland

Finland is the kind of team any basketball purist loves to root for. They dive for loose balls, play with passion, and overall bring all the intangibles that any true basketball fan has to appreciate. Unfortunately, they just don’t have the talent  to compete at this level, and winning even one game will be a big accomplishment for them.

Former Mavericks draft pick Petteri Kaponen will need to be fantastic for Finland to remain competitive. Kaponen has made big strides the past several years, and playing on this stage could greatly bolster his  chances of one day bringing his talents over to the NBA.

GROUP A PREVIEW  |  GROUP B PREVIEW  |  GROUP C PREVIEW

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SH Blog: Monta Ellis rejects extension; Kevin Durant signs with Jay-Z; Spanoulis rips Jeff Van Gundy

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Monta EllisDoes anybody really think Monta Ellis will get a max-contract on the open market, except Monta himself?

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Euroleague Finals Blog: Olympiacos Wins Title Behind 42 From Spanoulis and Law

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Kyle Hines, OlympiacosGo ahead and grab a lead in a Euroleague final against Olympiacos.  Go on.  I dare you.

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Euroleague Final Four Blog: Real Madrid and Olympiacos In The Finals

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The Euroleague Final Four is underway in London. Earlier, Olympiacos Kyle Hines and Pero Antic hard 13 apiece to help down Nenad Krstic, Milos Teodosic and a discombobulated CSKA Moscow team 69-52.

Afterward, Real Madrid finished a back-and-forth battle on top 74-67. Here’s how it all went down.

First Half

Barcelona’s CJ Wallace told ELA he was not 100 percent heading into tonight’s clash with Madrid due to an elbow injury, but there he was early on giving up his body. Nikola Mirotic drove to the front of the rim, but Wallace beat him to the spot dug his heels in just centimeters outside of the half-circle.

Charge: drawn. Now let’s check in on a living legend who enjoys May.

It’s Sarunas Jasikevicius’ annual reminder that he’s old but still likes Final Fours. Last season he was wearing Panathinaikos green and trying to set the record for identical pick and rolls in a quarter as he and Aleks Maric went to work and got an early lead on CSKA Moscow. This season, he had a crafty little old man drive, looking off a defender before strolling to the edge of the lane and banging home a little jumper off the glass.

I wonder where Saras will land next year. I hear CSKA could be looking for a reliable Springtime guard. Maybe they could swap 401kers, and receive Theo Papaloukas from the Russians in exchange.

A couple of seasons ago when Madrid was in this same game against Maccabi, Felipe Reyes was one of the only Madrileños who showed up to play. He’s already paid dividends in this one with a big offensive rebound (on a poorly mistimed jump, no less) which led directly to a Sergio Rodriguez triple from the corner.

Rodriguez needed to have a big game today, and he’s done that so far. That corner three was huge, but not as big as the one that gave Madrid a 35-31 lead with a minute before halftime. The Other Sergio got jealous and took it 80 feet off a steal by Reyes to avoid the contact and finish acrobatically to push that lead to six.

Serge Rod’s got seven points and six assists at the half, and nobody but nobody is disappointed with what he’s given Los Blancos today. We often talk about who Madrid’s most important player is, and again we must emphasize that this role is handed down from game to game, even quarter to quarter.

But if both Sergios play well, Real Madrid is the best team here.

At the half’s bitter end, Mirotic pulled a three from the corner. But this isn’t about the shot Madrid’s young phenom missed; this is about the elder statesman Reyes, who bodied up and grabbed his third offensive rebound in nine first half minutes, then put it back off the glass and drew the foul.

He missed the free throw, but made his point: Real Madrid won’t be pushed around inside tonight.

Halftime   |   Barcelona Regal 33-39 Real Madrid

Expected to miss this one with a bad foot, Nathan Jawai checked in during the third quarter and immediately traveled.  Since he’s only been out one week or so, it’s hard to blame that on rust.  But you do travel with your feet, so I feel OK blaming his injured foot.

Out goes Jawai.  His Willis Reed David Lee Experience has come to an end for now, and from the looks of it, the rest of the evening.

Heading into Barcelona’s fifth game against Panathinaikos, I lamented Marcelinho Huertas’ apparent loss of self-esteem and urged him to breathe freely, pass crisply and shoot with some conviction.  Well if the Sergios stole the show in the second quarter for Madrid, then Huertas took note and took over in the third’s final minute and change.

First, a ballsy three put Barcelona ahead of Madrid 49-48.  Next, Huertas threw up one of his patented one-footed runners to put the score at 51-48.  Navarro owns that move generally, but Huertas’ version is less herky-jerky and he’s got  a little more foot dragging behind him when he lets it go. Hence, it’s his own.  Today, it’s working.

