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Joakim Noah wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year +++ Swee’ Pea makes the cut – Reaches Funding Target +++ The Dish – Too Rude for Masai Uijiri +++ The BBL experience – Rowdy in Frankfurt +++ Fearless predictions: Euroleague playoffs +++ A Dario triple-double? Now that’s good timing +++ Swee’ Pea needs your help +++ Final Four: What the bookies say when the bookies talk +++ The greatest Eurodance tribute to Goran Dragic ever +++ Swaggy P’s tribute to Os moving back to the USA +++
Sep
0

EuroBasket: Huge Q3 lifts Lithuania past Croatia 77-62

It was a battle from the start but only one team could make Sunday’s final. A third quarter burst move Lithuania past Croatia and into the gold medal game of EuroBasket 2013.

Where did that come from? Linas Kleiza had 17 points and 7 boards in just the first half. The former Toronto Raptor delivered his best half of basketball in recent memory as Lithuania took the early advantage. The edge was slight however. Much of the first half was tit for tat. Lithuania pushed to a 9 point lead briefly but Croatia kept drawing them in. Lithuania had a 24-19 lead at the end of the first quarter, it was 40-37 at the half. This game had offence but neither side could pull away. For Croatia is was Bojan Bogdanovic, a man highlighted as a major threat before this game, who kept them competitive on the scoreboard.

For Jonas Maciulis the job was meant to be one of containment, limiting what Bogdanovic did at the other end but the guard didn’t read the script. Going hard from deep, Maciulis start 4 of 5 from three-point range. The fourth three put Lithuania 48-39 up with 7.01 left in the third. Time-out Croatia at a crucial point in the game. Maciulis was having none of it. In the lane, backs up, bucket and the foul. He made the and-one to push Lithuania into a 12 point lead. Draper missed a three on the next play, Maciulis recovered and Mantas Kalneitis delivered a lay-up at the other end. Croatia tried the press. Alley-oop to Robertas Javtokas. Luka Zoric missed a pair of free throws and Kalneitis nailed another from deep. In three minutes Lithuania had broken the game open to lead 58-40. Timeout Croatia with the gap having doubled in the interim.

And what of Jonas Valanciunas? If it’s possible to be quiet when you have 4 blocks in the first three quarters, the Raptors big man certainly was that. Fouls hindered him but Valanciunas was wise to defer on offensive to those around him. He added one more block in the final frame.

With seconds remaining the camera panned to Aryvdas Sabonis. The icon standing proud and tall, always very tall. After a 10 year absence Lithuania had returned to the final of EuroBasket. Kleiza finished with 22 points and 11 boards, Maciulis had 23 and 6, Kalneitis 18 and 4 assists. They get a day off now to recover for the gold medal game. No matter who they play on Sunday, Lithuania will be underdogs and they’ll be fine with that. No team is more than the sum of its parts than Lithuania. Spain and France have their stars. Lithuania will be happy with their multitude of options.

Sep
1

EuroBasket Power Rankings: Spain rise to the top

Just in time for today’s semi finals to prove us completely wrong, here’s our updated Power Rankings for EuroBasket 2013 after the quarter final round.

1. Spain. It’s a what have you done for me lately business and nobody has done more than Spain. They leap Croatia on the back of an utter rout of Serbia.

2. Croatia. A second quarter spurt against Ukraine gave the Croats a decisive lead that they never gave up. This team has now won 8 straight.

3. Lithuania. Total coin toss between Lithuania and France following the quarter finals, the Lithuanians greater consistency in round two means they stay ahead for now.
Continue Reading…

Sep
4

Preview: EuroBasket drama guaranteed in Lithuania vs Croatia semi final

After booking their places in next year’s FIBA World Cup yesterday, Lithuania and Croatia have their eyes on a more immediate prize. A place in the final of EuroBasket 2013 is up for grabs. Who will take it?