End of Third Quarter   |   Barcelona Regal 51 – Real Madrid 48

Huertas wanted to put an even firmer stamp on that one-footer apparently, so after dancing around an Erazem Lorbek screen Huertas nailed a deep three off one shoe for his 13th, 14th and 15th points.  The runner pushed Barcelona’s lead to 54-48.

Joe Ingles airballed a three earlier.  Not this time: Joe Ingles wets one from the left wing.  We haven’t seen Ingles as the ball handler in the pick and roll as often today as we have n the past.  All things considered, Madrid’s doing good work keeping Barcelona’s guards from getting to valuable real estate.  The Catalunyans are simply hitting tough shots and being patient.

Barcelona has slowed down Madrid’s fast break, so Rodriguez decided to manufacture one all by his lonesome.  Rip and run all the way to the cup and we’re tied at 63 with over four minutes left.  Felipe Reyes knocks down a pair of free throws to get Madrid back in the lead.

Who’s going to jump on that seesaw next?

After the scoreless Jaycee Carroll tipped in a miss for his first bucket (strangely, it was Carroll’s sixth rebound), I thought it’d be him. But for the moment, it’s Reyes that wants a ride.

After Rodriguez went for the jugular with a three, Reyes grabbed the offensive board and wound up putting the ball back in the rim.  More than pushing Madrid’s lead to 69-63, the rebound pushed Reyes past Mirsad Turkcan on the Euroleague’s all-time rebounding list.  Hell of a way to do it, but he won’t be celebrating tonight if Los Blancos don’t ensure a spot in Sunday’s finals.

If Madrid makes it there, he’ll have been as big a reason as any.

There are 24.3 seconds left and Barcelona’s season is evaporating.  Real Madrid splits a pair of free throws and Barcelona rebounds, down 70-65.  Gotta push it. They do. Turnover. Rodriguez clutches it, puts it on the floor and gets fouled by Navarro.  He makes them both.

Full Time   |   Barcelona Regal 67 – 74 Real Madrid

After a one-sided blasting in the first game, it was refreshing to see competitive basketball being played in London.  One team would score and next thing you know, the other team would score, too.  Imagine that.  Coaches adjusted, players reacted and some big names stepped up with big games.

It just so happens that more of those names were written on the backs of Madrid jerseys, and Barcelona’s biggest star never strung together those few minutes of signature brilliance that we’ve come to expect from him on the big stage.

Rodriguez couldn’t have been any more efficient, handing out nine assists in just 22 minutes and scoring 12 of his own.  Best of all, he didn’t turn it over once and his only questionable jumpers were a product of rhythm and circumstance, just as they should be.

But my hardware has to go to Felipe Reyes, who scored 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting and snagged four offensive boards (of five total).  His ability to keep possessions alive and take advantage of Nate Jawai’s absence inside was paramount to Madrid’s success.  This Barcelona team is rarely surpassed in toughness, but Reyes and Marcus Slaughter—whose defense on Ante Tomic in the second half helped erase his impact in the second half—were the toughest guys out there tonight.

Mirotic had a rough outing and looked younger than usual today, going 1-of-8 for six points and three rebounds.  Barcelona’s defense is tough to crack, but Mirotic found crevices and had scoring opportunities that he usually converts, but couldn’t.  He needs to drink a protein shake, watch Felipe Reyes’ game film and come back ready for mismatches come Sunday (unless Kyle Hines is on him which, as we know, takes a mismatch and flips it on its head).

Rudy Fernandez was quiet for Madrid, too, scoring just eight on 3-of-10 rom the field.

Pablo Laso’s two All-Euroleaguers performed like that and he still beat the team with the best record in Europe. Must be nice.

Xavi Pascual’s two All-Euroleaguers did only marginally better: Juan Carlos Navarro had nine on 3-of-9 and missed a couple of big shots late in the game that could’ve cut Madrid’s lead.  Tomic actually played exceptionally well in the first half, only to be Marcus Slaughtered in the second half and disappear offensively.  He still finished with the game’s best line of 18 points and 12 rebounds, but his timing could have been better.

Now we wait for Madrid’s clash with Olympiacos on Sunday.

These things we know: we will see more running and more scoring than we did in today’s games.  We’ll see if Spanoulis can knock down his threes, and if Kostas Papanikolaou can author another perfect night (he didn’t miss a shot in last year’s Final Four). We’ll see if Rodriguez can keep playing the best point guard of his career and if Mirotic and Fernandez can hop out of their respective ruts to join the fun.  We won’t see Milos Teodosic.  We will see Kyle Hines.

And hopefully, if this Mother’s Day is anything like the last, we’ll see a frantic struggle between deserving contenders end with the whole arena watching and waiting as the final shot makes its way toward the rim.

Will Olympiacos win its second title in as many years, or will Real Madrid win their first crown since 1995? As long as the final looks nothing at all like today’s Olympiacos-CSKA Moscow game, either result will do.

Go on to the next page to read how Kyle Hines demolished Nenad Krstic and CSKA Moscow.

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