The first semi final of EuroBasket 2013 may lack the star power of Spain vs France but it promises to deliver plenty of excitement on Friday afternoon. There are battles everywhere and both sides have been waiting a long time to play in the final of Europe’s premier international competition. Lithuania is seeking to make it back to the final for the first time since 2003, when they beat Spain in the final. Croatia has never been past the semi-final round since gaining independence.

Guard play will be crucial in this game. Bojan Bogdanovic is the tournament’s second leading scorer, at 17.1 points per game, and Jonas Maciulis faces a tough match-up with the Fenerbahce man. Maciulis will likely be forced to focus on defence and defer to Mantas Kalneitis to impact on the offensive end. Defensively these are both impressive outfits with neither side giving up points easy. The match-up is also even on the inside, with Croatia ranking first and Lithuania third in rebounds for the tournament.

Consistency is going to be the deciding factor in this game. Lithuania have come back well in the business end of the tournament, rolling to four victories in a row after an up and down opening round. Croatia have a tournament leading eight straight wins but have made hard work of almost all of them. The glass looks to be an area where one team can break out. While neither team holds a significant edge in rebounding success or indeed talent on the inside, if one side can establish a presence early on the boards it could set the tone for the game.

As a collective unit Lithuania looks more organised but in terms of individual breakout options, the Croats appear to have the edge. If this game isn’t still in the balance going into the final minute I’ll be surprised. Still, drama and all, Croatia to win.

And…

The line-ups for the Under 18 All Star game, which takes place at 12.00 CET on Saturday, have been announced.Finnish coach Jari Nykanen and Austria’s Andreas Kaineder will coach the Blue team while Slovenia’s Borut Fijavz teams up with Bulgaria’s Ludmil Hadjisotoriv to coach the White team.

Blue team roster: Andrej Magdevski, Kenan Sipahi, Ricardas Verbickas, Dogukan Sanli, Ivars Zvigurs, Domagoj Bosnjak, Yevgen Sakhniuk, Damian Jeszke, Nikola Jokic, Anzejs Pasecniks, and Milovan Draskovic.

White team roster: Rebec Matic, Julian Andrea Gualtieri, Agusti Sans, Alexander Martynov, Alberto Abalde, Axel Bouteille, Rade Zagorac, Vincent Kesteloot, Metecan Birsen, Kerem Kanter, Prokop Slanina, and Georgios Diamantakos

Sep
0

EuroBasket: Lithuania beat Italy 81-77 in a classic

Lithuania and Italy served up the quarter final we had been waiting for in EuroBasket 2013. A battle down to the wire where Lithuania finally pulled through to book a date with Croatia.

Finally a game worth killing for. The quarter finals were lacking something up until this point. We needed joie de mort. Where the end of a team’s quest for the title actually caused us to feel it inside. That is what Italy, unwillingly no doubt, delivered on Thursday. The underdogs were dominated on the boards, as any observer no doubt expected, but Marco Belinelli and Alessandro Gentile wouldn’t let that stop them. For all his issues winning rebounds, Gentile delivered offensively with 15 points in the losing effort. Belinelli, ever the stoic operator, was a one man army for the Italians. His haul of 22 points and 2 steals dared the Lithuanians to match him.

In Mantas Kalneitis he had a worthy adversary. It’s easy for Lithuanians to say none of their guards are Saras but for once Kalneitis forced the doubters to be silent. He led the team with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. In Ljubjana he stood on the floor and demanded respect. Renaldas Sebuitis match Kalneitis in scoring and added 6 rebounds too. This was a team that could match the Italians outside as they sought victory on the interior.

This night however was not one for Jonas Valanciunas. The fearsome big man was quiet all evening, only featuring for 11 minutes, as his team mates carried the load. Trailing 58-57 going into the final frame, Lithuania broke for home with a 15-0 run that would have ended the battle of a lesser foe.

Credit therefore to Italy who battled gamely to the death. One would expect no less from Gigi Datome but to see those around him fight hard was inspiring. Reeling in Lithuania was always going to be unlikely after that run but there was no quarter given by the Italians down the stretch. The preceding quarter finals had been about progression. This game was one of survival.

Italy’s mettle was not enough to take the day but proved their character. They now enter the classification round where they take on Ukraine to lock up a place in the FIBA World Cup next year. Lithuania’s 2014 qualification is assured with this victory. That won’t be on their minds tonight. This is an evening for resting and refocusing. The greater challenge awaits on Friday. Croatia and a place in the final of EuroBasket 2013.

Sep
0

Preview: EuroBasket Quarter Finals – Croatia vs Ukraine and Lithuania vs Italy

Three more teams will book their place in the 2014 FIBA World Cup on Thursday as the quarter finals of EuroBasket 2013 conclude. Here’s are take and picks on both games as well as the classification game between Slovenia and Serbia where the winner books a ticket to Spain. 

Croatia lost their first game in Slovenia and then rattled off seven straight wins to secure a favourable draw in the last eight. The Croats have power inside and will look to dominate on the glass, where they have averaged 43.1 rebounds per game. After beating Ukraine home and away in the qualification round last year, it’s hardly a surprise to see Croatia as favourites for this game. This is a team however which is almost addicted to making life difficult irrespective of the opponent. Only one of Croatia’s run of victories came in a manner that could remotely be described as comfortable. Every other game was a battle often of the Croats own doing. This will give hope to Ukraine which will rely heavily on three-point shooting to keep the game competitive and make the favourites nervous. Mike Fratello’s team lives and dies by how Pooh Jeter plays. What Croatia do to shut down the world’s biggest fan of borscht could prove decisive. The bookies have Croatia down as -8 favourites. That looks about right to me. Croatia to advance.

The second quarter final today sees Italy take on Lithuania. Raptors Republic is calling this tournament JonasBasket and while there’s an element of insular thinking there, for one evening they may have a point. Lithuania can bang hard with anybody and Jonas Valanciunas will have an important role to play in this game. Italy’s struggles inside hurt them in the second stage and they will need Alessandro Gentile to match his big display against Spain for this game to be competitive. There’s certainly talent on the Italian roster, with Marco Belinelli and Gigi Datome both impressing at this tournament. What the duo needs most is help. I expect a heavy emphasis on defence from Lithuania early to try and frustrate Italy before the favourites look to punch a big hole on the scoreboard in the second quarter. Lithuania are favoured by 5.5 points and again this looks about right. Power inside will make the difference. Lithuania to win.

Before today’s quarter finals take place, the first of the classification games will see Slovenia take on Serbia. The home side lost to France in a contest that took a while to get going last night while the Serbs were swept aside by Spain. The emotional energy spent by Slovenia is a big concern going into this game. While Serbia will have been shocked by the way they were manhandled by Spain, it’s easier to get back mentally after a laugher than the type of draining game Slovenia played. I’m going for the slight upset here and picking Serbia.

Sep
5

EuroBasket Power Rankings: And then there were eight

Where once there was 12 now stand 8. The quarter finals are set so it’s time to update our Power Rankings.

There are some radical changes but I still expect plenty of you will be upset. Take aim in the comments.

1. Croatia (4-1). It was really tough to decide between first and second here. Three straight wins in the second round, including that unreal 2OT win over Greece on Monday, were just enough for them to get top slot. 

2. Serbia (4-1). So that ranking of 9 was harsh. Serbia still clearly have a lot of work to do but their win over France was particularly impressive.

3. Slovenia (3-2). The home team is really getting the crowd involved in their games. Their win over Italy exposed some of the latter’s failings. Following that up with a heart-stopper over Greece was enough to take third here. We’re not counting what was clearly a nothing game against Finland against them.
Continue Reading…

Sep
3

EuroBasket 2013 Quarter Final pairings set

The last game in stage two has yet to start but the four quarter final pairings for EuroBasket 2013 are set. Here’ are the pairings.

Serbia vs Spain

Lithuania vs Italy

Croatia vs Ukraine

Slovenia vs France

The first two games on Monday set the slate in stone. Greece lost any hope at making the quarter finals with their double overtime 92-88 loss to Croatia. Italy and Spain were left to decide the order of the top two quarter finals, with the loser getting Group E winner Serbia. Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies led the game in stats with 32 points and 10 rebounds but Alessandro Gentile made up for his lacklustre display against Croatia with 25 points and 7 boards. New San Antonio Spur Marco Belinelli had another good outing for Italy, with 16 points and 8 rebounds before fouling out while Marco Cusin, who also fouled out, put up 4 points and 11 boards. It took overtime to decide it but Italy took the win 86-81. Now all they have to do is repeat that success on the inside to lock up a place in the FIBA World Cup next year. Against a Lithuanian team that can bang hard, that’s no easy ask.

We’ll have previews up for the quarter finals later this week but bear in mind that the placement games in this tournament also matter. With Spain already having their place in the World Cup secure, all but one of the other quarter finalists will be making the trip next year. Tell us who you think misses out in the comments.

Sep
0

EuroBasket: Early drama decides Group E

Latvia’s defeat at the hands of Belgium meant the rest of Sunday’s action was all about seeding for the EuroBasket 2013 quarter finals.

By the time Lithuania and Ukraine took to the court in Llubjana, both sides knew they were safely through to the quarter finals. Unsurprisingly much of this game had a feel of two teams going through the motions. There are bigger prizes ahead, not least potential spots in next year’s FIBA World Cup. Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas had his quietest game of the second phase but his former Toronto Raptors team mate Linas Kleiza came up big with 15 points and 5 boards in 23 minutes of play. Pooh Jeter was once again the main creative force for Ukraine, with 8 assists, but inconsistency from the field cost the underdogs. A 70-63 win means Lithuania finish the stage with a 4-1 record, Ukraine take the last quarter final spot with a 2-3 finish.

That game could have had a really different tone were it not for the heart of the Belgian Lions. Belgium, already eliminated from the reckoning for the quarter finals, finally got rewarded for their hard work with a win over Latvia. It was an awful day from beyond the arc for Latvia, going 5/29. With three-pointers crucial to their game, Latvia found themselves in a big hole late but put on a great surge to cut the deficit to the minimum. The Belgians held their nerve however and came through to win 60-56. The tournament has to go down as a success for a Belgium team which has been on the fringes of European basketball for three decades. The Lions roared on Sunday and ended Latvia’s involvement in the process.

The quiet spell recently endured by Nemanja Nedovic and whether he’d break out of it was the biggest question entering Serbia’s game with France. The Golden State Warrior had been hot through the early part of the tournament but had cooled off in the second phase. Nedmania came back with a vengeance against France. Nedovic had a huge game with 17 points and 3 rebounds, and he was arguably only the third best Serb on the floor. Nenad Krstic had his way inside for most of the evening and finished with 19 points, 4 boards, and 4 assists. Bogdan Bogdanovic was also on top form as he delivered 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. The stats don’t tell the full story of just how good Serbia looked. France, for all their talent, didn’t look capable of competing with Serbia for most of the game. They rallied a few times to reel in the Serbs but even with impressive displays by Nicolas Batum and Alexis Ajinca on offence, their inability to curb the young guns for Serbia was a concern. Ajinca has really impressed for France in this tournament and the more I see of him, the more I want to see. Still, this was certainly an evening for Serbia to celebrate. They win 77-65 and look well placed to challenge in the knockout stages.

Sep
0

Eurobasket: Ukrainian resurrection. Wins for Lithuania and France.

Where did that come from? Ukraine pulled off the shock of the second round so far while France and Lithuania rolled to easy victories in Group E.

Ukraine took a one point lead into half-time against Serbia but with issues on the boards, the upset looked far from assured. Then along came a 14-2 run to give the underdogs a lead they would never surrender. Any fears that Pooh Jeter was in a hole after being shut down by Latvia were put to rest in a commanding performance, with 20 points and 4 assists. Serbia did a lot of things right but their free throw shooting was ugly, going 12 of 24, which took away from their success at picking up offensive rebounds. It took something remarkable for Ukraine to pull out this 82-75 win but by doing so they still have a shot at making the quarter finals.

The same can’t be said for Belgium who ran into Jonas Valanciunas in a bad mood. Hurting him in the first quarter turned out to be a terrible idea as the Toronto Raptor took over on the inside to leave Lithuania well in front at half time. Mindaugas Kuzminskas also contributed well from the bench as Lithuania’s size proved too much for the Belgians. While a rout through three quarters, the Belgians salvaged some pride with a spirited final frame. The result was never in doubt but a 32-17 run in the final frame meant the score was respectable. Lithuania’s 86-67 win should be enough for them to make the next stage but anything could happen on Sunday.

Finally a big hi to Nicolas Batum. After disappearing against Lithuania the Portland Trail Blazer made his presence felt early and often in France’s rout of Latvia. The first half was all about France’s inside play as they pounded it, kept pounding it, and pounding some more. With just 4 of their 34 shots coming from beyond the arc, there was no mistaking France’s intent from the off. Latvia needed to match their ridiculous success from long-range that they had against Ukraine. That was always going to be a tall order but they rallied well in the second half to keep the game close. Eventually Batum’s 19 point 10 rebound and 6 assist performance coupled with a big night for Alexis Ajinca, 25 points 5 boards 3 blocks, was enough to get France over the line. This game also marked the first century of the tournament as France were forced to keep pushing hard on offence in the second half. A 102-91 win moves France to 3-1 with a game to go. Latvia know a win over Belgium should still be enough to make the quarter finals.

Sep
0

Valanciunas hitting form at the right time

After a first round of extremes, Jonas Valanciunas has stepped up big time for Lithuania in his last two outings.

When Jonas Valanciunas can stay on the court, Lithuania win. That’s been the story for the Toronto Raptors big man so far. In Lithuania’s two losses so far, to Serbia and Bosnia, Valanciunas totalled just 18 minutes of action. While the decision to start with him on the bench against France could be put down to a questionable coaching call, Valanciunas dug the hole on his own. In his last two games, the young big has shown he can climb out too.

Foul trouble, a recurrent issue for him in his young career, hindered Valanciunas in those defeats. When Valanciunas was on in the first round, he was really on. A pair of double-doubles saw him play a big part in wins over Latvia and Montenegro. When the games really started to count, Valanciunas stepped up and dominated.

The stat line of 13 points and 6 boards in 16 minutes against France, impressive as it was, barely scratches the surface of how beastly he looked in that game. Against a French team with no shortage of stars, Valanciunas looked like a monster. A win today over Belgium would almost certainly put Lithuania into the quarter finals and one win away from the FIBA World Cup next year. The Belgian’s didn’t know what was about to hit them.

An early hard foul on the Lithuanian, which required minor treatment, only made him angry. Valanciunas dominated inside in the second quarter as he finished the half with 12 points and closed out hard on defence. The wild strength he possesses was there to see but, just like in the NBA Summer League, that growing sense of control was too.

The fouls weren’t coming as quick. Valanciunas could impose his will without getting in trouble. This is what Lithuania and Toronto need. They know they’ve got an amazing talent in this big but they need him to become a smarter player. The progress was visible against France and moreso against the, admittedly weaker, Belgians. The double-double secured early in the fourth quarter, Valanciunas sat again. This time it wasn’t because of any mistake he’d made. Valanciunas had earned the rest. The job was done and the blowout complete. With that a spot in the quarter finals pretty much in the bag. If the Raptor can maintain this new found composure, Lithuania will be a tough out for anyone. That’s not as big an if as it was a year ago.